135: Crucify Him!
The sunshine was warming the streets by the time Jesus was led through the city again. From all the streets and alleys people came running. They cried out in amazement when they saw that Jesus was a prisoner. The man they had listened to breathlessly in the temple, the man who had dared to lash out at the scribes and Pharisees, that man was now a prisoner. He was in the rabbis' hands. Were the rabbis more powerful than Jesus after all?
Shouts of fear and excitement rang through the streets. More and more people joined the procession. An excited crowd swirled around Jesus. The large, jubilant procession moved through the city toward the hall of justice.
Pilate heard the noise in the square in front of his residence. When he looked outside, his face darkened. Would he have to look into those wonderfully pure, innocent eyes again? Would he have to listen to the screaming of the hated Jews? He was afraid of those eyes, but he was also afraid of the rebellious Jews. How they could carry on when they were worked up!
But Pilate was the governor, after all. He, not the stubborn rabbis, was in charge. He pressed his lips together resolutely and stood tall as he stepped outside. He tried to look proud as he signaled the chief priests and Jewish leaders to come forward. There was determination in his voice as he addressed them: "You have brought this man to me as someone who is misleading the people. I examined Him in your presence and was not able to find anything wrong with Him. Neither did Herod find anything, for he has sent Him back. This man has done nothing to deserve death. Therefore I will have Him whipped and then release Him."
There was an enraged outcry from the Jews. It grew louder and wilder. Had they gone through all the trouble of capturing and trying Jesus only to have Him released? No, Jesus must die!
Pilate was frightened when he saw how determined the Jews were. His courage and resolution began to waver. After all, he had to be careful in how he dealt with those excited Jews. He did not want to spark a riot.
Suddenly a clever plan came to his mind. It was customary to let one prisoner free each year during the Passover. The people were allowed to choose. The prisoner was shown grace because of the festival in the city.
Pilate knew that there was a notorious robber in prison. That robber had killed someone during an uprising. His name was Barabbas. What if Pilate were to present Jesus and Barabbas for the people to choose between? Pilate knew that the people revered Jesus. Only the chief priests, who had Him arrested, hated and despised Him. The people would surely choose to have Jesus freed.
Pilate had Barabbas brought from prison and placed next to Jesus. He turned to the people, doing his best to act friendly and generous.
"You have the custom that one prisoner is released at the time of the Passover," he said. "Who should be released, Barabbas or Jesus, the one who is called Christ? Do you want me to release the King of the Jews for you?"
There was silence among the people. Only the excited whispering of the rabbis could be heard. The people looked at Barabbas and Jesus in surprise.
Pilate smiled. He did not doubt which prisoner they would choose.
At that moment a servant hurried over to Pilate and gave him a note from his wife. Pilate turned away to read the note. Why would his wife disturb him while he was trying this case?
Pilate read the note. Jesus, meanwhile, stood on display before the people next to Barabbas. The Son of God was placed on the same level as the murderer.
The rabbis moved among the people and urged them to vote for Barabbas. Barabbas was a brave man who had fought against the Romans. What had Jesus done? If He were a hero, why had He let Himself be taken prisoner so easily?
The people looked at Jesus and nodded. They had thought He would become their king and would free the people from Roman rule. But He had not. Perhaps He was afraid. How could they have assumed that He was the Messiah!
Pilate had not seen how much the priests stirred up the people. He was engrossed in his wife's note, for she had some amazing things to say about Jesus. She knew that soldiers had been sent out the evening before to take Him prisoner. Now she wrote, "Don't get involved in the case of this righteous man. I have suffered a great deal today in a dream on account of Him."
It was Pilate's final warning. Did Pilate need that warning? In just a few minutes he would be able to free Jesus.
Pilate turned to the people with a smile. "Well, which of the two would you like me to release?"
From a thousand mouths came the answer, "Away with Him! Release Barabbas!"
The smile vanished from Pilate's face. "Then what must I do with Jesus, who is called Christ?" he asked, deeply disappointed.
"Crucify Him! Crucify Him!" shouted the people.
"What has He done wrong?" Pilate cried out in despair. "He is innocent!"
His words were drowned in the people's shouts and screams. "Crucify Him! Crucify Him!" That commotion echoed between the walls and was heard throughout the city. A wild, excited mob milled about in the square before Pilate.
Pilate turned pale, and his soldiers clutched their spears uneasily. Only one person stayed completely calm. He looked down at the screaming people without losing any of His composure. Because of Him all of this was happening.
Those same people had shouted, "Hosanna to the Son of David!" only a few days before. Now they were screaming for His blood.
They had brought the sick, the cripples and the children to Jesus. Jesus had never turned them away. Now they were driving Him to the cross.
He had loved them so much. He still loved them with all His soul. That was why He suffered in silence. Through that suffering a great blessing would come to them. The unfaithfulness of those blinded people, this horrible ingratitude caused Him the greatest anguish just then.
"Crucify Him! Crucify Him!" The people pressed forward up to the Roman buildings. The soldiers watched the governor impatiently, waiting for an order to beat back the rebellious mob. Pilate gave no such order.
He let Barabbas go. Barabbas leaped into the crowd with a wild, happy shout and was greeted joyously. Pilate turned Jesus over to the soldiers to be whipped.