Everyone will probably be talking about the crucifixion of Christ today, but I won’t. I have this strange feeling that you and I need to stop and think about a few things first. Did you ever stop and turn around to see what was going on after your release? I saw you as you walked away. You were laughing, jeering, and welcomed by the crowd. What does the record say again?
Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the crowd any one prisoner whom they wanted. And they had then a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. 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?” For he knew that it was out of envy that they had delivered him up. Besides, while he was sitting on the judgment 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.” Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus. The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said, “Let him be crucified!” And he said, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!” (Matt. 27:15-23)
I remember it well, don’t you? It’s funny how trauma sticks like that. My voice was hoarse for a week after that day. I can still remember the faces in the crowd as I stood along side them. It was a multitude of faces that no man could number. Many of those faces, along with my own, were foaming with hatred. Why were we so angry again? I almost felt outside of myself with anger. I had a stone in my hand. I still have it. I keep it on a shelf in the family room. It’s not some relic but a reminder, maybe even in some way a reminder of the condition of my heart then. I saw other faces too. Some were sad. Some were frustrated. Some were confused. But none could take their eyes off of Him. It was as if everyone’s gaze was forcefully fixed on Him by divine decree. We awed at the sight – bloodied, beaten, forsaken, despised. Humanity seems drawn to blood. He lifted His head and looked out and there we were, eye to eye. It was unavoidable. We all lost that staring match. What had we done?I had to turn away.
But something strange has happened over the years since that day. Many of those to whom I speak don’t seem to think their faces were in the crowd on that day. No matter how hard I try to convince them they don’t want to own up to the fact that they were there, that they condemned an innocent man. This is why I write to you. Have you forgotten you were there? I find myself straining to make them realize that we cheered for you that day, Barabbas, not Him. We walked away embracing you that day, not Him. You sat in our streets, ate at our tables, played with our children that day, not Him. You were welcomed into our hearts that day, not Him. Barabbas, do you remember? I’m sure you do.
Please consider my plea, Barabbas. Everyone must remember that they were there that day when we crucified the King. All of humanity stood guilty of crucifying the Lord of Glory. We were there, but not as a spectator, but as a participant, a guilty participant – plotting, scheming, betraying, bargaining and handing him over to be crucified. We may try to wash our hands of responsibility like Pilate, but our attempt will be futile. Before we can begin to see the cross as something done for us, leading us to faith and worship, we have to see it as something done by us leading us to repentance. Only the man who is willing to own his share in the guilt of the cross, may claim his share in its grace.(1) You were there Barabbas. You were there, and so were we. All of us. Guilt betraying innocence.
I see the crowd in Pilate’s hall,
their furious cries I hear;
their shouts of “Crucify!” appall,
their curses fill mine ear.
And of that shouting multitude
I feel that I am one,
and in that din of voices rude
I recognize my own.
I see the scourgers rend the flesh
of God’s belovèd Son;
and as they smite I feel afresh
that I of them am one.
Around the Cross the throng I see
that mock the Sufferer’s groan,
yet still my voice it seems to be,
as if I mocked alone.
‘Twas I that shed that sacred Blood,
I nailed him to the Tree,
I crucified the Christ of God,
I joined the mockery.
Yet not the less that Blood avails
to cleanse me from sin,
and not the less that Cross prevails
to give me peace within.(2)
Do you see your face in the crowd?
A fellow criminal set free,
(1) John Stott, The Cross of Christ, pg. 63
(2) Horatius Bonar, Twas I That Shed The Sacred Blood