Mark 15:6–15 ESV
Now at the feast he used to release for them one prisoner for whom they asked. And among the rebels in prison, who had committed murder in the insurrection, there was a man called Barabbas. And the crowd came up and began to ask Pilate to do as he usually did for them. And he answered them, saying, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” For he perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release for them Barabbas instead. And Pilate again said to them, “Then what shall I do with the man you call the King of the Jews?” And they cried out again, “Crucify him.” And Pilate said to them, “Why? What evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him.” So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.
And Pilate again said to them, “Then what shall I do with the man you call the King of the Jews?” And they cried out again, “Crucify him.” And Pilate said to them, “Why? What evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him.”
Crowds are insanely dangerous entities. In a crowd, no particular person holds power, yet together they hold a collective form of power bordering on absolute. Because no individual person holds power, no individual can be held responsible. This explains the danger of a crowd: extraordinary power without personal responsibility.
Isn’t this what killed Jesus? Sure, we can blame the religious leaders, and we can blame Pilate. We can even blame Judas. What good will it do, though, to blame the crowd? This is precisely the way we escape personal responsibility. We delegate our guilt to the crowd where it can never be absolved because it will never be felt. The crowd never pleads guilty. This is how the gravest of injustices happen.
In fact, this is how the greatest injustice in history went down. The gospel of Jesus Christ is how the gravest injustice in the history of the world became the most gracious invitation for all eternity to come. The miracle of redemption happened because the blameless one took our blame. He was crucified by the collective crowd of the human race, all of us together. We don’t stand in the shoes of the Sanhedrin. We can’t play the role of Judas. While we may identify with Peter, we can’t play his part either. We, the human race, find our voices in the voice of the crowd, in the cruelty of their collective cry, “Crucify him!”
Did you see what I did there: “in the cruelty of their collective cry?” Who is “their”? Exactly! “Their” is “them.” And “they” are always someone other than me.
The crowd killed Jesus, but grace can’t be received by a crowd. Grace can only be received by a person. That’s what salvation by grace through faith means. It happens when I decide to step out of the crowd and take personal responsibility, not for my part of the crime, but for the whole thing—as though it were solely my fault. Only then do I finally realize the person who bore no responsibility for any of it actually took on total responsibility for all of it. Salvation by grace through faith means coming to the experiential ownership that I deserve all the blame, yet because of the finished work of Jesus’ death and resurrection, I am now deemed blameless. It was my fault, but I am deemed faultless. I simply cannot bear that responsibility; neither can I absolve myself of it. Only God can.
It astonishes me even to write it, much less speak it aloud. I only need believe it. Only that will make me the kind of person God had in mind when he first imagined me. There is no better news than this. This, my friends, is the gospel.
Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.
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