The Jesus Choice – A Sermon On John 18:1-19:42 For Good Friday

We often come to this day, Good Friday, and talk about what Jesus on the cross did for us. We talk of his death as having accomplished and completed something for us. I think that’s why a little later in the liturgy we will say, “We glory in your cross, O Lord.” 

More and more, however, I struggle with that. I struggle with the idea that the violence of crucifixion somehow brings peace and reconciliation to us. I struggle with the idea that God the Father willed or wanted this for his child because “God so loved the world.”

Some would say I’m being unfaithful to God and the Church. Maybe so. Others would say my faith is growing and changing. Maybe. Maybe it’s both. Or maybe I’m just worn out from seeing the pain of the world. Maybe it’s grief. Maybe it’s Buffalo, Uvalde, Highland Park, Nashville. Maybe it’s the hardness with which we often speak to ourselves and others. Maybe it’s the lines we draw in the sand. Maybe it’s one of a thousand other things that diminish our light and steal our life.

I wonder if you feel like this too. I wonder if you also struggle with glorying in the cross of Jesus when every day humanity, innocence, peace, and justice are being lifted high on the cross.

I don’t know what to make of all this but I’ve begun thinking less about what Jesus on the cross did for us and more about what Jesus on the cross asks of us. What if we were to hear the cross more as a question than a statement? What if we were to see the cross more as a revelation than an accomplishment? What if Good Friday holds before us a choice between Jesus and Barabbas? 

Pilate asks, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?”
They shouted in reply, “Not this man, but Barabbas.” 

That’s the Good Friday choice in all four gospels and it’s not just a choice made on Good Friday only. It’s a choice we make every day. It’s a choice that shapes the world we live in and the one we leave to our children and grandchildren. That choice determines how we see ourselves and one another. It guides how we live and treat ourselves and each other. 

I’m using Jesus and Barabbas here as metaphors or lenses through which to see our lives. Both are aspects of ourselves. They describe our ways of being with and toward others and ourselves. We live and choose in the tension between Jesus and Barabbas.

Jesus is the one who came that we may “have life, and have it abundantly.” He offers a peace the world does not and cannot give. He is the one who said, “Put away your sword,” “Turn the other cheek,” “Love your neighbor as yourself.” “Love your enemies,” “Forgive seventy-seven times.” That’s how he lived and how he died. It’s what he embodies today on the cross. 

Barabbas, however, lives by the sword. He is an insurrectionist and a disturber of the peace. He turns things upside down. He commits murder and takes life. 

Jesus lives for others but Barabbas lives for himself. Jesus is a giver, Barabbas is a taker. Jesus stretches out his arms to embrace the world. Barabbas takes up arms to have his way in the world. Jesus has beliefs and values for which he is willing to die. Barabbas has beliefs and values for which he is willing to kill. 

I feel the tension of Jesus and Barabbas in my life. And I suppose you do too. Some days I’m guided by Jesus and other days by Barabbas. I commit to peace and then pick up the sword. I want to forgive when I’ve been hurt or betrayed but I also really just want to settle a score. I say there’s nothing I wouldn’t do to care for and protect my family. I would do anything for those I love. I would lay down my life. The Barabbas in me would also take a life. I oppose violence and then justify and excuse it depending on the circumstances, who the other is, and what he or she has done. 

When have you lived as Jesus and when have you lived as Barabbas? Where do you see them in your life and world today? What’s the Jesus-Barabbas tension with which you are struggling today? What would it be like to choose Jesus? What’s the Jesus choice for you today?

I can’t tell you what that choice is for you. But I know this: In each of our lives there are Jesus choices to be made. In every conflict or disagreement there are Jesus choices to be made. In the issues that challenge and plague our town and country there are Jesus choices to be made. 

The Good Friday cross does not once and for all make that choice for us. It continually holds that choice before us. Jesus’ death on the cross did not extinguish the cruelty of the world. It continues to expose and condemn it. The cross is not a sign of God’s conquering power but a sign that God stands with those conquered by power. The crucifixion did not change the ways of the world. It’s calling for us to change our ways in the world. 

