Jesus Took Our Place on the Cross - Substitutionary Atonement

Jesus Took Our Place on the Cross (Matthew 27:15-26)

Jesus took our place on the cross and this is demonstrated beautifully when He died in the place of Barabbas, a notorious sinner (Matthew 27:15-26). Matthew 27:26, says, “Then Pilate released Barabbas to them; and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered Him to be crucified.” Put yourself in Barabbas’s place. When the guards came to get him, what do you think he thought…and didn’t think? He thought, “This is the time for me to be punished.” He didn’t, “This is the time for me to be released.” What do you think the guards said to him? Maybe something like, “Barabbas, you’re a guilty, evil man. You deserve to be punished, but you’re going to be released b/c Jesus of Nazareth is going to die in your place and receive the punishment you deserve.” The cross Jesus died on was probably the cross intended for Barabbas.

Sermon Lessons for Jesus Took Our Place on the Cross

  1. Lesson 1: ________________ ____________________ the Jews would reject Jesus and choose Barabbas (Zech 11:12¬15; Mark 15:7).
  2. Lesson 2: The Jews hated Jesus more than they hated:
    1. (Part I) ________________ (Matt 27:21).
    2. (Part II) ______________________ (Matt 27:22–23; Deut 21:23 cf. Gal 3:13).
    3. (Part III) _____________ (John 19:12–15). Lesson 3: The Jews __________ the __________, “Jesus Son of the Father” (John 8:42–44; Matt 27:26).
  3. Lesson 4: ____ ______ Barabbas (Matt 27:22).

Family Worship Guide for Jesus Took Our Place on the Cross

  1. Day 1: Zec 11:15-16, Matt 27:18-23, Mark 15:7, and discuss: How was Barabbas like the foolish shepherd mentioned in Zechariah? Why did Pilate choose Barabbas to exchange for Jesus? How was he surprised by the people’s choice? How was their choice a reflection of the depravity of their heart’s desire?
  2. Day 2: John 19:12-15, Matt 27:24 and discuss: Was the Jew’s condemnation of Jesus a show of their loyalty to Caesar? Why or why not? How was their choice for Caesar to rule over them a utter rejection of Christ? How else has man expressed their hatred of Jesus by their choices? How did Pilate try to remove himself from being responsible for what happened to Jesus? What ways do people try to absolve themselves of their responsibility regarding what to do with Jesus?
  3. Day 3: Matt 27:16, John 8:42-44, John 18:38, John 14:6, Matt 27:22, and discuss: What ways was Barabbas a counterfeit of Jesus? How does Barabbas represent us in our fallen state? How is Jesus being exchanged for Barabbas a picture of salvation?

Sermon Notes for Jesus Took Our Place on the Cross

The title of this morning’s sermon is, “He Took Our Place.”

We’re going to pick up close to where we left off last week, which is to say, soon after Judas returned the money and hung himself.

If you were able to tune in to Wednesday night’s study, two weeks ago, we began w/ some verses in Zechariah 11, and we are going to continue where they left off too.

Here’s how I want to invite you to view Zechariah 11

It’s like a summary of the last hours of Jesus’ life.

Zechariah acts out a drama with him playing the part of two different shepherds:

  1. One represents the True Shepherd: Jesus Christ
  2. The other represents the Foolish Shepherd: Barabbas

The people reject the True Shepherd and embrace the Foolish Shepherd.

We’ll start at verse 12 to briefly review. Here’s the context…

Shepherds deserve to be paid. Zechariah is acting like Jesus, and he asks the people for His wages. It’s like he says:

“How do you think I’ve done as your Shepherd? What do you think I’m worth?”

Zechariah 11:12 Then I said to them, “If it is agreeable to you, give me my wages; and if not, refrain.” So they weighed out for my wages thirty pieces of silver.

The shepherd – or Jesus – asks very graciously: “Go ahead and pay me if that seems good to you, but if not, don’t worry about it.”

