Matthew 27:16
At that time they were holding a notorious prisoner named Barabbas.
The Actors in a Momentous TragedyJ.A. Macdonald Matthew 27:11-31
Releasing PrisonersA. Carr, M. A.Matthew 27:15-18
The Release of BarabbasR. Jeffery, D. D.Matthew 27:15-18
Christ Before Pilate. No. 2Marcus Dods Matthew 27:15-30

The other evangelists tell us of Pilate's first and fatal mistake, in offering, while convinced of his Prisoner's innocence, to chastise him and let him go. He showed the Jews he was afraid of them; and from this point onwards we see him tossed between his own convictions and his fears - a type of all who in their own souls have convictions about Christ and their duty to him, which they do not act out lest they thereby incur loss or abuse. Apparently, before the Jews have time to do more than utter a murmur of discontent at his proposal, another plan suggests itself, by which he may possibly extricate himself. The governors were in the habit of releasing some well known prisoner at the Feast of the Passover, and he offers to release Jesus. No sooner had he done so than his attention is called away by the extraordinary message from his wife. Nothing is more remarkable in the Roman history of the period than the strength of character developed by the women, their keen interest in public affairs, and the prominent part they play in them. A law forbidding the wives of the governors to accompany their husbands to the provinces had lately been repealed, and Claudia Procula was not only with Pilate, but apparently keenly interested in his work and tenderly solicitous for his honour and safety. And still God often thus speaks to men; and some woman's anxious look or word, or some child's innocent question, will give the conscience new strength or arm it with new weapons. The moments given to ponder this message are not neglected by the leaders. They wind through the crowd, and prompt the people to ask for Barabbas. By offering them the alternative between a Man whom both he and they knew to be innocent of sedition, and a man notoriously guilty of it, he put them into the very difficulty they sought to fix him in. But they have already seen that he has a deeper conviction than the innocence of Jesus, namely, a fear of them, and this they use. Pilate, therefore, having done, as he persuaded himself, all he could to save Jesus, gives him up to the scourging - a barbarous punishment, under which many died. He may have interfered to prevent the full amount being inflicted. He did not interfere when the soldiers proceeded to mock their victim. In this mockery we have a concrete and visible representation of the manner in which Christ is continually used. We salute him as King; but what is the sceptre we put in his hands? Is it not in many cases a mere reed, in hands that are bound? Is it not as real a mockery for us to profess allegiance to him, and use the strongest language we can command to express our adoration, and then go and show that he has not the slightest control over our lives? In this would-be equitable Roman governor coming to the people and saying, "What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ?" we see:

1. The predicament of many among ourselves who would gladly be rid of the question. But it cannot be. There is this judgment to pronounce. Even if there were no blessedness in following Christ, the fact remains that he is presented to you, and that it is your duty to accept him.

2. We see how futile was the attempt of Pilate to transfer the guilt of this action to the Jews. They were willing to take the blood of Christ on their heads; but, though history shows how terrible has been their share in the vengeance they ignorantly invoked, Pilate was not necessarily exempt. Men frequently mistake the point at which their own power, and therefore their own responsibility, ends. They consent to iniquity, and say they were forced to it. How were you forced? Would every man in your circumstances do as you are doing? Or, men invite you to share their sin, persuading you that the guilt is theirs, if there is any; you will find that they cannot bear your share, and that you vainly seek to lay the guilt on them. The very fate Pilate feared, and to avoid which he sacrificed the life of our Lord, came upon him. Six years later he was deposed from his office, and died by his own hand. We are apt to say of him that he was weak rather than wicked, forgetting that moral weakness is that which makes a man capable of any wickedness. And who is the weak man but the one who is not single-minded, who attempts to gratify both his conscience and his evil or weak feelings, to secure his own selfish ends as well as the great ends of justice and righteousness? Such a man will often be in as great a perplexity as Pilate, and will come to as ruinous, if not so appalling, an end. - D.

Barabbas, or Jesus which is called Christ.
I. It illustrates THE EVASION OF PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY. We always admire courage in the abstract. Look at the position of Pilate! "I must sentence, gentlemen, you choose the culprit." We may be doing this same thing. How often we allow others to determine our duty. "If my wife would be religious I would." "Will you go if I will?" Alone you must die and give an account to God.

II. THE CONTROLLING POWER OF PREJUDICE OVER MORAL APPROBATION. They were to forget all the munificence of Jesus because He outraged their prejudices.

III. The choice of Barabbas in the end EXALTS THE ETERNAL PRINCIPLES WHICH UNDERLIE THE GOVERNMENT OF GOD. The eternal plan of God is carried out in the death of Jesus.

IV. THE ATTITUDE OF BARABBAS. Suppose he had refused release on the ground that it was not possible for him to live by the death of another. Some reject the substitution of Christ for themselves.

(R. Jeffery, D. D.)

No trace of this custom is found in the Talmud. But the release of prisoners was usual at certain festivals at Rome, and at Athens during the Panathenaic festival prisoners enjoyed temporary liberty. It is not, therefore, improbable that Herod the Great, who certainly familiarized the Jews with other usages of Greece and Rome, introduced this custom, and that the Roman governor, finding the custom established and gratifying to the Jews, in accordance with Roman practice, retained the observance of it.

(A. Carr, M. A.)

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