We’ve got to start choosing more Jesus than Barabbas because what we’re doing now isn’t working.

Isn’t it interesting that Jesus never asked us to glory in his cross but he did ask us to take up our cross and follow him? What’s the Jesus choice for you today?

Image Credit:Station XII – ‘The Crucifixion – Jesus dies on the cross’” by howard*k is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.


  1. Thank you for the reminder that we each have choices to make every day—Jesus or Barabbas! Very thought provoking! I think all of the sermons this z Holy Week have been excellent! Thank you!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Betsy, thanks so much for you encouraging and supportive words. I apologize for being so slow in responding but remain grateful for you reading my blog.

      Peace be with you,


  2. And let the people say Amen. Thank you for this thoughtful call to action.

    To paraphrase St. Teresa of Avila:
    Ours are the eyes with which Christ looks compassion on this world,
    Ours are the feet with which Christ walks to do good,
    Ours are the hands with which Christ blesses all the world.
    Ours are the hands,
    Ours are the feet,
    Ous are the ears with which Christ hears the cries of this world,
    Ours are the eyes with which Christ looks compassion on this world. …

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is a very good Good Friday sermon. I do not believe that God willed Jesus’ dying on the cross either!

    Every day I must see the Christ
    In others and pray for the persecuted- I must forgive those who have persecuted me. In that sense every day is
    Good Friday.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Bravo, Michael K. Marsh. You are able clearly to state what my heart knows to be true. Am thankful for who you are , that you do what you do. May your voice reverberate on, and on…

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you! I was excited to read this. At last I am reading a sermon that really resonates with me. Simple to understand. A lifetime of dedication and growing to do. It does raise in my mind how we should cope with centuries of a different teaching, and great hymns we sing. I was impressed with a previous Good Friday sermon of yours, and have referred a number of people to it, with very positive results, and good conversations. This one will be recommended also. Thamkyou again.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Heather, I am so glad the sermon resonates with you. You raised a great question. I also struggle with some of our traditional teaching and hymns. I hope the Church can grow and be self-reflective and not get stuck in traditionalism. But I also hope that for myself too!

      Peace be with you,


  6. “The cross is ….. a sign that God stands with those who are conquered by power.”

    Some say God ‘turned away’ from Jesus on the cross because God is “too Holy to look upon sin”. That this was the ‘price’ Jesus had to pay to save us ie having God ‘turn away’. I have been told Psalm 22 bears witness to this ‘turning away ‘ and the fact Jesus quoted it from the cross is ‘proof’ God ‘turned away’.

    I have heard it said that when God remembered Jesus again, having turned away for “long enough”, He turned back to Him. Then after this Jesus gave up His Spirit and died.

    Yet to me Psalm 22 speaks of God never turning away from Christ. God never abandoning Him. I believe Jesus is God, He knew God the Father was with Him all the way and that His Father would not turn away. He is with us all the way too? Good or bad.

    Verse 24 ‘For he has not despised or scorned
    the suffering of the afflicted one;
    he has not hidden his face from him
    but has listened to his cry for help’

    The psalm speaks of God NOT hiding from the suffering one. Taken as a concept and not a chronological telling of events psalm 22 reveals a God called alongside. Jesus was suffering unjustly. Michael, you say it this way “God stands with those who are conquered by power”.

    Psalm 22 speaks of Christ suffering and no doubt it was excruciating, of course it would be. Yet I believe the relationship with God the Father is never broken because Jesus completely trusts He is not alone. Jesus quotes psalm 22 from the cross. The gospel speaks of eye witnesses saying that very same thing ie that His God had abandoned Him. They looked upon the outward man not the inner.

    Does God not still see sin daily?

    Yet in Christ we are saved. What an absolute Hero Jesus Christ is.


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