The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), or Mounties, have the motto, “We always get our man!” But it’s not always easy to get the right man. Sometimes authorities get the wrong man. In the United States, it is believed that .5% of all major crime convictions are wrongful convictions. While .5% may not seem like much, we’re talking about 10,000 men and women wrongfully accused, convicted, and imprisoned. Perhaps some of you know what it is like to be on the receiving end—to be wrongfully accused, criticized, or attacked.
And that brings us to the words of the day: wrongful conviction.
Jesus was the wrong man. We pick up Jesus’ story in Mark 15:
At the festival it was Pilate’s custom to release for the people a prisoner they requested. There was one named Barabbas, who was in prison with rebels who had committed murder during the rebellion. The crowd came up and began to ask Pilate to do for them as was his custom. So Pilate answered them, “Do you want me to release the King of the Jews for you?” For he knew it was because of envy that the chief priests had handed Him over. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd so that he would release Barabbas to them instead.
Pilate asked them again, “Then what do you want me to do with the One you call the King of the Jews?” Again they shouted, “Crucify Him!” Then Pilate said to them, “Why? What has He done wrong?” But they shouted, “Crucify Him!” all the more. Then, willing to gratify the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. And after having Jesus flogged, he handed Him over to be crucified. (Mark 15:6-15)
They Imprisoned the Wrong Man
We see a striking contrast between the prisoners of this story. On one hand, you have Jesus, who was accused of being a rebel and a threat to Rome. His real crime was that he was a threat to the chief priests. They couldn’t allow this “Messiah” to continue to go around and make trouble for them. So they accused him of being a rebel. On the other hand, you have Barabbas, a revolutionary fighter who was arrested with an actual group of murderous rebels! But the irony goes even deeper.
Barabbas’ name is Aramaic and literally means “son of the father.” Here stands Jesus, the real Son of the Father, and Pilate asks, “Shall I release this Son of the Father?” and the crowd cries out, “No! Don’t give us that Son of the Father—the one who brings peace and gives life. Give us Barabbas, the son of the father, who is a murderous rebel!” In the most cruel of ironies, they imprisoned the wrong man. And so Jesus is handed over to be crucified.
Two others—criminals—were also led away to be executed with Him. When they arrived at the place called The Skull, they crucified Him there, along with the criminals, one on the right and one on the left. [Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing.”] And they divided His clothes and cast lots. The people stood watching, and even the leaders kept scoffing: “He saved others; let Him save Himself if this is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One!” The soldiers also mocked Him. They came offering Him sour wine and said, “If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself!” An inscription was above Him: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.
Then one of the criminals hanging there began to yell insults at Him: “Aren’t You the Messiah? Save Yourself and us!” But the other answered, rebuking him: “Don’t you even fear God, since you are undergoing the same punishment? We are punished justly, because we’re getting back what we deserve for the things we did, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom!” And He said to him, “I assure you: Today you will be with Me in paradise.” (Luke 23:32-43)
They Crucified the Wrong Man
As Jesus hangs on the cross between two criminals, one starts to ridicule and mock him. But the other stops the first and says, “We deserve this—this man does not.” They crucified the wrong man. It’s the story of Third Day’s song Thief.
There was a good and righteous man named Joseph, a member of the Sanhedrin, who had not agreed with their plan and action. He was from Arimathea, a Judean town, and was looking forward to the kingdom of God. He approached Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. Taking it down, he wrapped it in fine linen and placed it in a tomb cut into the rock, where no one had ever been placed. It was preparation day, and the Sabbath was about to begin. The women who had come with Him from Galilee followed along and observed the tomb and how His body was placed. Then they returned and prepared spices and perfumes. And they rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment.
