Luke 23:13-25 (NIV) Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers and the people, and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him. Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death. Therefore, I will punish him and then release him.”
With one voice they cried out, “Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us!” (Barabbas had been thrown into prison for an insurrection in the city, and for murder.)
Wanting to release Jesus, Pilate appealed to them again. But they kept shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”
For the third time he spoke to them: “Why? What crime has this man committed? I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty. Therefore I will have him punished and then release him.”
But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified, and their shouts prevailed. So Pilate decided to grant their demand. He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, the one they asked for, and surrendered Jesus to their will.
This was the worst day Pilate could ever remember. He had breathed a little easier after he sent Jesus to Herod, believing that Herod would take the whole case off his hands. But then, not an hour later, the priests and leaders showed up again with Jesus still in tow.
Pilate told them clearly that neither he nor, apparently, Herod, had found Jesus guilty of anything deserving punishment, certainly not of being an agitator of the people. But, for some reason that he couldn’t quite fathom, the whole crowd seemed thirsty for blood. So, Pilate tried to placate them by promising to whip Jesus as punishment for any small crimes that He may have committed, before letting Him go.
But, to his surprise and dismay, the crowd shouted him down, demanding over and over again that if anyone was released to them, it be a REAL insurrectionist and murderer named Barabbas. And, even more alarming, they were shouting that Jesus be crucified, the most heinous penalty that Rome every dished out, and typically only for the most heinous of crimes, crimes that he was sure Jesus had never gotten near.
Pilate tried to reason with the leaders and the crowd, but the more he tried, the more rabid their response became. In fact, they were dangerously close to starting a riot. If that happened, Pilate would have to respond harshly to put it down, which would reflect poorly on him with his superiors, all the way up to the emperor. Governors were supposed to maintain the peace with as little bloodshed as possible.
In the end, it was simple math that caused Pilate to turn Jesus over for crucifixion. Better for one likely innocent man to die than for a rebellion to be sparked that would cost the lives of dozens, perhaps hundreds. With a deep sigh, Pilate gave the order, and unwittingly set in motion the end-game that God had determined would happen from before time began.
Father, so much of the time we lose track of the fact that You are working Your plan in the world. We have the privilege as Your people to work alongside You, or we can choose to defy Your will, try to work against Your purposes, and end up crushed in the gears You are turning. How much better to simply keep our ears and eyes open and our hearts soft so that You can use us to work Your plans. Lord, help me to never defy Your will, to never say no to You, to never get in Your way. If I work with You, I understand that I will be swimming upstream against the culture of the world, but I will also be working in the sphere of your love, Your power, Your grace. MUCH preferred. Amen.