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TEXT: Mark 15:1-15

SUBJECT: Mark #31: The Just for the Unjust

Back in the First Century, BC, there were two great rabbis in Jerusalem. The older man was named Hillel, and the younger was called Shammai. These scholars did not agree on everything, but everyone knew they were men of immense learning, and able to teach as no one had for centuries. Hearing of their fame, a Gentile decided to put them to the test.

He first called on Shammai, and promised to become a Jew if the Law of God could be explained to him while he stood on one foot. The Rabbi was a busy man, and did not suffer fools gladly! He picked up a stick, and waving it in the pagan's face, shouted-

Get out of here, you scoffer! Do you think I have time to waste on people who mock our holy Law?

From there, he went to the other rabbi's home, and put the same question to him-'Explain the Law of God while I stand on one foot'. Without batting an eye, Hillel answered-

What is hateful to you, do not do to others. The rest is commentary.

The Gentile put his foot down and became a Jew.

Suppose someone came to you with a similar demand: 'Explain the Gospel to me in one sentence!' Could you do it? I think you could do it, and it wouldn't even take a whole sentence. What is the Gospel? It is-

The Just for the unjust

This is what today's story is about and, lucky for me, it's how the text is divided. In vv.1-5 Jesus is presented as just under close examination; then, in vv.6-14, we have a man portrayed as unjust: Barabbas is his name, and Mark tells us the kind of man he was; in v.15, we see that the just goes to the cross and the unjust goes free.

More than twenty-five years ago, a skinny young man stood here and preached a sermon from this text, titled, I am Barabbas! The man is not young or skinny anymore, but, he's still Barabbas and still thankful-

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God.


Today's story begins where last week's ended: at the home of Caiaphas, the high priest of Israel. He and the Ruling Council have been up all night trying to pin a capital crime on Jesus. This is not easy to do because-as the trial shows-Jesus has never committed a crime of any kind, no less one deserving death. Many witnesses spoke against Him-Mark says-

But their testimony did not agree.

Frantic to get something on Him, Caiaphas badgers Jesus into confessing He is-

The Christ, the Son of the Blessed.

Is this a crime? To Rome, it isn't. They don't care about the Jews' religion as long as they pay their taxes and don't riot.

But, if it isn't a crime against Rome, it may be a sin against God. Is it? Of course it is-if it's untrue. Is Jesus the Christ? He says He is, and not only says it; His whole life proves it--including his trial before the Ruling Council, for the Bible says the King will be-

Hated without a cause.

Despised and rejected by men.

Silent, as a sheep before its shearers.

All of which happened in court that night.

Lawyers, cunning then as they are now, know they've got nothing to accuse Him of to Pilate, and so they make something up. Their leaps in logic are breathtaking. The argument goes something like this:

    1. To our way of thinking, the King of Israel will overthrow the power of Rome.
    2. Jesus says He is the King of Israel.
    3. Therefore, Jesus says He will overthrow the power of Rome.

Is that what He said? No, He didn't. What He said is, He would overthrow the power of Jerusalem! This is what the whole thing's about! This is what they object to! Jesus is offering Himself as an alternative to them. The Kingdom of God-He says-is not coming by way of the Sanhedrin, it's coming by way of.Me.

This is what the Ruling Council has against Jesus. He has challenged their power, and He's going to pay for it.


This means He has to die, and the only one who can legally put Him to death is the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate. At the crack of dawn, the Rulers are in his court, demanding to see him.

They've got Jesus with them, and He's tied up as if He's a dangerous criminal. Are they afraid of Him? No, they're not; they've tied His hands to make Him look guilty to Pilate. The charge is Insurrection.

The governor wastes no time-

Are you the King of the Jews?

Jesus says He is, and you would think this would be enough for Pilate. But for some reason, it isn't. There's something about the way He said it-or what He says that Mark leaves out-that gives Pilate pause. Maybe the translation is a little off. The Greek says-

You are saying so.

Maybe Jesus is saying, in effect, 'What do you think?' Or, 'If you're saying so, why should I say otherwise?' It seems He is appealing to Pilate's conscience-instead of answering the question Himself, Jesus wants Pilate to answer it.

