We all want someone who will save us from the mess we are in and make things right: a new president, a new boss, an inventor of a new solution, or just an opportunity for ourselves to take the reins. That hope is captured in the Hebrew name “Joshua” and its Greek equivalent, “Jesus,” which means “he saves.”

In Matthew 27, the first century Roman governor of Palestine asks the people a question we must all answer:

“Which Jesus do you want?”

Pontius Pilate

The question is not whether or not we will look to someone to save us; it is merely a matter of whom we will choose.

Pilate offers us a choice between “Jesus Barabbas” (“He saves” who is “his father’s son”) or “Jesus, who is called Christ” (“He saves” because he is the “divinely anointed” Son of the Father) (v.17). “Which of the two do you want …?” Pilate asks (v.21).

For generation after generation we have looked for (or to be) a charismatic bad-ass who will overthrow those in power and wipe out those that we think are the problem: someone like Barabbas, “a notorious prisoner” (v.16) who “was imprisoned with the rebels who had committed murder during the insurrection” (Mark 15:7) “in the city.” (Luke 23:19).

Jesus knew he could be that kind of saviour: “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:53). And he was tempted to be, too, because “the devil … showed him all the kingdoms of the world … and said to him, ‘To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.’” (Luke 4:5-7)

But Jesus refused to yield to that temptation and bow the knee to the usual way of doing things in our world. The world does not just need saving; it needs recreating.

See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.

Isaiah 43:19

So Jesus told those who tried to get him to fit the mould: “You are from below; I am from above. You belong to this world; I do not.” (John 8:23 – NLT). “You are the children of your father the devil, and you love to do the evil things he does. He was a murderer from the beginning.” (John 8:44 – NLT).

Jesus was accused of “inciting the people to rebellion” (Luke 23:14), of “subverting our nation” (Luke 23:2) and of claiming to be the “King of the Jews” (v.11; 37) as rival to Herod and the rule of the Roman empire. The governor said: “I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him.” (Luke 23:14)

The irony is that while Pilate is right – Jesus is not another Barabbas – his accusers are more right than they realise. Jesus is turning everything on its head. He refused to grasp political power, to manipulate people, or to kill the way that we expect our saviours to. And the crowd’s response was to call for him to be crucified. They did not want the system to change – either in their generation or in the next: “his blood be on us and on our children!” (Matthew 27:25)

It is not because the people thought there was a better candidate for the top spot; it’s because Jesus was reconfiguring the whole system. “You are trying to kill me because there’s no room in your hearts for my message.” (John 8:37) It is only when the “people of God” and the great Roman Empire (still vaunted by many as the pinnacle of human civilisation) had viciously executed God himself that the system that we continue to pass on was shown for what it truly is. “In this way, he disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross.” (Colossians 2:15 – NLT). And that is why Jesus had said: “When you have lifted up the Son of Man on the cross, then you will understand that I am he.” (John 8:28)

The cost was overwhelming. Jesus “was in such agony of spirit that his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood” (Luke 22:44) as he prayed. “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:36). Despite the cost, Jesus refused to give up on the new thing his father is doing.

“Behold, I am making all things new.”

Revelation 21:5

Pilate asks us to choose between this “Jesus, son of his father,” or that “Jesus, son of his father.” The difference is in who the father is, “… for I always do what pleases him.” (John 8:29).