Matthew’s Passion: The cross is justice

Matthew’s Passion: Barabbas

40 Blogs of Lent: 27

Matthew 27:15-23

Matthew’s Pasion is told through a series of encounters between people. Enter a new character, Barabbas. But the real encounter here is a stand off between Pilate, the Roman governor, and the plotters against Jesus, who are From the Sanhedrin, the religious and political local leaders.


Pilate is the only one who can pass a death sentence, the Sanhedrin’s problem is he doesn’t want to, at least not to Jesus. The man with a reputation for executing people, whole roads lined with crucifixions, looks like he is not going to sentence this one.

What we have is a political showdown. The Jews resent the Roman occupiers and there is no love lost the other way either. The Jewish plotters have an extra card up their sleeve, the angry mob, a riot would not look good in Rome, it wool look very bad if this happened while Pilate was in Jerusalem. Pilate gives in.

In human terms there is a travesty of justice here, in God’s terms this is justice on his terms. God became man for this time. Jesus died in the place of Barabbas, but it was not just Barabbas, Jesus died in the place of all people, you and me included, God became human in order to take the sin of all, the guilt of all, the penalty of all, in order to make us one with each other and one with God. God’s judgement is a judgement of love, he takes on the penalty for our bad so that we can be free of it. He becomes our bad in order to become our good.

God becoming our substitute in a sacrificial giving of himself that is hinted at here in Jesus being substituted for the notorious criminal Barabbas but is really for us all in love for us all. That is the justice of God. That is the wonderful love of Jesus that was prophesied by Isaiah:

“Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering. . . .
He was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed. . . .
The Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all”
(Isaiah 53:4–6).

Here is the reading:

15 Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the crowd any one prisoner whom they wanted. 16 And they had then a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. 17 So when they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” 18 For he knew that it was out of envy that they had delivered him up. 19 Besides, while he was sitting on the judgement seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much because of him today in a dream.” 20 Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus. 21 The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” 22 Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said, “Let him be crucified!” 23 And he said, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!”

Matthew 27 ESVUK

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.

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