Jesus or Barabbas?

Posted Apr 6, 2021

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Daily Scripture

Note to readers: During Lent Resurrection joins 300 or more other congregations in Kansas City and others in Hong Kong and Ghana in reading the entire gospel of Mark. Take the time to read the whole gospel with us.

To watch a video that covers Mark 15:1-24, click here. (The larger project pre-determined the size of the video segments; hence they do not precisely match the reading assignments.)

Mark 15:6-15

6 During the festival, Pilate released one prisoner to them, whomever they requested. 7 A man named Barabbas was locked up with the rebels who had committed murder during an uprising. 8 The crowd pushed forward and asked Pilate to release someone, as he regularly did. 9 Pilate answered them, “Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?” 10 He knew that the chief priests had handed him over because of jealousy. 11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas to them instead. 12 Pilate replied, “Then what do you want me to do with the one you call king of the Jews?”

13 They shouted back, “Crucify him!”

14 Pilate said to them, “Why? What wrong has he done?”

They shouted even louder, “Crucify him!”

15 Pilate wanted to satisfy the crowd, so he released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus whipped, then handed him over to be crucified.

Reflection Questions

The name Jesus (Greek form of Joshua) was common in New Testament times. Matthew’s gospel, written after Mark, said it was Barabbas’ first name. “At that time there was a well-known prisoner named Jesus Barabbas. When the crowd had come together, Pilate asked them, ‘Whom would you like me to release to you, Jesus Barabbas or Jesus who is called Christ?’” (Matthew 27:16-17) Pilate asked the hostile crowd, one last time, “What wrong has he done?” The crowd (stirred up by the chief priests) didn’t answer; they just snarled, “Crucify him!”

  • Mark said Barabbas “had committed murder during an uprising”—that is, fighting Romans. Pastor John Killinger wrote, “Two Jesuses. Did Pilate see the irony? Was it a clever act on his part to put the two before the crowd and offer to release… Jesus the murderer or Jesus the Messiah? Which would they free?”* The crowd voted for the killer, not the man who said, “Love your enemies.” Which Jesus do you choose?
  • Pilate, realistic and morally weak, chose to satisfy the crowd by killing an innocent man. Pastor Hamilton asked, “What happens when you are faced with doing something you believe is right but which will cause a large number of people to be upset with you, maybe even turn against you? ... When have you said or done things aimed at satisfying the crowd? When have you remained silent when you should have spoken out?”**


Lord Jesus, who suffered unjustly, help me not to look away from times when that happens today, but to pit myself against injustice with all my mind, heart and strength. Amen.

* John Killinger, His Power in You (The Devotional Commentary: Mark). Waco, TX: Word Books, 1978, pp. 134-135.

** Adam Hamilton, 24 Hours That Changed the World: 40 Days of Reflection. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2009, pp. 122-123.

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Brandon Gregory

Brandon Gregory

Brandon Gregory is a volunteer for the worship and missions teams at Church of the Resurrection. He helps lead worship at Leawood's modern worship services, as well as at the West and Downtown services, and is involved with the Malawi missions team at home.

I spent most of my adolescent life in an Evangelical church in the South. I don’t know if this was a Southern thing or an Evangelical thing or some combination of the two, but a lot of the people I knew seemed ready to fight at a moment’s notice. Someone living unrepentantly and obviously in sin? Fight. Someone voting differently than most of the church? Fight. Someone struggling to find their footing after unfortunate circumstances forced them to make difficult decisions? You guessed it: fight. In a weird way, courage and boldness became idols that we worshiped just as highly—sometimes even more highly—as God himself.

Moving from that church to Church of the Resurrection was a breath of fresh air to be sure. Being a part of a church that truly did welcome everyone and sought to bring everyone together was a welcome change. But, after seeing the blatant push for boldness in my old church, I started seeing it play out in more subtle ways in many other areas of my life. Friends who dedicate themselves to inclusion can start daring each other to move closer and closer to attacking others who don’t go far enough with them. Friends who have dedicated themselves to the idea that America is a place where everybody’s got a shot at greatness can turn hostile when reminded that some people haven’t had quite the same shot that others have.

As humans, we’re hard-wired to want to stand for something. We’ll stand for an idea, or a religion, or a political party, or a social group, or any number of things, but it’s human nature to throw our identity into something bigger than we are and fight to protect it. In a strange sense, I’m grateful to the church of my adolescence for showing me that so plainly so that I can recognize it when I see it elsewhere in my life. And I have to admit that, far too often, I fall into this trap myself, thinking that people who don’t believe as hard as I do and fight as hard as I do are not worthy of the same level of identity that I have in that idea. If we’re honest, all of us struggle with that at times.

Looking at today’s passage and the similar passage in Matthew, we see a crowd of people so ready to fight that, when given the choice between Jesus Barabbas the murderer and Jesus the Christ, who preached pacifism, they overwhelmingly chose the murderer. It seems like such a foolish, even irrational choice. But I wonder if any of us was riled up to fight for an idea and was offered the choice between a fierce warrior or a pacifist who asked us to love our enemies would choose differently. When we’re so dedicated to fighting for our idea, or our religion, or our political party that we dare others to fight us, many of us are essentially choosing to release a killer over a pacifist in defense of our idea. That’s a dangerous spot to be in, but it never starts at that spot; the choice is made in every step along the way.

I don’t want to put forth the idea that every belief, even those that are truly vile, is equally valid and that there aren’t ideas worth fighting for. That’s not the case at all. But Jesus the Christ chose to change the world with love, where Jesus Barabbas chose to change the world with force. The point is to find an idea worth standing for, but to change the world with love rather than force. I can’t promise it will be easy—after all, they crucified Jesus—but that’s what Jesus the Christ is asking of us.

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