They pay him 30 pieces of silver, and it’s important to understand this is an insult. It’s like giving a waiter a few pennies. If you look at verse 13 it’s sarcastically called a princely price.

According to Exo 21:32 this was the amount paid for a slave that had been gored by an ox. You can imagine how worthless a slave gored by an ox would be…and that’s how they viewed Jesus as their Shepherd.

We recognize this is the prophecy of Judas betraying Jesus for thirty pieces of silver.

The Lord is so disgusted w/ the amount look what He says to do w/ it in verse 13

Zechariah 11:13 And the Lord said to me, “Throw it to the potter”—that princely price they set on me. So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the house of the Lord for the potter.

This is another prophecy about Judas. We read the fulfillment last week…

Matthew 27:5 [Judas] threw the [thirty] pieces of silver in the temple and departed, and went and hanged himself.

Look what the True Shepherd does as a result of being rejected by the people…

Zechariah 11:14 Then I cut in two my other staff, Bonds, that I might break the brotherhood between Judah and Israel.

While Zechariah was acting like Jesus he took the implements of a shepherd, including a rod and staff.

He broke the staff, picturing the way God broke the nation of Israel in 70AD when Rome conquered Jerusalem as a punishment for rejecting their Messiah.

Now is the transition from the True Shepherd the Jews rejected to the Foolish Shepherd they embraced…

Zechariah 11:15 And the Lord said to me, “Next, take for yourself the implements of a foolish shepherd.

Zechariah changed roles and took new implements – or shepherd tools – to act the part.

If you write in your Bible, circle the words foolish shepherd and write, “Barabbas.”

And this brings us to Lesson 1…

Lesson 1: Zechariah prophesied the Jews would reject Jesus and choose Barabbas.

We hear the word foolish and think of stupid or unintelligent, but if you think of the way foolish is used in Scripture it means immoral or evil.

For example, Proverbs describes foolish people, but they’re not ignorant; they’re ungodly or evil.

I mention this, b/c Barabbas was far from stupid or unintelligent:

  • He was charismatic enough that many people followed him.
  • He was a strong enough leader that he was able to carry out an uprising.

Mark 15:7 A man called Barabbas was in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising.

Barabbas was an insurrectionist. Some translations call him a revolutionary.

  • Apparently during a previous uprising he committed murder along w/ other rebels.
  • Following Barabbas was going to get the Jews in plenty of trouble w/ Rome. Keep this in mind as we’ll discuss it more later.

For now look at verse 16

Zechariah 11:16 For indeed I will raise up a shepherd in the land who will not care for those who are cut off, nor seek the young, nor heal those that are broken, nor feed those that still stand. But he will eat the flesh of the fat and tear their hooves in pieces.

This describes what the foolish or worthless shepherd won’t do. It’s like a list of things that would make someone a bad shepherd. He won’t:

  • Care for those who are cut off
  • Seek the young
  • Heal the broken
  • Feed those that stand

These are all things the True Shepherd, Jesus, did do…but they rejected Him.

Let’s go to Matthew 27 to see all this fulfilled! Two books to the right.

Here’s the important background…

We’re jumping into the middle of Jesus’ trials. He’s before Pilate, who’s stuck between a rock and a hard place…

  • He knows the religious leaders want Jesus crucified
  • But he also knows Jesus is innocent.

So you say, “Why doesn’t Pilate just say that he’s not going to turn over an innocent man?”

The answer is…

The people might riot. Pilate’s had many problems governing his region and he’s on thin ice w/ Rome. He knows if he has one more issue it’s going to cost him his job…at the least.

The religious leaders know this, so they use it against him.


Right in the middle of the escalating situation Pilate thinks he found a way out. It was customary for him to release one prisoner.

Look at verse 15

Matthew 27:15 Now at the feast (referring to Passover, which is when Jesus was crucified) the governor (referring to Pilate) was accustomed to releasing to the multitude one prisoner whom they wished. 16 And at that time they had a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. 17 Therefore, when they had gathered together, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release to you? Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” 18 For he knew that they (the religious leaders) had handed [Jesus] over because of envy.

