Good Friday 2006
A Face in the Crowd
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
April 14, 2006


Main Passage: Matthew 27:27-50 (NLT)


Now they call it the Via Dolorosa which means “the way of sorrows” or “the way of suffering.” But back then… then it was just another street. And as Jesus made his way up the crudely paved streets to the hill called Golgotha, the crowd pushed and shoved to get a glimpse of the One who was called King of the Jews. The roadside was packed as Jews from all over the world descended on Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. And this was an added bonus – a crucifixion to boot.

And so Jesus, the son of Joseph, the carpenter from Galilee, trudged through the streets of Jerusalem carrying on his back the very cross upon which he would die. But who was responsible for this? Who was to blame? Who would bear the guilt of the blood of the son of God? Maybe Judas Iscariot… maybe the high priest Caiaphas who had plotted against Jesus… maybe the other scribes and Pharisees who conspired with Caiaphas… or Pontius Pilate who finally sentenced Jesus to death… or perhaps the Roman soldiers who carried out the sentence? Who was to blame? Well, let’s see what the Bible says…

Mark 15:15 (NLT)
So Pilate, anxious to please the crowd, released Barabbas to them. He ordered Jesus flogged with a lead-tipped whip, then turned him over to the Roman soldiers to crucify him.

It was the crowd. Pilate wouldn’t have sentenced Jesus without the crowd. Caiaphas couldn’t have forced the issue without the crowd. The crowd… that wild demented creature, with a multitude of heads and no brains, countless hearts and no compassion…. The crowd. No doubt, many of the same people in the crowd that day were in the crowd less then a week earlier waving palm branches in praise to Jesus and crying out “Hosanna to the son of David. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna to the highest.” And there they are… only five short days later… just a scant 120 hours later… and the crowd’s voice changed from a melodious “Hosanna in the highest” to a venomous “Crucify Him!”

The crowd. How could the religious leaders of the day stir these people into such a murderous frenzy? No longer were they shopkeepers and bakers and shepherds and tailors but now they had become a blood-crazed mob. Why? Why? How could it have happened? And who was in that crowd?

I want to show you a painting… or at least a projected image of a picture of a painting. This is by the Dutch master Rembrandt, and when he painted this crucifixion scene he painted his own face into the crowd that gathered around the foot of the cross to remind himself that it was for his sins that Christ died that agonising death on the cross. Jesus died for him and because of him. So in a very real sense, even though he wasn’t actually there physically, he was part of that crowd. And Jesus died for you and for me, too, and so we’re part of that crowd.

But let’s imagine that we were there. Think about it. On that Friday afternoon so many years ago, what would you have been doing? Where would you have been? Would you have been just another face in the crowd? We sang earlier…

"Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Were you there when they nailed him to a tree?
Were you there when they laid him in a tomb?
O sometimes it causes me to tremble,
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?"

Where would you have been on that fateful day that they crucified that young Nazarene carpenter Jesus? Would you have been part of the mob… the one described in Matthew 27…

Matthew 27:39-40 (NLT)
And the people passing by shouted abuse, shaking their heads in mockery. “So! You can destroy the Temple and build it again in three days, can you? Well then, if you are the Son of God, save yourself and come down from the cross!”

You know, it’s interesting. These people were perfectly happy when Jesus was going around healing the sick and feeding the hungry. But when He claimed to be the Son of God… well, they became openly hostile toward Him. When He taught a higher standard of morality, then He gained enemies. And when He claimed to be able to forgive sins and that He was the only way to God the Father, then His enemies had Him executed in possibly the most barbaric and painful way imaginable.

If Jesus would have just minded His own business and went about healing and feeding people, then no problem. But when He claimed to be the Son of God and challenged their morality, they were outraged.

Now let me explain something. The crowd that was there that day provides a clear picture of our world today. You see, the vast majority of people are quite happy to have the church in the world… if it stays in it’s place. They’re quite happy that virtually every major humanitarian agency in the world was begun by Churches and by Christians. They’re glad that the Christian Church led the way in revolutionizing education at every level… from young children all the way up to the top schools… such as Oxford, Harvard, Yale, Cambridge, and Princeton which all began as Christian schools. They enjoy the wealth of culture produced by the Christian Church… masterpieces of art, music, and sculpture… plus untold technological advancements all brought about by Christians. People have no problem with the Church as long as the Church sticks to those types of things.

But as soon as the Church claims that Jesus is the Son of God… the only way to Heaven… then we become exclusive and intolerant. When we promote Biblical morality, we become bigoted and judgmental. When we take a stand against abortion or pornography or homosexuality or alcohol abuse, then we’re shoving our morality down their throats.

