Red Letter Year: 2/28

Mark 15:1-15

15 Very early in the morning the leading priests, the elders, and the teachers of religious law—the entire high council—met to discuss their next step. They bound Jesus, led him away, and took him to Pilate, the Roman governor.

Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

Jesus replied, “You have said it.”

Then the leading priests kept accusing him of many crimes, and Pilate asked him, “Aren’t you going to answer them? What about all these charges they are bringing against you?” But Jesus said nothing, much to Pilate’s surprise.

Now it was the governor’s custom each year during the Passover celebration to release one prisoner—anyone the people requested. One of the prisoners at that time was Barabbas, a revolutionary who had committed murder in an uprising. The crowd went to Pilate and asked him to release a prisoner as usual.

“Would you like me to release to you this ‘King of the Jews’?” Pilate asked. 10 (For he realized by now that the leading priests had arrested Jesus out of envy.) 11 But at this point the leading priests stirred up the crowd to demand the release of Barabbas instead of Jesus. 12 Pilate asked them, “Then what should I do with this man you call the king of the Jews?”

13 They shouted back, “Crucify him!”

14 “Why?” Pilate demanded. “What crime has he committed?”

But the mob roared even louder, “Crucify him!”

15 So to pacify the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He ordered Jesus flogged with a lead-tipped whip, then turned him over to the Roman soldiers to be crucified.


You can come away from the Gospels thinking Pilate was an okay guy. That he wanted justice, wanted to set the innocent free, but was forced by the mob to hand Jesus over (when we get to Matthew, he even washes his hands). Don’t be fooled. Pilate was a piece of work. He was recalled to Rome and reprimanded by two different emperors for his violent abuse of the Jews under his governance. When your brutality shocks the likes of Tiberius, you are a thug. Pilate went out of his way to bait the Jewish people and then met resistance with lethal force. There is no reason to think Pilate was especially interested in justice on this occasion; more likely he enjoyed how agitated the religious leaders were because of Jesus and wanted to use that tension as an occasion to crack down and further subjugate the people. Jesus shows an absolute unwillingness to be used in such a way. Whatever Pilate hoped to accomplish, it is both Jesus and  the religious leaders who use him to get what they want – an immediate execution. This remains true: Jesus resists being used by those in power as a tool for the oppression and subjugation of others. This happens, but only through a grotesque distortion of the Gospel. That’s why Anglican slavers didn’t allow the Gospel shared with their cargo, because where the Gospel is truly shared the Spirit is the one really doing the sharing. And where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

New Living Translation (NLT)

Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Preaching: like delivering the Gettysburg Address over coffee

“What is involved is not the idle question of how those who proclaim this Word should ‘approach’ this or that modern man, or how they should ‘bring home’ the Word of God to him. Instead, the real question is how they have to serve this Word by pointing to its coming. This Word has never been ‘brought home’ to any man except by its own freedom and power. The real question is the problem of the language which must be employed by those who undertake to proclaim this Word. Their speech will have to meet two conditions. In order to be an indication of God’s Word to people, it must have the character of a declaration. And in order to be an indication of God’s Word to people, it must have the character of an address. This speech can be proclamation of this Word only when it expresses itself quite exceptionally (as required by the source which inspires it) and at the same time quite ordinarily (to fit its purpose). It must speak in solemn and in commonplace tones, both sacredly and profanely. It tells of the history of Israel and of Jesus Christand it tells this to the life and action of Christians, Jews, and other contemporary people.” – Karl Barth Evangelical Theology p.182-3.

I read this again this morning for the hundredth time and thought I would share it here since some of my readers preach on a regular basis. Barth’s main claim with regard to Scripture and preaching is that the power to transform lives – the power to set free – is in the Word itself and is nothing other than the very power of the Holy Spirit turning the words on the page into the very Word of God. The task of the preacher is to attend to that power, letting the Word do its work in us and through us. We do that by giving attention to this declaration/address dynamic, basically making preaching like giving the Gettysburg Address over coffee with a friend.