On Sunday morning we broke from our normal routine of having the sermon text expounded on by the preacher and had everyone in attendance pray over and read Matthew 27:11-26 for a few minutes before the sermon. While we won’t do this every week, we’d encourage you to check our weekly e-mails and pray over the text you will hear with the rest of the community in worship on Sunday morning. If you’re not receiving the weekly e-mail update, send a note to firstname.lastname@example.org.
After reflecting on our own, we also took a few minutes observing things in the text together (‘What do you see?’) and raising questions (‘What questions do you have?’). I did my best to mix in some answers to the questions that were raised, but I couldn’t adjust the message to address them all.
I quickly typed up some thoughts this morning for further thought. Feel free to comment with reflections or e-mail me directly at email@example.com if you’d enjoy dialoguing more. Here’s a post interacting with your observations and questions over Matthew 27:11-26.
What do you see?
1. Jesus was silent.
The silence of Jesus is surprising on one level. I had mentioned during the sermon how there is a part of me that wants Jesus to call this whole trial before Pilate a sham. Because I love him, I want Jesus to call down the 72,000 angels he said he wouldn’t call when he was in the garden (see Matthew 26:53 and the rest of the Garden of Gethsemane text).
One of the focal points of the sermon was that Jesus is a king who is steady…faithful…unshakeable…in living out his mission of reconciling the world to himself. This could not happen without his death at the hands sinners.
His silence is a sign of his determination to fulfill his mission of suffering before he would rise from the grave.
2. Jesus Barabbas
There are two Jesus’ in this text! The second movement of the sermon focused on the ‘exchange’ of one Jesus for another-how the righteous Jesus was a substitute for the unrighteous Jesus (Barabbas). We headed to 1 Peter 3:18a to see what God was doing when this switch was made:
‘For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.’
As I noted, we should see ourselves in Barabbas when we encounter this text—unrighteous and guilty. Yet, in God’s mercy, Barabbas is set free. Theologians have referred to a ‘switch’ or ‘exchange’ of places as substitutionary atonement-the righteous Jesus goes to the cross while the unrighteous one(s), like Barabbas, go free.
3. The crowd wanted Jesus dead.
Isn’t it interesting that ‘the crowd’ wanted a criminal set free while Jesus went to the cross? Another crowd, probably with many of the same faces, shouted as Jesus arrived in Jerusalem earlier that week in Matthew 21:1-11 announcing Jesus as the Son of David who has come to save! How fickle they seem to be. As we reflect on our own lives, maybe we’ll see how fickle we can be at times too, shouting to Jesus on Sundays in worship and turning to shout all sorts of sinful things with our words and actions throughout the rest of the week.
(See question 2 below for two reasons why Barabbas being set free from the crowds may have been an easy ‘sell’ by the chief priests and the elders).
4. A dream noted that Jesus was righteous.
Two other gospel writers note how Pilate was convinced of Jesus’ innocence (see Luke 23:14, 22; John 18:38). God also intervened in Pilate’s wife’s dreams so she would ‘attest’ to Jesus’ innocence. This detour in the text should remind the reader of Jesus’ actual standing throughout the trial.
For further reflections on God intervening through dreams in Matthew, see Matthew chapter 2. There you’ll find another powerful figure, King Herod, who interacts with the infant king Jesus and his family. If you prayerfully engage these texts side by side you may notice a number of parallels. Is Matthew saying something about the type of king or leader Jesus is by opening and closing his gospel with Jesus encountering some of the most powerful leaders in Palestine in his day? I think so.
What questions do you have?
1. Why did Pilate wash his hands?
This was a ceremonial act performed by Pilate before the people in an attempt to absolve himself of responsibility for the death of Jesus. His office won’t allow this though. God places leaders in their positions of authority (or allows them to hold positions of authority) and holds them accountable for their actions (see Romans 13:1).
Matthew seems to want to point out how much Pilate tried to get Jesus off the hook (he tried to get crowds to release Jesus by choosing him over Barabbas, he questions the crowds about Jesus’ crime in vs. 23 and he washes his hands), but Pilate can’t escape some responsibility as the one who should uphold justice.
As we look around at the characters in this text, everyone shares guilt.
2. Why would the crowd release Barabbas?
a. The crowds may have seen men like Barabbas as heroes who were trying to fight the evil power in their midst, the occupying nation of Rome. I mentioned in the sermon how Barabbas may have been a Robin Hood type figure in the text (credit to scholar Michael J. Wilkins for this observation).
b. We should not underestimate the power of evil at work in the world. Once Israel’s leaders set out to kill Jesus (see Matthew 26:1-5) and Judas brought them to Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:47-56), evil was on the move to rid the world of the Son of God. Mistakenly, Satan did not know that it would be through death that he, as well as all sin, evil and death itself, would be defeated. Make no mistake, evil has strength. Praise God that his Spirit resides in those who love him (1 John 4:4b-the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world). It’s important that those who love God seek him for his strength. Maybe you could prayerfully reflect upon Ephesians 6:10-20 each day this week to be reminded that God is with you in the face of darkness.
3. How did the chief priests and elders convince the crowds to ask for Barabbas?
That’s a great question! Unfortunately the gospel writers do not leave us with this information.
4. What crime did Jesus commit?
This is one of the points that Matthew is trying to leave us with—Jesus was innocent. We can’t find his crime here or elsewhere because Jesus righteous. Hebrews 4:15 notes that Jesus was ‘tempted in every way, just as we are-yet he did not sin.’ See Hebrews 4:14-16 for further reflections.
Thanks for experimenting with me on Sunday. It was interesting and fun to hear your observations. Maybe we can convince Pastor Michael to do it sometime! I can’t wait to ask questions before his sermon!
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Or visit my church’s website at http://www.chriocommunities.org.