But they didn’t nail Jesus to the cross for being a nice guy. They didn’t crucify Him because He healed people and fed people. They tortured and killed Jesus because His claims offended them.

Or consider the case of Abdul Rahman. Just three weeks ago, he was on trial and facing the death sentence. And what was his crime? He had converted from Islam to Christianity. And he refused to renounce Jesus. And so the Afghani government put him on trial for his life. Now, the case received so much international attention that the courts eventually set him free and he fled to Italy, but they only released him because they declared he was insane. That was their only explanation as to why someone would accept Jesus.

That’s a case thousands of miles away where Canadian soldiers are fighting and dying for democracy and basic human rights. But that kind of fanaticism doesn’t just exist in Afghanistan. It’s here too, although in much more subtle or covert ways. All you’ve got to do is read the letters to the editor in the newspaper whenever an issue of faith or morality is in the news. Whenever that happens, the Church is told to mind its own business.

Now, I’m not saying that we should go out of our way to offend people. But I am saying that if our faith and our values and our beliefs do offend people, then so be it. Because those are things we simply cannot compromise on. Jesus died for His claims, and He told us that if we are going to follow Him, then we need to be willing to take up our cross, too.

So let’s take another look at this crowd. Where would you have been that day? Who would you have been in that crowd? Whose face would yours replace in the crowd?


Whose Face Would You Replace in the Crowd?

1. Perhaps your face would have replaced Pilate’s

Matthew 27:22-24 (NLT)
“…What should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?”
And they all shouted, “Crucify him!”
“Why?” Pilate demanded. “What crime has he committed?”
But the crowd only roared the louder, “Crucify him!”
Pilate saw that he wasn’t getting anywhere and that a riot was developing. So he sent for a bowl of water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of the blood of this man. The responsibility is yours!”

Here was Pilate… ever the politician. He attempted to wash his hands of a politically dangerous situation. He wanted to remain neutral. He had yet to learn that only thing you get from straddling the fence was splinters. As one man said…

“The only thing in the middle of the road is yellow lines and dead skunks.”

Pilate could have freed Jesus if he had wanted to. The basic problem was, he didn’t want to. Doing what was right took a back seat to doing what was politically safe and convenient. Politicians haven’t changed much in the last two thousand years have they?

And there are a lot of people today who play political games with God. They know what they ought to do, but they don’t want to offend those who cast the vote of popularity in their lives. And so they waver, not wanting to reject Jesus, but not willing to make the commitment needed to accept Him, either. It’s not that they are indifferent to the claims of Jesus; it’s just that they are not quite sure that they are willing to pay the necessary price. And so in their indecision, they have already decided. They have decided to continue to follow the course their life is taking, and that they will ignore the claims of Jesus, hoping they aren’t true.


2. Perhaps You Would Be In Barabbas’ Place

Matthew 27:21, 26 (NLT)
So when the governor asked again, “Which of these two do you want me to release to you?” the crowd shouted back their reply: “Barabbas!”…
So Pilate released Barabbas to them. He ordered Jesus flogged with a lead-tipped whip, then turned him over to the Roman soldiers to crucify him.

While Pilate was wavering and trying to find a way to satisfy everyone, he presented to crowd with an option. It was customary to release a prisoner during the Passover celebration, so he gave them this choice… “Would you prefer that I release Jesus, or this notorious criminal and murderer and insurrectionist, Barabbas?”

And I’m sure that Pilate couldn’t believe his ears when they responded. But the crowd began to chant, and the chant became a roar, “free Barabbas, crucify Jesus, free Barabbas, crucify Jesus, free Barabbas, crucify Jesus.”

And since Pilate wanted to please the crowd, that’s what he did. And so Barabbas was the very first human being to benefit from Jesus’ sacrifice. It’s very likely that that center cross on which Jesus was crucified had been reserved for Barabbas. So as Barabbas walked away from Calvary that day, someone was literally dying in his place.

Now to be clear, Barabbas wasn’t the boy next door. He really wasn’t who you wanted to be picking up your daughter for a date. He was a criminal and a murderer. But here’s something you may not know. The name “Barabbas” actually means “son of the rabbi,” and according to some manuscripts, he had a very common first name – Jesus. And so it leaves us to wonder if perhaps Barabbas was the son of one of the Jewish leaders of religion, perhaps even one of the very men who clamoured for the crucifixion of the Galilean carpenter named Jesus.