On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came to the tomb, bringing the spices they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb. They went in but did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men stood by them in dazzling clothes. So the women were terrified and bowed down to the ground. “Why are you looking for the living among the dead?” asked the men. “He is not here, but He has been resurrected! Remember how He spoke to you when He was still in Galilee, saying, ‘The Son of Man must be betrayed into the hands of sinful men, be crucified, and rise on the third day’?” And they remembered His words. Returning from the tomb, they reported all these things to the Eleven and to all the rest. Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them were telling the apostles these things. But these words seemed like nonsense to them, and they did not believe the women. Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. When he stooped to look in, he saw only the linen cloths. So he went home, amazed at what had happened. (Luke 23:50-24:12)
They Buried the Wrong Man
There’s an age-old joke that asks, “Who’s buried in Grant’s tomb?” The answer is that no one is buried there. You don’t bury in a tomb—you entomb them. But it’s the same purpose. It’s the final resting grounds for the deceased. But they entombed the wrong man! You see, Jesus never was going to stay dead. It was never part of the plan. Jesus even tried to tell his disciples: “The Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill Him, but after He is killed, He will rise three days later.” But they did not understand this statement, and they were afraid to ask Him (Mark 9:31–32). So when the women go to look for Jesus in the tomb, the angel asks, “Why are you looking for the living among the dead?” They buried the wrong man.
So here is Jesus. Wrongfully imprisoned. Wrongfully crucified. Wrongfully buried. This is not supposed to happen to an innocent man. This is not supposed to happen to the Son of God. It’s not right—at least not from our eyes. But it had to happen this way.
Because Jesus was the right man.
They Imprisoned the Right Man
Jesus was imprisoned so that you and I might have freedom. He became a captive so that we might escape. No one else could take our place. Jesus was the right man.
They Crucified the Right Man
Jesus died as the ultimate sacrifice for sin. He was crucified in our place. When we look at what our sin deserves, it should have been us on the cross. Left to ourselves, our paths will lead us to destruction. Jesus paid the price for our sin so that we could be reconciled to God—so that we might have a living relationship with the creator of the heavens and the earth. Buddha didn’t die on your behalf. Mohammed didn’t die on your behalf. No, they crucified the only man who could take the penalty for our sin. Jesus was the right man.
They Buried the Right Man
It was necessary for Jesus to die and then be raised again. The apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15, “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day…and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.” But Jesus defeated death, and now we have no fear in death. Jesus’ resurrection points to the day when those who believe will be resurrected and live with him forevermore. Death has been swallowed up in victory. O Death, where is your victory? O Death, where is your sting? Thanks be to God who give us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! No, Jesus was the only one who could defeat death once and for all, paving the way for the new life we will one day live. Jesus was the right man.
There was no one else—there is no one else—there never will be anyone else—who could do what Jesus did for you and me. Peter declares in Acts 4:12: There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to people by which we must be saved.
2 Corinthians 5:21 tells us:
God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Maybe you’ve made the decision, but you haven’t really been living up to the person that God has intended you to be. Jesus paid the price—are you living up to your purchase price? Are you living in light of the cross? In your personal life? In your relationships? Jesus was the right man. He died so that we could live in freedom. Do not take the cross for granted. Don’t let his death mean nothing to you. My grandma always used to say, “Never put off ‘til tomorrow what you can do today.”
We’re going to have some reflection and response time. Think about the message and focus on the words of the songs.
Our first song is called Here I Am to Worship. It is a simple song about our response to what God has done for us. the bridge is a perfect Easter anthem declaring:
I’ll never know
how much it cost
to see my sin
upon the cross…
Jesus paid the price that we could never afford to pay.
Our second song is Forever Reign – a personal favorite. The song says,
Oh, I’m runnin’ to your arms
I’m runnin’ to your arms
The riches of your love
Will always be enough
Nothing compares to your embrace Light of the world – forever reign!
Jesus is not dead, but has risen from the grave and reigns over all creation!
– What do you think is the cost we would have to pay to make up for humanity’s brokenness?
– Have I decided to follow Jesus? If not, why not?
MAKING IT REAL
– If you’ve never come to the place in your life where you have decided to be a follower of Jesus and want to know more, please shoot us a message, and we’ll be glad to talk to you about what it means to be a follower!
Chris Linzey is husband to Tené, father to the three most beautiful children in the world, a Navy Chaplain, and a movie enthusiast. Chris loves people and has a deep desire to help them live lives of faith where the Bible is more than mere words on a page, but the way we live every day. His undergrad and Master’s studies were in Biblical Studies, and he focused on the New Testament (his mentor was a Gospel of Mark scholar). He received an additional Master's degree, Master of Divinity (MDiv), in Pastoral Preaching.