Now it was the governor's custom each year during the Passover celebration to release one prisoner to the crowd — anyone they wanted. This year there was a notorious prisoner, a man named Barabbas. As the crowds gathered before Pilate's house that morning, he asked them, "Which one do you want me to release to you — Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?" (He knew very well that the religious leaders had arrested Jesus out of envy.)
Just then, as Pilate was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent him this message: "Leave that innocent man alone. I suffered through a terrible nightmare about him last night."
Meanwhile, the leading priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas to be released and for Jesus to be put to death. So the governor asked again, "Which of these two do you want me to release to you?"
The crowd shouted back, "Barabbas!"
Pilate responded, "Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?"
They shouted back, "Crucify him!"
— Matthew 27:15-22 NLT
"Leave that innocent man alone."
Unfortunately innocence and guilt will not be the basis of Pilate's decision. He is a politician and has political concerns that are more important to him than innocence and guilt. He knew the Jewish leaders' motivations and ambitions. Jesus' apparent powerlessness make him expendable. With no disciples or friends there to plead Jesus' case, he is doomed. In a political fight, you need numbers. All of Jesus' friends had forsaken him and fled except for a handful of women.
But the issue of innocence and guilt is magnified when Jesus' opponents ask for a murderer (Mark 15:7) to be released in Jesus' place. Not only is Jesus innocent; he will be sentenced to death and a murderer will go free. Pilate uses the crowd's input as a way of giving them what they want. They ask for Jesus to be crucified, a punishment reserved for the scum of criminals.
The only justice served in this mess is God's. He uses Jesus' death to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.
Holy and loving God, the travesty of Jesus' crucifixion strikes me afresh as I read this account of his mistreatment. I can clearly see the injustice he faced as he died for sin. But what most profoundly humbles me is that your perfect Son died for my sins; he was executed in my place. Thank you for this grace, and please forgive me for the times I have not lived with passion and grace in response to this tremendous sacrifice. In Jesus' name, I pray. Amen.