Read John 18
1 When he had finished praying, Jesus left with his disciples and crossed the Kidron Valley. On the other side there was a garden, and he and his disciples went into it.
2 Now Judas, who betrayed him, knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with his disciples. 3 So Judas came to the garden, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and the Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons.
4 Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, “Who is it you want?”
5 “Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied.
“I am he,” Jesus said. (And Judas the traitor was standing there with them.) 6 When Jesus said, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground.
7 Again he asked them, “Who is it you want?”
“Jesus of Nazareth,” they said.
8 Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. If you are looking for me, then let these men go.” 9 This happened so that the words he had spoken would be fulfilled: “I have not lost one of those you gave me.”
10 Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.)
11 Jesus commanded Peter, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?”
12 Then the detachment of soldiers with its commander and the Jewish officials arrested Jesus. They bound him 13 and brought him first to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. 14 Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jewish leaders that it would be good if one man died for the people.
Peter’s First Denial
15 Simon Peter and another disciple were following Jesus. Because this disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the high priest’s courtyard, 16 but Peter had to wait outside at the door. The other disciple, who was known to the high priest, came back, spoke to the servant girl on duty there and brought Peter in.
17 “You aren’t one of this man’s disciples too, are you?” she asked Peter.
He replied, “I am not.”
18 It was cold, and the servants and officials stood around a fire they had made to keep warm. Peter also was standing with them, warming himself.
The High Priest Questions Jesus
19 Meanwhile, the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching.
20 “I have spoken openly to the world,” Jesus replied. “I always taught in synagogues or at the temple, where all the Jews come together. I said nothing in secret. 21 Why question me? Ask those who heard me. Surely they know what I said.”
22 When Jesus said this, one of the officials nearby slapped him in the face. “Is this the way you answer the high priest?” he demanded.
23 “If I said something wrong,” Jesus replied, “testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike me?” 24 Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.
Peter’s Second and Third Denials
25 Meanwhile, Simon Peter was still standing there warming himself. So they asked him, “You aren’t one of his disciples too, are you?”
He denied it, saying, “I am not.”
26 One of the high priest’s servants, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, challenged him, “Didn’t I see you with him in the garden?” 27 Again Peter denied it, and at that moment a rooster began to crow.
Jesus Before Pilate
28 Then the Jewish leaders took Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness they did not enter the palace, because they wanted to be able to eat the Passover. 29 So Pilate came out to them and asked, “What charges are you bringing against this man?”
30 “If he were not a criminal,” they replied, “we would not have handed him over to you.”
31 Pilate said, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.”
“But we have no right to execute anyone,” they objected. 32 This took place to fulfill what Jesus had said about the kind of death he was going to die.
33 Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
34 “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”
35 “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”
36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”
37 “You are a king, then!” said Pilate.
Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
38 “What is truth?” retorted Pilate. With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him. 39 But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?”
40 They shouted back, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!” Now Barabbas had taken part in an uprising.
Today’s reading is tough to digest. In the matter of a few hours, Jesus was betrayed by a close friend, arrested like the criminal He wasn’t by hundreds of soldiers with swords, denied by another even closer friend, and mocked for His very true title as King. Jesus was subjected to the worst kinds of abuse, rejection, and suffering by the very people He came to save. And then, most upsetting of all, when the crowd was given the opportunity to save Him, they chose to save Barabbas, instead.
Barabbas was a convicted felon. Accused of at least three crimes: theft (john 18:40), insurrection, and murder (Mark 15:7). He was correctly arrested. His prison sentence was deserved. And yet, here he is shown mercy. The flogs that Jesus received were supposed to be his. The cross that Jesus carried was supposed to be his. The nails the soldiers drove into Jesus’ hands and feet were supposed to go through his hands and feet. Jesus quite literally took Barabbas’ spot. Jesus got what Barabbas deserved—death. Barabbas got what he didn’t deserve—new life.
As much as this part of the story upends our sense of right and wrong and disturbs our view of justice, the harsh truth of Barabbas’ story is that it’s our story too. Like Romans 6:23 says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We all deserve death, just like Barabbas. But, just like Barabbas, Jesus willingly takes our place, giving us a second chance at life.
Scripture doesn’t tell us what happens to Barabbas. Maybe he took advantage of his newfound freedom, developed a new lease on life, and set out to change his ways. If he’s like many, he took the grace given to him and stayed on his same path of sin, pain, and destruction. We face those same two options as Barabbas. Newly free, unbound from our prison shackles, given grace we couldn’t ever earn, we can choose to live as fully free men and women… Or, we can remain captive to our life of sin. The choice is ours. The grace is ours for the taking. What will you do with your second chance at life?
- How are you like Barabbas?
- In what ways do you waste the grace of Jesus given to you? How do you remain captive to your sins?
- How can you walk forward in the freedom offered to you by Jesus today?
Did You Know?
The Kidron valley that Jesus and His disciples crossed over on their way to the garden was actually a small stream of drainage that flowed from the Temple. It would’ve been reddish in color from the thousands of lambs sacrificed that night on the Passover. As Jesus crossed it, He was probably reminded of the sacrifice He was about to make and the blood His body was about to shed.