And Pilate said to them, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him.” So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified. Mark 15:14-15
Pilate did not want to kill Jesus. He was amazed at the way Jesus conducted himself while being accused of many things. Perhaps his own moral compass caused him to seek justice. In Matthew’s Gospel he gets word from his wife to have nothing to do with Jesus. It was a high period of power and prosperity in the Roman empire and he may have taken pride in his role as governor and desired to honestly do his job well. Whatever the reason he tried to talk the people out of what they wanted to do and sought to release Jesus. He thought having him scourged would satisfy their desire for wrath and that’s why Jesus was whipped before being crucified. He offered to release Barabbas the murderer or Jesus thinking surely they would chose to free Jesus if those were the only two choices.
Look again at verse 15; wishing to satisfy the crowd… he delivered him to be crucified. How many times have we gone along with the crowd when it wasn’t really what we wanted to do? How many times should we have said something but it was easier to go along with the group think? How many wrongs have been done throughout history because pleasing the crowd is easier than taking a stand? We don’t hear much anymore about peer pressure but that’s akin to what happened here. The Jews weren’t really his peers, after all Pilate was a politician.
But food for thought: the next time you follow the crowd knowing that it is the wrong thing to do, that kind of thinking killed Jesus. In order to please the crowd, Barabbas the murderer was released from jail and Jesus was sent to the cross.
The Bronze Serpent
4 From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. 5 And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” 6 Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. 7 And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. 8 And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live. Numbers 21:4-9
So if you were bitten by a fiery serpent, all you had to do was look at the bronze serpent set on the pole in order to live and not die. We are not told how obedient Israel was in this matter but we can safely assume that some people did just that while others failed to believe it would make any difference… and died anyway. Like I say, we don’t know that for certain but we are given many, many examples of incomplete obedience. Now consider the parales: the fiery serpents represent sin. Because of our sin nature from birth we are all “bitten” by it and will die. All one must do to live is look in faith to the Lamb of God lifted up on the tree at Calvary. Look up and live, it’s as simple as that. And just in case it were possible to miss the symbolism of this Old Testament story, consider these words of Jesus:
And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. John 3:14-15
Genesis 22 tells the story of Abraham sacrificing his son Isaac. For clarity’s sake perhaps we should say almost sacrificing his son. Abraham was willing, able and just about to offer his son Isaac when he was stopped by the Angel of the Lord.
Abraham believed God and that belief was counted to him as righteousness in Genesis 15:6. Isaac had been born to Abraham and Sarah in their old age, so Abraham had no reason to question God’s instructions. Hebrews 11 commends his faithfulness, so great that he believed God could restore Isaac to life. An interesting conversation took place as they hiked up the mountain together. Isaac noted they had wood and fire but asked about a lamb to sacrifice. Abraham said that “God will provide himself a lamb.” When Isaac was spared at the last moment, Abraham saw a ram caught by its horns and sacrificed that as an offering of thanksgiving. He named the place Jehovah-jireh or the LORD will provide.
As we prepare to celebrate the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ it’s hard to miss the parallels. We have in the Genesis account a father that is willing to sacrifice the son that he loves. They walked up the mountain together. And even though Isaac is ultimately spared we see the ram serve as substitute sacrifice. It was guilty of nothing but its blood was poured out. Now consider the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, and recall the words of Abraham; God will provide himself with a sacrifice.
Only be sure that you do not eat the blood, for the blood is the life, and you shall not eat the life with the flesh. -Deut 12:23
In Deuteronomy 12 Moses reiterates some of the instructions to the Hebrews regarding where and how animals may be prepared and eaten. If they were killing the animal to be prepared as food then the blood was to be poured on the ground. If the animal was being offered on the altar then the flesh could be eaten but the blood was to spilled on the altar. Why? Because the life of an animal is in it’s blood.
Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. -Heb 9:22
As we approach the Passion week it’s appropriate to think about some of those Old Testament lessons. Everything about the sacrificial system help us understand what Jesus did on the cross and does now seated at the right hand of God. The design of the tabernacle, the office of the High Priest, the altar, the sacrifice and the blood of atonement all speak to the ministry of Jesus. Read Hebrews 9 to tie it all together.
But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God,purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. -Hebrews 9:11-14
“Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.”
Begin by reading Exodus 32:1-6. The Hebrews demanded that Aaron make gods for them to worship and remarkably Aaron did so. Up until this point of the Exodus narrative Aaron had been as the spoken voice of God to the people of Israel. God would instruct Moses, Moses would share the commands with Aaron, and Aaron would in turn relay all that God had said to the people. They had all witnessed the plagues in Egypt, miraculously crossed the Red Sea, and trembled in fear as smoke and fire descended onto Mount Sinai. They had not yet received the written tablets but the words of the Ten Commandments had been spoken by God in Exodus 20. Before and after the commandments were listed all the congregation of Israel said together “All that you say we will do.” So why after all that would they risk provoking the anger of God by making an idol to worship? Continue reading
Last week I tried to answer the question Why Do We Pray in Jesus’ Name? Paul Wilkinson combined that post with another from the All About Prayer blog for this 2-for-1 special at Christianity 201. When I preached this sermon on Sunday morning I expounded on the name of Jesus by including two other scripture references: Acts 4:12 (And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved) and Philippians 2:9-11 (Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father). emphasis added Continue reading
In the company I keep (Baptist churches in the Southeastern United States) it is a common feature of every pray to end with the words “in Jesus’ name we pray, amen.” Whether you invoke the name of Jesus at the beginning or the end of prayer, it’s probably something you do or have heard done even if you are not fully aware of the reasons behind it. We should address our prayers to the heavenly Father in the name of Jesus, but it is important to understand why and not just keep repeating words because we’re supposed to. Continue reading