History shows Pilate to be a cruel and ruthless man, unkind to the Jews and indifferent to everything except power, but even he knew the religious leaders turned Jesus over out of jealousy and hatred.

Notice verse 16 says Barabbas was notorious. This means the people knew him.

What made him notorious?

  • Mark 15:7 and Luke 23:19 say he was a murderer and rebel
  • John 18:40 says he was a robber

To put this in perspective, Barabbas was the kind of man everyone slept better at night knowing was imprisoned. No reasonable person would want him released.

Let me be clear about something…

Barabbas was far from the only criminal Pilate could’ve chosen. I don’t know how many prisoners there were, but considering Jerusalem was filled w/ millions of people, I’m guessing there were hundreds, or even thousands.

But Pilate chose Barabbas, b/c he wanted the one prisoner he knew the Jews wouldn’t choose instead of Jesus.

And there’s one other reason Pilate might have chosen Barabbas. Listen to this verse…

Luke 23:2 [The Jews] began to accuse [Jesus to Pilate], saying, “We found this fellow PERVERTING THE NATION, AND FORBIDDING TO PAY TAXES TO CAESAR, saying that He Himself is Christ, a King.”

The Jews told Pilate they handed Jesus over to him b/c He was a rebel or insurrectionist…so there’s no way they’d want another rebel or insurrectionist released to them.

And notice how Pilate words things in verse 17:

  • He does NOT say, “Whom do you want me to release to you? Barabbas or Jesus?”
  • He says, “Whom do you want me to release to you? Barabbas, or Jesus WHO IS CALLED CHRIST?”

You can probably guess Pilate doesn’t care who is or isn’t the Christ, but:

So it’s like Pilate says…

“Do you want me to release Barabbas – this evil man – or Jesus…your Christ…who’s done so much good for you?”

But then something happened that really messed up Pilate’s chances of getting Jesus released. Look at verse 19

Matthew 27:19 While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent to him, saying, “Have nothing to do with that just Man, for I have suffered many things today in a dream because of Him.” 20 But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitudes that they should ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus.

Pilate’s wife’s dream must’ve been terrible. It says it made her suffer many things throughout the day. This was the kind of dream you wake up from with your heart racing, and you can’t fall back asleep, or get rid of the anxiety.

And it was bad enough to move her to send for her husband in the middle of the most famous trial in history…that might have cost her husband his job or even his life.

You know she must’ve been really, really troubled!

But if there was ever a time a husband should’ve listened to his wife, this was it!

Here’s what you need to know for the account…

When he left to see her it was during this temporary absence that the religious leaders were able to persuade the multitudes.

Hendriksen said the religious leaders “had the opportunity to move among the people in order to influence them to ask for the release of Barabbas and the destruction of Jesus.”

Now here’s the question…

Why would the people LET the religious leaders persuade them? What happened to all the Jews who were worshipping Jesus only 5 days earlier?

The answer is the Triumphal Entry didn’t go the way the Jews wanted…it wasn’t so triumphant!

Like we talked about last week, the Jews expected the Messiah to deliver them from Rome.

The King rode in, but:

  • He didn’t overthrow Rome or become rich or powerful
  • He still looked like the same humble, lowly Man…and that didn’t sit well w/ them.

To make it worse, what did He do right after He entered?

He started weeping as He prophesied of the Jews’ deaths and destruction of Jerusalem when the Romans conquered them in 70AD.

They thought He was going to deliver them from judgment…not pronounce it against them.

So when the religious leaders start walking through the crowd you can imagine what they’re saying…

Look at Him. He claims to be our Messiah. He hasn’t done anything. Does He look like a King? Does He look like our Deliverer? Has He overthrown Rome?

And if the religious leaders could convince the Jews that Jesus wasn’t the Messiah, then there’s one other thing they could convince them of…

He’s an evil blasphemer who should be killed…

In John 19:7 the religious leaders told Pilate, “We have a law, and according to our law He ought to die, because He made Himself the Son of God.

