Meanwhile Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
“You have said so,” Jesus replied.
When he was accused by the chief priests and the elders, he gave no answer. Then Pilate asked him, “Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?” But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge—to the great amazement of the governor.
Now it was the governor’s custom at the festival to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. At that time they had a well-known prisoner whose name was Jesus Barabbas. So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” For he knew it was out of self-interest that they had handed Jesus over to him.
While Pilate was sitting on the judge’s seat, his wife sent him this message: “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.”
But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed.
“Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” asked the governor.
“Barabbas,” they answered.
“What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” Pilate asked.
They all answered, “Crucify him!”
“Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate.
But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”
When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!”
All the people answered, “His blood is on us and on our children!”
Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified. Matthew 27:11-26 (ESV)
We are Barabbas. We are the guilty ones who deserved to be in Jesus’ place. Even Pilate, who was not a guiltless man himself, could see Jesus’ innocence and the injustice of bringing Him to trial. Pilate washed his hands of the responsibility of condemning Jesus (though one could argue that Jesus died for the sins of Pilate as well) as if to say he would not be party to the death of an innocent man.
We are Barabbas. We identify with him. We called to have him- Barabbas, the deservedly guilty scoundrel and murderer exonerated, and at the same time we called for the blood of Jesus, the spotless Lamb of God, to be upon us.
Without realizing it, we played right into God’s hand. The Great Exchange was made. The perfect Son of God was sent to be a ransom for the curse of Adam, to overturn sin, death and the power of Satan- not as a mighty warrior with an army and a sword, but as a suffering Servant, dying a ignominious death on a Roman cross.
The Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, was sacrificed so Barabbas- and the rest of guilty humanity- could be reconciled to God and could inherit eternal life.
Even though the sins of humanity cry out through the ages: Crucify Him!, the broken and bleeding and suffering Jesus cries louder through unspeakable anguish and torment: It is finished!
For the Lord will pass through to strike the Egyptians, and when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the Lord will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you. Exodus 12:23 (ESV)
In this everlasting Passover, the blood of the Lamb marks God’s children with the cross of Christ. The Angel of Death must pass over those who are marked with His cross and covered by His blood. We are brought to this great salvation as a gift- by the grace of God and faith in Christ that are given to us in baptism, in the preaching and hearing of the Word, and in the sharing of the Body and Blood at the altar.
We have nothing to offer God but our sins. Yet through faith in Jesus we are forgiven and our sins are washed away.