Courts aren’t what they used to be. Today judges and juries are separate, and there are executive, judicial, and legislative branches of government. In Jesus’ time, there was just 1 branch: Cæsar and his governors. Cæsar was the Supreme Court; the governor was the court. He was judge, jury, and executioner.
The Jews had condemned Jesus. He blasphemed, they said. He claimed to be God, and they didn’t believe Him, so He had to die. But they had just lost their right to stone people to death. They still did it if Pilate wasn’t around, like they did to St. Stephen a few months later, but Pilate was in town for Passover, so they couldn’t get away with stoning Jesus. God designed things to happen this way so He would be crucified instead.
Pilate wasn’t at all happy about this trial. He’d scheduled the death of 3 criminals that day, and 1 of them was Barabbas. He wasn’t expecting much else. He figured the Jews would come by and ask for somebody to be released, but He wasn’t expecting to release Barabbas or kill a guy who was so obviously innocent nobody in his right mind would condemn Him. I have to think he was hoping to sleep in, but they woke him up real early.
They took Him to Pilate and immediately triply perjured themselves. They claimed He was perverting the nation, forbidding them to pay taxes, and saying He is Christ the King. His “perversion” was causing people to reject them. He actually had just told them in the last few days to pay taxes. He wasn’t lying when He claimed to be God’s Christ, The King of the universe, which He is, and Rome, which deified it’s emperors, wasn’t going to kill somebody just for calling himself a god!
Pilate knew better than to believe anything they were telling him. But that charge of Jesus calling Himself King piqued his interest. After all, the Romans hated nothing more than rebellion and riots, and having a rival king on the scene was definitely not good. So he had to question Him about that. Jesus told him He’s the King of truth. Rome had nothing to fear. Pilate thought Him strange, but He wasn’t guilty of anything, certainly not anything worthy of death. So he tried to free Him.
The Jews wouldn’t let it go. They mentioned He’s from Galilee. That was a big relief to Pilate. His counterpart up there was in town for the feast! Let him have jurisdiction! He’d like to see this Jesus anyway. So he sent Him away and hoped it was over. Herod wanted to enjoy “The Jesus Show,” but he got no show. He sent Jesus back, not at all condemned yet not free because the Jews weren’t going to let him free Him.
So back to Pilate. He made it clear he wasn’t killing Jesus; he was freeing Him. To make this point emphatic, he reminded them they liked him to release somebody to them at Passover. To make sure he’d get Jesus out of there alive, he gave them only 1 real option: Jesus. To his shock, they asked for the 1 he was using to make sure Jesus went free: Barabbas, the thief and killer. Finally they reminded him his god was Cæsar and said he could go blame-free for this and he relented. Jesus was crucified in place of Barabbas.
Jesus took your place. The Passover lambs took the place of all the first-born in Israel. They died that the first-born might live. Jesus died and Barabbas lived. The Eternal God died, and you shall live eternally. For He is our Scapegoat. What’s a scapegoat? It’s not a literal goat of course, but somebody that takes the blame for something he’s not at fault for, let’s say if I blamed the road for my last car crashing last January on Route 8 in Shaler, not me for not driving as carefully as I should have. But how is that anything like Jesus?
On the Day of Atonement, the Jews had a scapegoat. It was a real goat. The priest confessed the sins of the people while laying his hand on the goat. This meant he was putting the sins of the people on the goat. The goat was going to be called guilty of them and the people were going to be called innocent. Then the goat got sent out into the wilderness to show that sin was leaving the camp. A few might have come back though, which would look like sin ritually returning to camp, so they eventually began to push them off a cliff.
Now Jews did once try to throw Jesus off a cliff by Nazareth, and they tried to stone Him too. But that’s not how God wanted Him to die. He wanted Him crucified, and He wanted Him to bear all the sins of the world. The Jews lying about Him and forcing Pilate to crucify Him symbolize what God was doing. He was declaring Jesus guilty of all the sins of the world. He was freeing you from them.
So Jesus was taken outside the camp, outside the city of Jerusalem. To make sure sin didn’t come back to haunt us, He was crucified. And the prophet Zechariah declares that on that day He removed the iniquity of the land. What does that mean? What is iniquity? It’s the guilt each of our sins incurs. We talk about transgressions and iniquities. Our transgressions are those sins we commit when we break God’s Law. Our iniquities are the guilt we incur each time we sin. This itself is sin, because God wants us to be sin-debt-free. But our sins give us a debt; God calls this debt sin too.
This helps us see why Jesus had to do so much to save us. Since we are unable to keep His Law on our own, He had to keep it completely for our sake so God could say The Law was kept for all. He had to be punished for our doing evil deeds, for which we do deserve to be punished in hell. He also had to pay our sin-debt with His Blood. Only Blood, sinless, eternal human Blood could pay for the sins of the eternity of sinners. That’s what He did. That’s what He’s telling us He did when He shouted: “It is finished,” that is, “paid in full.”
So Jesus, The Lord Who made heaven and earth, is your Scapegoat. He got blamed for your sins. You go free. He was judged guilty. You are judged innocent. And if you think there’s any chance God might change His mind, stop it. His Resurrection shows that God has declared Him innocent. He nailed your sins to The Cross. He buried them in the depths of Jesus’ tomb. He left them behind in hell when He proclaimed His victory to the vanquished serpent. They cannot come back to haunt you. He is your Help from the eternal death which your sins deserve into the eternal life which He has won for you.
How should you respond? The Liturgy answers that question! “Our help is in The Name of The Lord, Who made heaven and earth. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto The Lord, and Thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin.”