God has a rule. It’s absolutely unshakable and unbreakable. “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness”(Hebrews 9:22). God is gracious, but God is also just. God’s grace allows for forgiveness, but justice demands the payment of a price!
In the Garden of Eden, when our earliest ancestors deliberately rebelled against God, they attempted, unsuccessfully, to cover their sin and shame by sewing fig leaves together. The rule, in affect from the beginning, required “the shedding of blood.” An innocent animal, presumably a lamb, was sacrificed to create a covering for their sin.
Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, was the Israelite’s annual celebration of God’s gracious forgiveness. The Hebrew word, kippur, means covering. The day commemorated God’s covering, God’s atonement of the transgressions of the nation. Sin was covered, not by God waving a magic wand, but by the shedding of blood. The spotless lamb was slaughtered. Its blood was shed as the just payment to satisfy God’s perfect holiness.
Pilate also had a rule. “At the festival the governor’s custom was to release to the crowd a prisoner they wanted”(Matthew 27:15). During the springtime Passover celebration, a prisoner was pardoned. No strings attached.
Several men languished in Jerusalem’s jail, each deserving of harsh punishment, and each hoping to receive Pilate’s undeserved pardon. One of the jailbirds was Barabbas, a “revolutionary” (John 18:40), “a notorious prisoner” (Matthew 27:16) who “had been thrown into prison for rebellion and murder” (Luke 23:25).
Incarcerated with the convicted felons was the Sinless Son of God, the Man who had “been tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). He deserved to be released, to be set free. He was not deserving of death.
Pilate, acting as judge and jury, declared, “You have brought me this man as one who misleads the people. But in fact, after examining him in your presence, I have found no grounds to charge this man with those things you accuse him of… Clearly, he has done nothing to deserve death” (Luke 23:14-15). “ ‘Do you want me to release the king of the Jews for you?’ For he knew it was because of envy that the chief priests had handed him over” (Mark 15:9-10).
“The governor asked them, ‘Which of the two do you want me to release for you?’ ‘Barabbas!’ they answered. Pilate asked them, ‘What should I do then with Jesus, who is called Christ?’ They all answered, ‘Crucify him!’ ” (Matthew 27:21-22).
Barabbas, a murdering thief, a notorious insurrectionist, received Pilate’s pardon. In satisfaction of Pilate’s rule, he was set free.
In satisfaction of God’s rule, blood was shed, a price was paid, a substitute was sacrificed. Barabbas walked out of jail a free man. Jesus died a sinless substitute.
Grace and justice. Justice and grace.