And so as Barabbas made his way from Calvary, probably sowing dissent and discontentment along the way, he knew that he walked free because another had died in his place. It wasn’t idle theological speculation, or doctrinal presumption. Jesus Barabbas walked free because Jesus bar Joseph hung on a cross. Barabbas knew that Jesus had died for him… I don’t think he really cared. There’s nothing to tell me that Barabbas was changed by this experience.

And there are folks like that in pretty much every church. They’ve been brought up with the Gospel, they know it inside and out, they know all the Bible stories, and they know that Jesus died for them… but they just don’t care. It makes no real difference to them. It doesn’t really matter that Jesus died in their place.

Perhaps you are a Barabbas. You know the truth, but it makes no difference to you.


3. Perhaps You’d Find Your Place with The Disciples

Where were they? Well, the Bible tells us…

Mark 14:50 (NLT)
Meanwhile, all his disciples deserted him and ran away.

For three years they’d been with him, for three years they had listened to his teaching, for three years they had called themselves his closest friends, and now all but two had disappeared. John stayed and was at the foot of the cross while Jesus hung there. And Judas went and hung himself on another tree. Peter, where are you? Andrew, James, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James, Simon, Thaddeus, where are you? Why have you left Jesus?

When we think about Jesus being denied, we normally think of Peter. Peter followed along while Jesus was being led around for the initial trials. And you can picture this big burly fisherman quaking in fear in front of a little maid who recognized him as a disciple, and then he swore that he had never met the one called Jesus. But the other disciples were already long gone. The only difference between Peter and the other nine was that he did verbally what they did silently.

Perhaps you’d find a place with the disciples. You’ve made a decision to follow Jesus, but now you deny His power in your life. Perhaps you deny Him by refusing to believe He can straighten out the problems areas of your life. Maybe you deny Him but avoiding His house. Maybe He’s your Saviour but He’s never become your Lord. But all was not lost.


4. Perhaps You’d Find Your Place with the Faithful

The Faithful… the ones who stuck with Jesus right up to His death. Who were they?

John 19:25-26 (NLT)
Standing near the cross were Jesus’ mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary (the wife of Clopas), and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother standing there beside the disciple he loved, he said to her, “Woman, he is your son.”

You know, here’s something interesting: Four out of the five people who stood at the foot of the cross were women. And even today, it’s not unusual to find women outnumbering men in His service, and His services. From the very beginning, the ministry of Jesus was marked with the presence of women. All the way back to Luke chapter 8, we find that it was wealthy women who kept Jesus and His disciples fed and clothed as they travelled. Jesus always validated and defended women, like the woman who had been caught in adultery. The mob that day wanted to execute her, but Jesus defended her. He didn’t defend her actions, but He defended her. And then instructed her to change her ways. And this was in a time and culture where women were basically treated as property. They were seen as being inferior. And so in the eyes of those who wanted Jesus killed, He had had more contact with women than they found acceptable.

Now, what do we know about these five people who were gathered at the foot of the cross? Who were they?

  • Mary, the Mother of Jesus

    I don’t know how much of what was going on Mary understood. She had always known Jesus was special… she knew He was the Son of God. The circumstances of His birth pretty much confirmed that. But did she fully understand? I don’t know. But even if she couldn’t understand what was happening to her son, she could love. Her presence there was the most natural thing in the world. Jesus might have been condemned as a criminal in the eyes of the law, as a blasphemer in the eyes of the religious, and as a rebel in the eyes of Rome. But to her, he was her son. As Kipling wrote…

    If I were hanging on the highest hill,
    Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine.
    I know whose love would follow me still,
    Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine.

    If I were drowned in the deepest sea,
    Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine.
    I know whose tears would come down to me,
    Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine.

    If I were damned of body and soul,
    Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine.
    I know whose tears would make me whole,
    Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine.
    ~ Rudyard Kipling

  • Salome, Jesus’ Aunt

    She’s actually not named in that passage in John, but in Mark 15 and Matthew 27 we discover that her name is Salome and is the mother of James and John. The strange thing is that it was Salome that Jesus had rebuked earlier. Maybe you recall what happened. Salome had asked Jesus to reserve the chief positions of honour for her sons in heaven, and Jesus refused to grant her request. But yet here she is at the cross. Her presence there says much for Salome’s humility for she had the ability to accept the rebuke from Jesus and to continue to follow Him an love Him with undiminished devotion… something each one of us could stand to learn.

  • Mary, the wife of Clopas

    What do we know of her? Nothing, other then her name was Mary and she was the wife of Clopas. And perhaps that in itself tells us something. The faithful are not just the ones in the headlines. They’re not just special people in special positions with special relationships. They can simply be the ones who live their faith day in, day out.

