The passage can be read on BibleGateway here.
“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;” (from The Road not Taken – Robert Frost)
I like the poem ‘The Road not Taken’, it was written by the American poet Robert Frost in 1916 and sent to his British friend and fellow poet Edward Thomas. Frost intended the poem to gently tease his friend about his indecision; something Frost had experienced first-hand during their many walks through the Hampshire countryside. Most people have taken the poem to about the importance of the choices we make but some would suggest Frost’s meaning to be that our choices don’t really matter.
Our passage today is all about choices. We have seen already that Jesus had made a choice to go to the cross. Today we will consider the choices of the crowd and of Pilate.
We do not know the size of the crowd that gathered outside Pilate’s residence. Some have suggested it may have contained people who just a few days earlier had shouted ‘hosanna’ but again, we cannot be sure. We do know however, that the crowd was influenced. The religious leaders wanted Jesus executed but Pilate, the man who had the authority, was unwilling. The leaders had chosen their time well because it was the Passover, a time when Jews travelled great distances to be in Jerusalem and the population was many times larger than normal. For the Romans, this gathering was potentially explosive and things needed to be kept calm. Evidence that the danger was treated seriously is that Pilate, who normally lived in Caesarea, was present in Jerusalem during the Passover. Matthew writes;
“But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed.” (Matthew 27:20)
We know too that the crowd chose to have a man named Barabbas released rather than Jesus. Apparently it was the custom to release a prisoner during the Passover. We can be sure Pilate, who was looking for a way out, chose the most unpopular man he could find in the hope the crowd would choose to have Jesus released. Barabbas is described as a murderer and as notorious in the other gospels, yet the crowd chose him and rejected Jesus. It’s surprising to read but Jesus was not surprised, a few days earlier, he had described these events in a parable;
“But his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, ‘We don’t want this man to be our king.’” (19:14)
We see it today in that people will choose anything other than Jesus.
Pilate knew Jesus was innocent and said so three times (v4, 14, 22), he knew too that the leaders were motivated by envy (Matthew 27:18). He tried to sidestep making a decision by passing the problem on to others, he tried Herod and then the crowd, but in the end, it was a decision he had to make. He called for some water and publicly washed his hands saying; ‘I am innocent of this man’s blood’ (Matthew 27:24), but he wasn’t, Pilate had made his choice. We can be like Pilate, quick to blame others and slow to take responsibility for our actions. The last words of this passage are telling;
“So Pilate decided to grant their demand. He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, the one they asked for, and surrendered Jesus to their will.” (23:24-25)
Our choices do matter, even the small ones. Robert Frost’s decision to gently tease his close friend Edward Thomas with a poem didn’t have the effect he had expected. Thomas, spurred on by the poem about the choices we make, took decisive action and enlisted to serve in the Army in the Great War even though he was passed the age when it would have been expected. He became a war poet but sadly died in France in 1917. Each of us will face numerous choices today; most of them very small but let us decide today to follow Jesus more closely than ever.
“Behold the Man upon a cross,
My sin upon His shoulders
Ashamed I hear my mocking voice,
Call out among the scoffers
It was my sin that held Him there
Until it was accomplished
His dying breath has brought me life
I know that it is finished.” (How Deep the Father’s Love for Us – Stuart Townend)