Calvary Road Baptist Church


Luke 23.1-25


This Friday is observed throughout the Christian world as Good Friday, in remembrance of that day so long ago when the Lord Jesus Christ, the King of the Jews and the Son of God, was crucified at the hands of the Romans and at the instigation of the Jewish religious hierarchy. As you are turning to Luke’s gospel, chapter twenty-three, let me rehearse the chronology leading up to the events referred to in the account we are about to read:


Ÿ  The evening before His crucifixion, our Lord Jesus Christ ate the Passover with His twelve disciples in the upper room and instituted the memorial of eating bread and drinking wine in remembrance of Him.

Ÿ  He then taught lessons to the eleven after Judas Iscariot was dismissed to betray Him. He instructed the remaining disciples in the upper room, as well as along the way to the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane.

Ÿ  Somewhere along the way, possibly near Gethsemane, the Lord Jesus prayed His high priestly intercessory prayer that is recorded in John chapter seventeen.

Ÿ  In the Garden of Gethsemane, above the brook Kidron and at the foot of the Mount of Olives, the Lord Jesus suffered and prayed with His disciples nearby.

Ÿ  In the wee hours of the morning, long before the rising of the sun, our Lord was identified by Judas Iscariot and taken into custody by Temple guards, removed to the home of the ex-high priest, Annas, and examined before being taken to the home of the current high priest, Caiaphas, where the Sanhedrin condemned Him and physically assaulted Him.

Ÿ  The Lord Jesus was then removed to the Antonia Fortress that abutted the Temple, for an appearance before the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, who passed Him off to Herod Antipas.

Ÿ  After Herod’s soldiers mocked Him and dressed Him in gorgeous apparel, He was returned to Pilate for a second hearing.


The text we will read this morning is Luke’s record of our Lord Jesus Christ before Pilate, then before Herod, and then before Pilate for the last time. Please stand with me to read from Luke 23.1:


1      And the whole multitude of them arose, and led him unto Pilate.

2      And they began to accuse him, saying, We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, saying that he himself is Christ a King.

3      And Pilate asked him, saying, Art thou the King of the Jews? And he answered him and said, Thou sayest it.

4      Then said Pilate to the chief priests and to the people, I find no fault in this man.

5      And they were the more fierce, saying, He stirreth up the people, teaching throughout all Jewry, beginning from Galilee to this place.

6      When Pilate heard of Galilee, he asked whether the man were a Galilaean.

7      And as soon as he knew that he belonged unto Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod, who himself also was at Jerusalem at that time.

8      And when Herod saw Jesus, he was exceeding glad: for he was desirous to see him of a long season, because he had heard many things of him; and he hoped to have seen some miracle done by him.

9      Then he questioned with him in many words; but he answered him nothing.

10     And the chief priests and scribes stood and vehemently accused him.

11     And Herod with his men of war set him at nought, and mocked him, and arrayed him in a gorgeous robe, and sent him again to Pilate.

12     And the same day Pilate and Herod were made friends together: for before they were at enmity between themselves.

13     And Pilate, when he had called together the chief priests and the rulers and the people,

14     Said unto them, Ye have brought this man unto me, as one that perverteth the people: and, behold, I, having examined him before you, have found no fault in this man touching those things whereof ye accuse him:

15     No, nor yet Herod: for I sent you to him; and, lo, nothing worthy of death is done unto him.

16     I will therefore chastise him, and release him.

17     (For of necessity he must release one unto them at the feast.)

18     And they cried out all at once, saying, Away with this man, and release unto us Barabbas:

19     (Who for a certain sedition made in the city, and for murder, was cast into prison.)

20     Pilate therefore, willing to release Jesus, spake again to them.

21     But they cried, saying, Crucify him, crucify him.

22     And he said unto them the third time, Why, what evil hath he done? I have found no cause of death in him: I will therefore chastise him, and let him go.

23     And they were instant with loud voices, requiring that he might be crucified. And the voices of them and of the chief priests prevailed.

24     And Pilate gave sentence that it should be as they required.

25     And he released unto them him that for sedition and murder was cast into prison, whom they had desired; but he delivered Jesus to their will.


Who do you identify with in this Passion narrative? Of course, as a good Christian, you are likely to say Jesus. He is the good guy, the innocent who was unjustly accused and illegally tried. It is only natural that as we relive the story, we pull for Him, and against His enemies. He does have a very long list of enemies, does He not?


Ÿ  Judas, who betrays Him.

Ÿ  Simon Peter, who denies Him . . . three times!

Ÿ  The priests and Sanhedrin, who hate Him and who actually assault Him.

Ÿ  Herod and his soldiers, who mock Him and treat Him as though he is nothing.

Ÿ  The crowd that calls for His crucifixion.

Ÿ  The Roman governor, Pilate, who washes his hands of any responsibility and condemns Him.

Ÿ  The Roman soldiers who mercilessly beat and ridicule Him.

Ÿ  And Barabbas, who is guilty but gets to go free.


