Crucify him, crucify him
In 1963, Stanley Milgram’s experiment asked anonymous participants to deliver increasingly severe electric shocks to subjects in the next room. Unbeknownst to the participants, the shocks were not real. But had they been, they may have been fatal. The great majority of participants delivered the shocks, even though there were screams of great pain from the next room.
In 1971, Philip Zimbardo ran the Stanford Prison Experiment in which participants were divided into guards and prisoners. The guards were given uniforms and had authority over the ‘prisoners’. The two week experiment had to be abandoned after 6 days because of rampant abuse of power on the part of the guards. Zimbardo’s book on the subject was called “The Lucifer Effect.”
Something happens when people lose their individual identities in the crowd, when there seem to be no consequences, when they act en masse , when there is a diffusion of responsibility such that there’s always someone else to carry the can.
There was a very definite “Lucifer effect” when Pilate addressed the people during the trial of Jesus. There was a custom of releasing a prisoner at the feast of Passover. Pilate suggests that it’s Jesus who is released. The crowd seem to prefer having a murderer roam free among them…
“And they cried out all at once, saying, Away with this man [Jesus], and release unto us Barabbas: (Who for a certain sedition made in the city, and for murder, was cast into prison.) Pilate therefore, willing to release Jesus, spake again to them. But they cried, saying, Crucify him, crucify him. 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. And they were instant with loud voices, requiring that he might be crucified. And the voices of them and of the chief priests prevailed. And Pilate gave sentence that it should be as they required. 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.” (Luke 23:18-25)
This was a Passover crowd – drawn from the four corners of Israel. It’s highly likely that many in the crowd had been personally healed by Jesus in the last three years. Certainly a good number would have heard His teaching, seen His miracles and known people whose lives had been transformed by Jesus. And yet, you can feel the electricity crackling among the people, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”
On Palm Sunday many churches have a tradition of dramatising the passion narrative, with the congregation taking on the role of “the crowd.” The readings always made a huge impact on me as a child. But this line more than any other shook me. It was always the loudest part of an otherwise sombre service. And there we were, church people, and we were baying for the blood of Jesus. Imagine actually being in this crowd. They are the people of God and the Messiah’s fate lies in their hands. They bay for His blood, even though they don’t really know why. Pilate asks them, but they have no answer. They just seem driven along this mad path to Deicide.
There are no reasons for putting the Son of God to death. There is only this primeval urge in the crowd – He must be done away with. This is our sinful condition expressed in its clearest terms. We would rather have a murderer released among us than the Lord of life!
But even in the midst of our terrible sin, a wonderful gospel presentation is seen. Barabbas is a name that means “Son of his father”. He is a counterpart to Jesus. A son of a different father whose unrighteousness reveals a different origin. Here is Adam’s son – one very much under Lucifer’s effect – he who had been a murderer from the beginning. But on this day, in a very real and literal way, Jesus died for him. Jesus, the Innocent, died in the place of Barabbas, the guilty.
And if Barabbas had dared to walk up to Golgotha on that Friday he could have pointed to the middle cross and said “That should have been me. But Jesus died in my place.”
Here is the hope for all the sons and daughters of Adam. Here is the hope for all of us who fall under Lucifer’s effect. Christ’s death was not merely the will of the people (v25). It was His own will. The cross is not simply the proof of our sinfulness, but the offer of His salvation. His incredible love means that He wants to die for devils like Barabbas, and devils like you and me. Therefore we too can point to the cross – the cross that we have bayed for! – and declare with wonder:
“The Son of God loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)