Mark 15:6-15 (ESV)
Now at the feast he used to release for them one prisoner for whom they asked.  And among the rebels in prison, who had committed murder in the insurrection, there was a man called Barabbas.  And the crowd came up and began to ask Pilate to do as he usually did for them.  And he answered them, saying, "Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?"  For he perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up.  But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release for them Barabbas instead.  And Pilate again said to them, "Then what shall I do with the man you call the King of the Jews?"  And they cried out again, "Crucify him."  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.
“Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” It is a strange question. One might get the impression that Pilate is buying into the notion that Jesus is King of the Jews. I’m sure he wasn’t totally ignorant of the happenings in Jerusalem as of recent, the palm parade, driving out the money changers, it’s actually quite amazing that Pilate hadn’t arrested Jesus on charges of insurrection or just had his soldiers taking him down in the name of keeping the peace. But Pilate really does not want to execute Jesus at this point. Perhaps he thinks that if he releases Jesus he can buy his favor? I get the impression he didn’t think the Pharisees and the Chief Priests would not last long with him being around.
It is the irony that a murderer is released in order that a murder might take place. The first recorded and actual sin after the fall was a murder, well maybe it wasn’t giving of the first fruits. But we fixate on the murder, seems a harsher sin to us. God shows mercy there. It is the same mercy he shows here. He lets the murderer go. I’m sure there were plenty in jail for lesser crimes. Romans could be strict about the law, and they really didn’t need much of a reason to execute anyone. But Jesus lets a murderer go, takes the place of a murderer on the cross. According to human reason, sins don’t get much worse than murder. Life is sacred. It’s so sacred we have a hard time swallowing the idea of letting a man die in peace. As a hospice chaplain I’ve watched people shorten their life span by seeking medical attention that was more tortuous than if they had just stayed in bed doped up on morphine. And quite frankly if I’m in hospice, don’t go easy on the pain meds, at that point in life addiction is the least of one’s worries. It’s hard though. I don’t know that I blame those people. (Sometimes would like to have a word or two with the doctor who books surgery for a terminally ill patient…) Life is that sacred to us. Even as Christians who know that it is better for us should we go, to live is Christ and that is sacred. Murder is a sin that chills to the bone. People who hear their mothers visited planned parenthood are thrown into existential crisis. Perhaps it’s not something were always worried about, but when a murder hits close to home and touches on our own mortality, well then we want it punished. We tend to think of it as the worst thing a person could do, and only partially because it is an assault on the image of God. And yet it is the murderer Jesus replaces. There is forgiveness. Forgiveness runs that deep. Salvation runs that deep.
I think that is the thing. People never get upset if they think the pastor is absolving little kids for cussing, or perhaps a husband for looking askance at a younger woman. For the most part the idea that a pastor absolves people for viewing pornography, a wife for committing adultery, these things don’t phase people. But the idea that a pastor would hear someone confess child abuse, or murder, or what have you, and not divulge those sins, that is something that gets people riled up. Its as if we don’t believe Jesus died for those sins. The truth is he did. And I for one am thankful. I’m thankful Jesus replaced a murderer, The King of the Jews takes his place, if he hadn’t I might be prone to think my sins weren’t forgiven. Either they are all forgiven or none of them are forgiven. I’ll go with scripture. I’ll go with all.