Knowing thoughtful silence is their worst enemy, the Jews renew their attack on Jesus-

Accusing Him of many things.

Pilate doesn't believe a word they say, but he wonders why Jesus doesn't reply to the charges. As the in night before-

He answered nothing.

He could have. How often had He made monkeys of these men! Now He's as silent as the grave. Why? Because His Father has willed Him to die today, and the prayer in the Garden was not fake-

Not my will, but Yours be done.

There is something else, too. Jesus is the Suffering Servant of God who-

Was oppressed and afflicted,

Yet He opened not His mouth.

Pilate wants Him to speak up, and is amazed when He doesn't. He knows Jesus is innocent, and he wishes He would give him some reason to let Him go. But He doesn't give Pilate the way out he's looking for. There is no way out: Jesus will drink the cup of His Father's wrath and He'll do it today.

After a careful interrogation, Pilate has found no fault with Jesus. When the crowd demands His death shortly, the governor can only plead with them-

Why? What evil has He done?

Matthew adds an unforgettable scene to his story. A bowl of water is brought to the governor, and in the sight of the whole city, he washed his hands of the matter-

I am innocent of the blood of this just person. You see to it.


Pilate is feeling the squeeze. On one side, his conscience is pricking him. He knows the Man is innocent, but if the Rulers write Caesar a letter saying his governor supports 'the king of the Jews', things will get sticky for Pilate.

As the pressure builds on him, he remembers what day it is: Passover! That's the day Israel celebrates God freeing them from Egypt, and to honor the holiday, Rome freed a Jewish prisoner.

Pilate would release Jesus this day, but to make it seem 'fair' he would offer another candidate. The worst man he had in jail at the moment was Barabbas.

The name means, Son of a Father, and the 'father' likely means-not his own dad-but a great rabbi. What was he? Mark says he was an insurrectionist, and that means a rebel against Rome; what kind was he? What was he doing? Not giving speeches or publishing papers; he was assassinating Roman officials or the Jews who collaborated with them. The Romans had a word for these men-sicarii-the knifers. We also have a word for them: Terrorists! He was their top man.

Did he claim to be the Christ? We don't know if he did or not, but that's what he was aiming for, and had he succeeded, Israel would have put him on the throne.

A fake king was held up alongside the True King. The men must have differed in many ways; Mark underlines the most important: Barabbas was the taker of life; Jesus the giver of life. Barabbas would let others die for him, while Jesus died for others.

Pilate had some inkling of this, and assumed the people would demand the release of Jesus. This shows how out-of-touch with the people Pilate was. Many had followed Jesus, not because He was the kind of King He was, but because they thought He was the kind of King Barabbas was!

When allowed to choose what sort of king and kingdom they want, the city shouts for Barabbas and the kingdom of Revenge.

Pilate's gambit has failed. Israel has made it's choice: they have chosen the rule of man over the Kingdom of God; the love of power over the power of love!


Jesus is innocent; Barabbas is guilty. Mark has made this crystal clear, and so have Matthew, Luke, and John. But the innocent man is-

Scourged and delivered to the cross,

While the guilty man is-


This is what Jesus did for Barabbas-and the world. The one sinless Man died in the place of sinners, and thereby won our release from the justice of God, the power of sin, and the hopelessness of death.

This is the Gospel-the just for the unjust-

God has made Him who knew no sin, to be sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.

He was wounded for our transgressions,

He was bruised for our iniquities;

The chastisement of our peace was upon Him,

And by His stripes we are healed.

Are we mindful of what the Lord has done for us, and thankful, or have we slipped into self-congratulations, as though the Gospel is what I do for Christ, instead of what He did for me?

If we believe He died the just for the unjust, how can we despair when we sin? Confess our sins? Of course. Feel remorse? Sure. Make restitution when possible? Yes, we ought to do that. But wallow in our guilt? No! Why not? Because the just died for the unjust! Barabbas did not go from a material prison to a mental prison; he went free. We do too.

More than twenty-five years ago, a skinny young man said, "I am Barabbas". He still is. And Jesus is still Jesus! Let us sing with John Newton-

With pleasing grief and mournful joy

My spirit now is filled,

That I should such a life destroy,

Yet live by Him I killed.

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