They’re probably referring to Leviticus 24:16 which says whoever blasphemes the name of the Lord shall be put to death.

Some people say Jesus didn’t claim to be God. He only claimed to be the Son of God. That’s ignorant b/c claiming to be the Son of God is claiming equality w/ God…which is what the people in Jesus’ day understood He was doing.

But here’s the thing…

If Jesus wasn’t the Son of God, then He was a terrible blasphemer – and deceiver – who deserved to die!

So you can picture the religious leaders walking through the crowd saying these things, and then…

Matthew 27:21 The governor answered and said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?”

They said, “Barabbas!”

I’m sure this would’ve been a complete shock to Pilate.

It’s hard to wrap our minds around it…and this brings us to Lesson 2…

Lesson 2: the Jews hated Jesus more than they hated (part 1) Barabbas

Pilate underestimated how much the Jews hated Jesus. As much as they hated Barabbas, they hated Jesus even more.

Amazingly they’d rather have a violent murderer running around in their midst than the Son of God.

You say, “How could they make this choice?”

Man is depraved!

Unregenerate man chooses evil over good and you see that when the Jews choose Barabbas over Jesus.

Follow me for a moment…

You’ve probably heard that the Greek word for love is agape, which is unconditional and sacrificial.

The most famous verse in Scripture is John 3:16

For God so loved (this is agape) the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

God has an unconditional and sacrificial love for the world.

Interestingly a few verses later Jesus reveals the only other relationship that involves agape, and it’s man’s love for darkness versus light…

John 3:19 And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world (referring to Jesus), and men loved (this is agape)darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.

When Jesus said men love darkness rather than light, I don’t think there could be a better example than men choosing Barabbas – or darkness – rather than Jesus – or light.

Pilate knows they want Jesus killed, but he doesn’t know how…until verse 22

Matthew 27:22 Pilate said to them, “What then shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?”
They all said to him, “Let Him be crucified!”
23 Then the governor said, “Why, what evil has He done?”
But they cried out all the more, saying, “Let Him be crucified!”

Let Him be crucified” is not an answer to the question Pilate asked.

Since they had no answer they just continued to call for His crucifixion.

This reveals something else that brings us to the next part of Lesson 2…

Lesson 2: the Jews hated Jesus more than they hated (part 2) crucifixion.

Understand that second only to Pilate’s shock associated w/ them wanting Barabbas released would be his shock when hearing them call out for crucifixion!

The Jews hated crucifixion for two reasons…

First, the Romans had incentives that made people want to become citizens…one of them was not being crucified. If people became Roman citizens and swore allegiance to Caesar, they’d never be crucified.

But Jews wouldn’t give their allegiance to Caesar, so they could be crucified, which made it detestable to them.

Second, Deuteronomy 21:23 says cursed is anyone who hangs on a tree.

The Jews saw crucifixion as something forbidden by their law, b/c anyone who experienced it was cursed.

This is an instance of God using evil for good, b/c when Jesus hung on the tree he took the curse for us…

Galatians 3:13 Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us.

Regardless of what God did through this, to hear Jews call out for crucifixion – and to hear them call out for it for a fellow Jew – is almost as unbelievable as hearing them call out for Barabbas.

But as much as the Jews hated crucifixion, there was one thing they hated even more, and that’s Jesus. The only thing that could make the Jews overlook their hatred of crucifixion was their hatred of Jesus.

Let me share something w/ you from the parallel account in John 19

John 19:12 From then on Pilate sought to release Him, but the Jews cried out, saying, “If you let this Man go, you are not Caesar’s friend. Whoever makes himself a king speaks against Caesar.”

Of course the Jews are really concerned about who’s friends w/ Caesar and who isn’t.

They’re threatening Pilate, saying, “If you don’t crucify Jesus, you’re a traitor to Caesar.”

