We make choices every day.
Sometimes they are obvious. The possibilities lie in sharp contrast, the options spelled out clearly.
But some choices go by without our notice. We make a decision, not understanding the consequences until it is too late.
Matthew 27 is full of choices. Some good, many bad, but all significant.
Pilate chose peace.
On the surface, that sounds good; we all want peace. But at what cost?
Romans valued peace over everything, including justice and truth. They respected the power of the mob and did whatever was necessary to appease them. If they could keep the people happy and distracted, they would not gather together and challenge those in authority.
Pilate knew Jesus was innocent. He understood the accusations against him came from jealousy rather than truth, but he did not let Jesus go.
Instead, he asked the crowd.
I imagine he went through his prisoners, trying to pick the least attractive man to stand next to Jesus. Barabbas was a violent rebel, a murderer (see Mark 15:7) guilty of insurrection. Who would choose him over this innocent man? He would be able to let Jesus go and satisfy the crowd.
But the crowd chose Barabbas.
Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus. Matthew 27:20
Matthew does not describe how the people were persuaded, but I doubt it was with logic and well-thought arguments.
Mobs are dangerous because people do things with a group they would never do on their own. The collective mind finds a point of agreement and individuals stop thinking.
It can be a mighty force for good.
But it is easily led astray.
When given the choice, the people chose Barabbas. They picked the savior they wanted—the rebel willing to fight against Rome, no matter the cost—and condemned the Savior they needed.
And they did not even know why.
Then [Pilate] said, “Why? What has he done wrong?”
But they kept shouting all the more, “Crucify him!” Matthew 27:23
Pilate, in his limited worldview, had no choice. He could not risk a riot. He gave the crowd what they wanted.
Both Pilate and the people made a choice.
Neither of them understood the significance.
But Jesus did, and said nothing.
Because Jesus chose to die.
While it is easy for us to look back with the perspective of time and offer explanations, we must not forget the intensity of this moment.
Jesus chose his path in the garden when he allowed Judas to betray him, but he could have turned away at any point.
He could have argued with the religious leaders and proved his innocence.
He could have pleaded with the crowd, reminding them of his good work among them.
He could have called down an army of angels to remove him from the cross and destroy everyone there.
But he didn’t.
He chose to allow the soldiers to enact his coronation (v. 27-29).
He chose to let them strip it all away (v. 30-31).
He chose to be enthroned as Messiah by allowing them to nail him to a cross (see John 3:14-15, Numbers 21:9).
And he chose to show the crowd one final act of mercy.
And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Matthew 27:46
Many point to this verse as evidence that God pulled away from Jesus when he died.
I humbly disagree. For several reasons.
First, I struggle with the idea that anything, especially sin, is powerful enough to sever the eternal communion of the Trinity. If that could be true… Think about the consequences of that for a moment.
Second, there are no limits on God. He stood with Adam and Eve in the garden after they sinned. He did not kick them out because he could not be in their presence, but because he wanted to protect them from the Tree of Life.
In Job 1:6-12, we have documentation of conversations with Satan. In God’s throne room.
If God cannot be in the midst of sin, we, in this world, are in trouble.
Sin keeps us from God, not the other way around.
But more significantly, if God was not present at Jesus’ death, what was the point?
His death was the final sacrifice because Jesus, in his humanity, took our human sin and brought it, through his divinity, into the presence of God through death.
He defeated death by going through and coming out the other side—something he could not have done if he were not still fully God.
So, why did he say God had forsaken him?
In my opinion, he didn’t. It was common in that day for Jews to refer to a Psalm by quoting the first line.
Jesus quoted Psalm 22:1.
If you have not read Psalm 22 recently, do so now. The connections to the crucifixion are legion. But pay close attention to verses 6-8. Then go back and read Matthew 27:41-43.
So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’”
In his last moments, Jesus chose to point the people killing him back to the prophecy they were fulfilling.
He gave them a chance to see the truth.
As he chose to die on their behalf.
We make choices every day.
Will we choose to follow the crowd? To keep the peace?
Or will we choose to offer those who hurt us one more chance at mercy?
In Matthew 20:21, the mother of James and John asked Jesus if her sons could sit on his right and left when he enters his kingdom. According to 27:56, she was one of the women watching as Jesus hung on his cross between two criminals, “one on the right and one on the left.” (v. 38).
I wonder if she understood then what she could not have understood before. We know from John 19 that her son, John, was present with her. Did she look at him and know what could have been?
Did she see the grace Jesus showed by refusing her request?
France, R. T. (2007) The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Gospel of Matthew. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
ESV Study Bible (2008). Wheaton, IL: Crossway.
The Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible, NASB (2008). Chattanooga, TN: AMG International, Inc.