Wait a minute. Barabbas — the guilty one who gets to go free? In the passage we have just read, Luke leads us sinners, in his careful wording of the narrative, to identify in this significant way with Barabbas. As our Lord Jesus Christ’s condemnation leads to the release of a multitude of spiritual captives from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation, so also His death sentence leads to the release of the physical captive Barabbas.

In verse 15, Luke quotes Pilate to establish our Lord’s manifest innocence: “Lo, nothing worthy of death is done unto him.” Then he confirms Barabbas’ guilt in verse 19, as “Who for a certain sedition made in the city, and for murder, was cast into prison.” In verse 22, after the mob has called for our Lord’s crucifixion for a third time, Luke emphasizes His innocence again in the words of Pilate: “Why, what evil hath he done? I have found no cause of death in him: I will therefore chastise him, and let him go.” However, unconvinced, the crowd continues to demand the death of the Savior and, wonder of all wonders, the release in His place of the manifestly guilty Barabbas. So Pilate “released unto them him that for sedition and murder was cast into prison, whom they had desired; but he delivered Jesus to their will.”

This is the first substitution of the cross. The innocent Jesus is condemned as a criminal, while the criminal Barabbas is released as if innocent. And still today, because of the willing substitution of the innocent Jesus, Barabbases like us go free. You may still see yourself in a different light than you see Barabbas, so I would like to develop our understanding of him, to see what this man who was released when he should have been crucified, and whose place Jesus took on the cross, was really like.

Four things about Barabbas:




Matthew 27.16: “And they had then a notable prisoner, called Barabbas.”


Barabbas was being held in a cell in the basement in the Antonia Fortress, awaiting execution by crucifixion. I was in what was very likely the underground cell he was held in just weeks ago, which was the common cell where all the Roman’s prisoners awaiting execution were held. Matthew describes him as a notable prisoner, using the Greek word epismos. The word originally referred to a splendid ram from a flock, the most outstanding specimen. It was used to describe someone or something of exceptional quality, splendid, prominent, outstanding. However, the word also took on the idea over time of being exceptional in a bad sense, of being notorious.[2] It is easy to see that in this sense the Lord Jesus Christ was nothing like Barabbas. Barabbas was exceptional in the worst sense, while the Lord Jesus Christ was exceptional in the very best sense.

What about you? Where do you fall on the spectrum of splendid at one extreme versus notorious at the other extreme? To evaluate something or someone, there are usually two criteria to be considered, one’s nature or essence, and one’s behavior or the deeds he performs. What does the Bible say about your nature? Romans 5.12 speaks to every man’s sinful nature when Paul writes, “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” Contrast that with the Lord’s sinless nature and you see that your nature is like the nature of Barabbas, and not at all like the sinless nature of the Lord Jesus Christ.[3] Then there are one’s deeds. More on this in a moment, though it is clear that Jesus went about doing good while Barabbas went about doing evil. At which end of the deeds spectrum are your deeds to be found? I read Isaiah 64.6: “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.” It seems as though each of us is more like Barabbas than we would like to admit, or than we would initially think to be true. Barabbas was, indeed, notable, as we are notable.




Mark 15.7: “And there was one named Barabbas, which lay bound with them that had made insurrection with him. . . .”


Barabbas was a man committed to the overthrow of Roman rule in his native homeland. As well, it seems that he was a leader of the insurrectionists. Of course, this places him in direct conflict with the Lord Jesus Christ, Who not only paid taxes to Imperial Rome, but also directed others to comply with Roman law, when He said, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which be Caesar’s, and unto God the things which be God’s.”[4]

Is it not amazing that the Romans crucified someone who was committed to obeying Roman law, and who encouraged His followers to submit to Caesar, while setting free a man who was being held for insurrection? And what about the Jewish leaders? Though they hated the Romans, they were committed to Roman rule as the only alternative to a bloodbath they knew their people could not win. Yet they sided with Barabbas against the Lord Jesus Christ. This was truly a spiritual conflict rather than the reasoned responses of seasoned politicians weighing the pros and cons of their actions.

What about you? Are you not by nature an insurrectionist? Is it not true that your obedience is not a heart obedience? I will have to admit that my own submission to our country’s rule of law becomes more difficult for me as I increasingly disagree with the whole direction and spirit of our nation’s leaders. Those kinds of sentiments put me precariously close to the sentiments Barabbas must have embraced in his own bosom. I am much more like Barabbas than I am like Jesus, just as you are.




Mark 15.7: “And there was one named Barabbas, which lay bound with them that had made insurrection with him, who had committed murder in the insurrection.”


So Barabbas’ crimes were not limited to rebellion against Roman rule. He, along with those who followed him, had taken lives. He was, therefore, a murderer. How does this compare to the Lord Jesus Christ? Our Lord Jesus Christ did not take life, but gave life. He raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead, as well as His good friend Lazarus. Also keep in mind that His healings no doubt prevented the loss of life on many occasions. And don’t forget that, as the Creator in the Garden of Eden, it was He who breathed into Adam’s nostrils the breath of life to make him a living soul.[5]

At this point, you are likely thinking that you are certainly no murderer, having never in your life taken a human life . . . that anyone in this room knows anything about, that is. However, you have not taken God’s Word into account, specifically First John 3.15, which declares, “Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.”