John 19:13 When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he brought Jesus out and sat down in the judgment seat in a place that is called The Pavement, but in Hebrew, Gabbatha. 14 Now it was the Preparation Day of the Passover, and about the sixth hour. And he (Pilate) said to the Jews, “Behold your King!”
15 But they cried out, “Away with Him, away with Him! Crucify Him!”
Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?”
The chief priests answered (these next words are unbelievable…), “We have no king but Caesar!”

And this brings us to the last part of Lesson 2…

Lesson 2: the Jews hated Jesus more than they hated (part 3) Caesar.

One of the main reasons the Jews were upset w/ Jesus is He didn’t overthrow Rome…or Caesar.

But as much as the Jews hated Rome and Caesar, they hated Jesus even more.

Here’s another way to say it…

As much as they hated having Caesar as king, they’d still rather have him as king than Jesus.

Now look at Matthew 27:24…

Matthew 27:24 When Pilate saw that he could not prevail at all, but rather that a tumult was rising, he took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, “I am innocent of the blood of this just Person. You see to it.

You know Pilate wanted more than anything to find something wrong w/ Jesus so He could turn Him over to the Jews and get out of this mess. But he couldn’t find anything.

Yes, Pilate cowardly turned Jesus over, but it’s not small thing that he first called Jesus innocent and just exactly like his wife said in verse 19.

Now let me share something important w/ you…

Some translations and commentaries point out that Barabbas’s full name was Jesus Barabbas. Your Bible might make this point with an asterisk, probably by verse 16, when he’s first introduced.

Bart Ehrman, in his book, The Reliability of the New Testament, said, It is highly likely that later scribes, copying the passage, removed the name ‘Jesus’ from ‘Jesus Barabbas’ to avoid dishonor to the name of Jesus the Messiah.”

If you remember when Jesus was talking to Peter, He called him, “Simon Bar-Jonah.” Bar means “son of,” so Simon Bar-Jonah means, “Simon son of Jonah.”

Abba means “father” so bar abba means son of the father.

So Barabbas’s full name was “Jesus son of the father.”

And this brings us to Lesson 3…

Lesson 3: the Jews chose the wrong, “Jesus son of the father.”

God is called Father, but Satan is also called father…

In John 8:42-44 Jesus was talking to the religious leaders and said, “If God were your Father, you would love Me [but] You are of YOUR FATHER the devil, and the desires of YOUR FATHER you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning… he is a liar and the father of it.”

Barabbas was a liar and a murderer…like his father the devil.

So here’s what’s happening…

When the Jews had to choose between Jesus and Barabbas, they were choosing between TWO Jesus sons of the father:

  • There was Jesus, who had God as His Father
  • There was Barabbas, who had the devil as his father

Without hesitation they cried out for the liar, murderer, rebel, and insurrectionist w/ the devil as his father.

In John 5:43 Jesus said, “I have come in My Father’s name, and you do not receive Me; if another comes in His own name, him you will receive.”

This was fulfilled when they chose Barabbas.

We can tie all this back to Zechariah 11, which prophesied they would choose the wrong shepherd…and suffer horribly as a result.

Look at verse 25

Matthew 27:25 And all the people answered and said, “His blood be on us and on our children.”

Notice now it’s not just the religious leaders crying out, but all the people. None of them seemed to have any compassion or loyalty for Jesus.

These words had horrifying – and ironic – consequences for the Jews…

They called for Jesus’ crucifixion and in 70AD the Romans crucified so many Jews the only reason they stopped is they ran out of trees and ground. In other words, they called for Jesus’ crucifixion but that ended up being the punishment they experienced.

They said Caesar was their king but he’s the king who destroyed their city and temple.

Contrast Caesar’s actions w/ Jesus who said, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem…How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!”

You can hear the tender way in which Jesus would’ve treated them.

