The Jewish leaders have sent Jesus on to Pilate for judgement and sentencing. They’ve decided that Jesus deserves to die but they have two problems. First of all, they don’t actually have the authority to execute and secondly, they haven’t got a clue as to what they should execute him for. They’ve tried to find a witness or two, any witness to come up with something they can pin on him and they’ve failed.
So, they send Jesus to Pilate, the Roman governor with a reputation for ruthless, and at times clumsy suppression of decent. Surely it won’t take time for him to deal with the problem? However there is something about Jesus that causes Pilate problems too, not helped by a strange oracle that his wife has. Pilate can’t find anything to pin on Jesus and probably isn’t mindful to do something to help the leading natives. He tries to wash his hands of the Jesus problem, tries to pass the problem on to Herod but eventually ends up with the problem back on his doorstep.
So he offers the people a choice. You can have back a murderous terrorist, a failed revolution of one kind. Or you can have back a failed revolutionary of another kind. I suspect in Pilate’s mind there is little to choose between the two men in terms of agenda and purpose.
The people choose the murderer, they choose Barabbas. Now, I guess that on the basis of what I’ve just said, they would have been able to justify their decision to themselves. The kind of people who got crucified were not low grade criminals but revolutionaries. So, perhaps in their minds, Barabbas was as much a rescuer, champion, hero as Jesus. Of course, he can’t have been a particular good one if he’d got caught, but let’s put that to one side.
The point is this. The people were choosing a saviour. They were deciding their priorities. Whatever reasons they might give, they were choosing to refuse Jesus. They were rejecting the prince of life, they were refusing the one who had set free their possessed, healed their sick, fed their hungry, even raised their dead. It was not so much a positive choice as to welcome one saviour as a negative choice to reject another.
We too will have priorities in front of us, decisions to make. They may seem equal and valid. We may be able to justify this or that decision in our minds. However, ultimately, no matter how we justify our decision, the reality is that our decision is either a choice to accept or to reject Christ.
Note though a twist and irony in the story. They refuse Jesus as their saviour/champion and think they’ve chosen Barabbas. However, unwittingly, they actually made the right choice. They have chosen Jesus as the one who will go the Cross for them as their king. They’ve chosen him to bear mocking scorn, the whip and cruel nails. They’ve chosen him as their scapegoat, as the one to bear guilt and shame, to face death. Unwittingly, they have chosen the right saviour. They have chosen the one who is able to conquer death.