  • Mary Magdalene

    What we know about Mary is what we are told in Mark 16:9…

    Mark 16:9 (NLT)
    It was early on Sunday morning when Jesus rose from the dead, and the first person who saw him was Mary Magdalene, the woman from whom he had cast out seven demons.

    But Mary would never forget what he had done for here. His love had rescued her, and her love would never forget that. And so she was one of the last to see Jesus alive, was there when He died, honoured him after He died by purchasing burial spices for His body, and was the first to see Him after His resurrection.

    Now somehow, through the years she became known as a prostitute. But there’s no record of that. But even if she was, it doesn’t really matter, because Jesus had transformed her life. He had done something incredible for her, and she would never forget that.

  • John, the Disciple

    John was the only one of the twelve disciples who stayed with Jesus. He is often called the disciple whom Christ loved, and perhaps his faithfulness explains why.

Five people. Of all the people Jesus had touched, only five people stood by Him. Of all the people He had healed, only five people stayed with Him. Of all the people he had fed… including 5000 at one time… only five people stayed true to Him.

You know, there’s an old slogan that you might recognize…

“Neither rain, nor snow, nor heat, nor gloom of night might stay these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”
~ Herodotus (Greek historian)
(engraved saying outside the James A. Farley Post Office in New York City)

Herodotus said that in reference to the couriers who delivered mail and military orders throughout Persia. And even today, letter carriers especially in the U.S. use that as kind of an unofficial motto.

But what concerns me is that postal workers are often more committed to delivering the latest flyer from Future Shop than believers are to following Jesus. Oh, they’re content to follow Jesus as long as there’s no inconvenience or cost or danger. But they’re not going to risk anything for Him. They’re not going to become uncomfortable for Him. That’s just too great a price for the One who died for them.

But for the faithful… you’re going to be there. You’re going to be at the foot of the cross, even if it means being identified as a follower of Jesus and having your own life put in danger. Will you be found among the faithful?


5. Perhaps You’d Find Your Place with the Forgiven

Like the thief on another cross beside Jesus who said to Jesus…

Luke 23:42 (NLT)
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”

He was the odd man out. As far as we know he had no previous contact with Jesus. Or maybe he had. It’s possible that he had been on the Mount of Olives and heard the Sermon on the Mount. Or perhaps he ate quietly in the crowd when Christ multiplied the fish and loaves. Maybe, maybe not. All we really know is that on his cross that day, that thief acknowledged Christ for who he was… the son of God. As far as we know, even the faithful five didn’t do that on that day. And so what did the thief do? He admitted that he wasn’t perfect, he had failed the morality test, he was a criminal, he was a sinner. And he recognized that Jesus was the perfect Son of God. And he received the forgiveness that Jesus was offering on His cross. And Jesus told him…

Luke 23:43 (NLT)
And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.”


So where are you at? Where would you be if you were painted into the crowd? Obviously, I would implore you to be among the faithful and the forgiven. You prove your faithfulness to Jesus day in and day out, by the decisions you make. But the forgiveness… the forgiveness is only available at the Cross.

Ephesians 1:7 (NLT)
He is so rich in kindness that he purchased our freedom through the blood of his Son, and our sins are forgiven.

Jesus died on the Cross for a very specific reason. He didn’t have to die, but He willing died for this… to pay the penalty for every big and every little sin of mankind. He did it for you. He did it so the penalty would be served for you… so you could be forgiven and be given a new chance at life and a restored relationship with God the Father, and the hope of an eternity with Him in Heaven. Will you be among the forgiven?

I want to pray with you. Would you close your eyes for a minute? And as you do that, I want to ask you a question. Are you among the forgiven? If you’re here this morning and you’ve never experienced the forgiveness of Jesus, then today’s your day. This is the best day of all to receive that gift. So if you’d like to receive that forgiveness today and you’d like to follow Him from this moment on, then just slip up your hand so I can pray for you. I won’t mention you by name, but I want to be able to pray for you.

Okay, I’m going to pray a prayer. And if you’d like to receive His forgiveness today, then you can pray along with me. Pray something like this…

Jesus, than you for dying for me. Thank you for the incredible love you displayed for me on the cross. I know that You died so I could be forgiven. And I want to accept that gift today. I know I haven’t always done the things You wanted me to do, and I haven’t always said the things You’d want me to say. And even now as I pray and some of those come to my mind, I confess them to You and I want to let You know I’m sorry. Please forgive me, and help me to live for You from this moment on. Thank you.


[Adapted primarily from material by Denn Guptill]




Copyright © Greg Hanson, 2006