And believe-it-or-not all of this came from choosing Barabbas – the Foolish Shepherd – instead of Jesus, and here’s why…

Barabbas was a rebel leader. If you read about the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD it’s primarily b/c the Jews started following rebels and insurrectionists. Rome got tired of the  rebellion, so they wiped out the Jews.

If they would’ve followed Christ – the True Shepherd – who encouraged them to submit to Rome, this wouldn’t have happened.

Look at our last verse 26

Matthew 27:26 Then he released Barabbas to them; and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered Him to be crucified.

I’d like you to put yourself in Barabbas’s place…

When the guards came to get him, what do you think he thought…and didn’t think?

  • He thought, “This is the time for me to be punished.”
  • He didn’t, “This is the time for me to be released.”

What do you think the guards said to him?

Maybe something like…

Barabbas, you’re a guilty, evil man. You deserve to be punished, but you’re going to be released b/c Jesus of Nazareth is going to die in your place and receive the punishment you deserve.”

The cross Jesus died on WAS probably the cross intended for Barabbas. JM said, “More than likely the two men Jesus died between were Barabbas’ buddies in crime.”

The whole situation probably does – and rightfully so – bother us, b/c:

  • A guilty, evil man went unpunished
  • An innocent, righteous Man received the punishment the guilty man deserved

But when I put it in these terms, what does it look like?

The Gospel!

As much as this offends us, this is exactly what happens every time sinful people repent and put their faith in Christ.

Here’s the truth…

If the Gospel is ever illustrated:

  • It must look unfair…
  • It must look unjust…
  • It must have the innocent being punished
  • It must have the guilty being freed

Because that is exactly what happens w/ the Gospel.

And this brings us to Lesson 4…

Lesson 4: we are Barabbas.

Jesus took the punishment Barabbas deserved, just like He takes the punishment we deserve.

Consider this…

We say Jesus died in our place, and He did…spiritually speaking. We know He didn’t die in our place physically, b/c we still die.

But we have an account in Scripture of Jesus dying in someone’s place…physically!

Here’s what I mean…

We say:

  • Jesus hung on the cross that belonged to me
  • He took the punishment my sins deserve
  • His righteousness became my righteousness
  • My unrighteousness became His unrighteousness
  • His death resulted in my freedom

And this is true…but Barabbas could say these words in a way that nobody else could throughout all history.

It occurred to me that Barabbas had knowledge of what Jesus did more than anyone else who ever lived. He knew Jesus died for him…literally.

But there’s no record of him becoming a Christian.

I mention this, b/c the same could be said of many people today:

  • They’ll say Jesus died for them.
  • They’ll save He died in their place.
  • They’ll say He took the punishment they deserve.

But they haven’t repented of their sins and turned to Him in faith. They aren’t born again.

Consider these two simple questions Pilate asked during Jesus’ trial, which are the same two questions we must answer…

In John 18:38 Pilate was interrogating Jesus and he said, “What is truth?

Jesus answered that in John 14:6. He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”

Pilate had truth standing right before him…but he couldn’t see it.

I fear that’s the case with many people today.

They say they know who Jesus is…but they don’t believe He’s the way, the truth, and the life.

Look back at Matthew 27:22

Pilate asked, “What then shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?

This is the most important question every person in the entire world faces, b/c the answer determines where we spend eternity.

Pilate tried to wash his hands of Jesus and be done w/ Him, but that’s not possible.

We must all come to terms w/ this question and decide what we’re going to do w/ Jesus.

The answer should be obvious, but sadly just like the Jews rejected Jesus 2,000 years ago, many people still reject Him today.

I will close w/ this…

Barabbas was freed, and he had as much to do w/ his freedom as we have to do w/ ours.

Barabbas had a greater chance of getting up and getting out of that prison that held him as we have of getting up and getting out of the prison that holds us…the prison of sin and death.

It wouldn’t be too much to say that, Barabbas could’ve saved himself easier than we can save ourselves.


Just as willing as Jesus was to take Barabbas’ place, He’s just as willing to take our place if we repent and turn to him in faith.

Let’s pray.

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