Luke 23:13-25

Six times in this passage, Luke uses the word ?release.?E Most of the uses describe Pilate?s desire to release Jesus. He plans to scourge Jesus and ?release?EHim; he is obliged to ?release?Esomeone at the festival, but the Jews demand that Pilate ?release?EBarabbas rather than Jesus, which is what Pilate eventually does.

This theme of ?release?Eis clearly related to the Passover setting. Pilate offers to release a prisoner because it is a festival time. This is an appropriate custom for a feast that celebrates the release of Israelite slaves and prisoners from Egyptian bondage. During this particular Passover, that release is infinitely deepened: Pilate not only offers to release a prisoner, but enacts a substitution, sending Jesus to death in place of Barabbas. And this is precisely what the Passover is about: The Passover Lamb shedding its blood for the firstborn, for Yahweh?s firstborn, Israel.

Within Luke, too, the repetition of the word ?release?Eis significant.
At the beginning of His ministry, preaching in Nazareth, Jesus proclaimed that He was the Spirit-anointed Servant of Yahweh, sent to proclaim ?release to captives.?E At that time, too, Jesus was attacked by the people, and nearly killed. Now, the Servant who proclaims release is NOT released. The One who broke chains and bonds is kept in chains. The One who raised the dead is sent away to be killed.

The ?release?Ethat Jesus proclaimed seems to be a failure. How can Jesus release captives when He Himself is a captive? How can He break chains of others when He Himself is chained? How can He save others unless He can save Himself. Yet, here again God?s exquisite irony is at work, the deepest irony of all. For Jesus accomplishes the release of captives precisely by becoming captive, breaks chains by bearing them, overcomes death by submitting to death.

This is the redemption we celebrate at this table. This is the feast of release, a feast we can celebrate because Jesus was NOT released.

Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us. Let us therefore keep the feast.

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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