God, you see, looks on the heart and not only on one’s deeds. Therefore, on Judgment Day, there will be some very surprised people answering the charge of murder who never shed a drop of blood. How so? For being guilty of that which prompts murder, that which motivates murder, and being kept from murder by nothing they have done but by the providential oversight of Almighty God.

As well, do not excuse yourself from the guilt of murder by claiming you have never hated your brother. God, after all, does not leave it to you to define what is and is not murder in His eyes. The verse just before, First John 3.14, clearly shows that hatred is the failure to love the brethren. Matthew Henry writes,


Cain hated, and then slew, his brother. Hatred will shut up the bowels of compassion from the poor brethren, and will thereby expose them to the sorrows of death. And it has appeared that hatred of the brethren has in all ages dressed them up in ill names, odious characters, and calumnies, and exposed them to persecution and the sword. No wonder, then, that he who has a considerable acquaintance with the heart of man, or is taught by him who fully knows it, who knows the natural tendency and issue of vile and violent passions, and knows withal the fulness of the divine law, declares him who hates his brother to be a murderer.[6]


To not love the brethren, who Jesus died for, is to hate them. And to hate them is to have the same heart attitude toward them as those who murder them, a distinction between attitude and action that God does not make. Thus, for your failure to love the brethren, you stand as guilty as Barabbas. Yet, it was Jesus who was crucified and not Barabbas.



John 18.40: “Then cried they all again, saying, Not this man, but Barabbas. Now Barabbas was a robber.”


We already know that Barabbas was a gross violator of God’s law. He could hardly plead innocent after being a murderer. As well, how can one plead innocent of not loving God after murdering one who bears the image and likeness of God? You don’t love the country whose flag you burn. Thus, Barabbas is already guilty of breaking more than one of God’s commandments, the first as well as the sixth.

It is in John’s gospel account that we find out that Barabbas was a robber as well as a murderer and an insurrectionist. He was not only guilty of taking lives and rebelling against governmental authorities he should have submitted to, but he was a highwayman and a bandit as well.[7] Of course, that makes him a thief, a breaker of the eighth commandment.

How much different than the Lord Jesus Christ could a man be? Jesus owns the cattle on a thousand hills and the wealth in every mine. Jesus is the Creator and Sustainer of all things, and as such owns everything. On top of that, He gives everything we need to survive and to thrive, both life and nourishment. Barabbas, on the other hand, was not a giver but was a taker. Yet Barabbas was set free and Jesus was crucified.


My friends, how like Barabbas we discover we are, as we learn more about him. Guilty of violating God’s laws, deserving punishment for his lawlessness, and defiled not only by his actions but in his heart. Like Barabbas, we not only have unclean hands, we have unclean hearts. We are dead in trespasses and sins who know not Jesus in a saving way. As well, we fully deserve the punishment that awaits those who die without Christ. It should be no more surprising to you that Jesus became your substitute than the substitute for Barabbas. You are no less guilty than Barabbas, and no less deserving of God’s punishment.

Therefore, it is as wonderful and gracious that Jesus died in your stead as it is that He died in Barabbas’ stead. What needs to be pointed out, however, is the reason for it. First Peter 3.18 answers the question of what Jesus was doing when He went to the cross on our behalf: “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit.” Jesus did what He did on the cross that He might bring us to God. That He was quickened by the Spirit and rose from the dead was necessary to bring us to God, taking us with Him rather than sending us there without Him. We celebrate His resurrection next Sunday.

Knowing what Jesus intended to accomplish by what He did, and what He actually did accomplish by what He did, we are left with the motive for it. Why did Jesus do what He did? It was love, my friend. Love for the unlovely. Love for the undeserving. Love for the defiled. Love for you. Paul writes in Ephesians 5.2, “. . . Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God . . . .” Jesus took the place of Barabbas because He loves him. Jesus took your place because He loves you. Why did they take Jesus instead of Barabbas? Because they hated Him. Imagine hating the Son of God more than you hate an insurrectionist, a murderer, and a robber.

Things have not changed all that much in 2000 years, have they? How many people prefer this world’s values, this world’s agenda, this world’s offerings, and this world’s pleasures to Jesus? Is that not why they do not embrace Him instead of the world?

You would think Barabbas, whose name means “dad’s son” by the way (bar = son, and abba = dad), would be grateful to Jesus for taking his rightful place on the cross. Was he grateful? Did he ever turn to Jesus? I don’t know. Will you ever turn to Jesus, who took your place on the cross? Again, I don’t know.

What I do know is that I am so thankful that God in His infinite mercy sent His beloved Son to take my place, to pay my penalty, for my salvation from my sins. Christian, do you rejoice with me that Jesus took your place on the cross?

[1] Thanks to David Mathis (Desiring God Blog Thu, Mar 25, 2010) for the inspiration for this message.

[2] Bauer, Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), page 378.

[3] Hebrews 7.26

[4] Luke 20.25

[5] Genesis 2.7

[6] Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary On The Whole Bible, (Bronson, MI: Online Publishing, Inc., 2002),

[7] Bauer, page 594

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