So this is where it would end, in front of a hostile crowd, nailed to a cross. He had of hoped for better and I’m sure his family had hoped for better. I don’t know what his mother had envisioned for the little boy who played at her feet but I’m betting it wasn’t this. Everyone had thought he would follow in his father’s footsteps and everyone was wrong. It wasn’t that he didn’t respect his father for what he had done but he was marching to the sound of a different drummer, for better. . . or for worse.
There had been times that he was talking to people and casting the vision of what they could and should be that he was sure they had gotten it. And he was sure that they’d be willing to pay the price and make the sacrifices for a new world a better world, but apparently he was wrong.
And so it had all come down to this after all of the sacrifices that he had made for the people of Israel and now it would finish here in front of a Roman Court. A Roman Court, in Israel, it hardly seemed fair that his fate would be decided by a foreigner, an interloper. Didn’t the people see this is why the kingdom that he preached about and that he taught about was the better way?
But he was no fool, he knew that eventually it would end this way, he knew this was the price he would have to pay for the message he taught and how he had lived. He had hoped that the people of Israel would recognize the truth of what his teachings that they would understand that they could live better lives but deep down he knew that they would never change, at least not yet.
Suddenly the Roman guards pushed another man alongside of him, another victim of “Roman Justice” and then the man in charge, the man named Pilate told the crowd “Today one of these men will go free and one will die on a cross and it is you choice, you will decide. One man will walk and one man will hang and it is up to you.” And then the question was asked “Who do you choose today, Jesus of Nazareth or Jesus Barabbas? The one who encouraged you to love your enemy or the one who encouraged you to hate your enemy?”
And then he heard the roar of the crowd, “Barabbas, we want Barabbas free Barabbas, crucify Jesus free Barabbas.” He couldn’t believe his ears, they wanted Barabbas. Barabbas the criminal? Barabbas the Murderer? He was Barabbas. It was like winning a lottery, no it was better than a lottery it was his life. One minute he was destined to be nailed to a cross and the next minute he was being set free.
And it seemed that finally his people recognized him for who he truly was a freedom fighter, a hero, not a terrorist and a murderer. They chose him, they wanted him
Tradition tells us they shared a name, history tells us they shared a passion, a passion for the people of Israel, the Bible tells us that at this juncture in their lives they shared a common fate, crucifixion on a Roman cross, the fate of the lowest criminals. But it was at that point their stories diverged.
The story is told in all four of the gospel accounts; Pastor Wilson read Mark’s account earlier. Mark 15:6-8 Now it was the governor’s custom each year during the Passover celebration to release one prisoner—anyone the people requested. One of the prisoners at that time was Barabbas, a revolutionary who had committed murder in an uprising. The crowd went to Pilate and asked him to release a prisoner as usual.
If you’ve read the gospel accounts it doesn’t take long to discover that Pilate was a little hesitant to crucify Jesus. He hedges, he waffles, he offers Christ the opportunity to recant, he sends him off to Herod in hopes that Herod will release him. But Jesus keeps ending up back in front of Pilate with the Jewish leaders demanding his death.
Perhaps this would be the pivotal point. Pilate knew that the leaders wanted Jesus dead, but he had heard how popular Jesus was with the people, so he would let the people decide. And so he offered up to the crowd two options, would they choose the man who preached peace or the man who preached war, the man who spoke of love or the one who spoke only of hate?
Have you ever been in a situation where you were sure you knew who would win, or who would get picked and then it went in exactly the opposite direction? I am pretty sure that Pilate was betting the crowd would pick their favourite, Jesus, the one who healed the sick and fed the hungry. Instead they chose Barabbas. In the various Gospel accounts Barabbas is described as a notorious prisoner, a revolutionary, and as an insurrectionist. But all accounts agree that he was a murderer. And that is who the crowd picked.
Pilate must have felt the same way my Father did when Pierre Trudeau was re-elected as Prime Minister in 1980. No Pilate couldn’t have felt nearly that bad.
But who was this Barabbas? Tradition tells us that Barabbas was not this man’s first name. Remember our old buddy Peter? Sometimes in the gospels he is referred to Simon Bar Jonah, or Simon the Son of Jonah. Tradition has it that Barabbas had a very common first name, a name that he shared with many other Jews, one that he even shared with a young carpenter from Nazareth. You see tradition tells us that the Zealot’s complete name was Jesus Barabbas. As a matter of fact that is even noted in the foot notes of some bibles that some translations actually name him as Jesus Barabbas.
And the Barabbas part of his name? Well there are a couple of different theories about this. Some scholars feel that his name was probably Bar Rabbis which in the Greek means Son of the Rabbi. I’m sure some people are thinking; typical preacher’s kid right? Maybe his dad was one of the leaders who called for the death of Jesus.
Other commentators would say that his name was not Bar Rabbis but was Bar Abbas, and you all know what Abba means right, wrong it’s not the name of a Swedish band. Abba is one of the Hebrew terms used for father. But Son of a Father wouldn’t make sense, but if he was referred to as son of “The” father it might. The thinking is that Barabbas was the son of someone so famous and respected that people thought of him as “Father”, someone connected politically or religiously. But we really don’t know.
What we do know that Barabbas was not a nice man, he was one of the Zealots, those who wanted to rid Israel of Rome. And the Zealots didn’t care what it took, murder, robbery, terrorism. And maybe if they had of succeeded history might of treated the zealots and Barabbas better, when I studied Canadian history Louis Riel was a bad guy, but Barabbas never became known as a freedom fighter, only as a murderer.
Two Jesus’, one who preached love, and one who preached hate, one who preached peace and one who preached war, one who preached forgiveness and one who preached vengeance. Two Jesus, as different as day and night.
It’s easy to isolate Barabbas, to see him as a solitary tragic figure that happened to be in the right place at the right time and won back his life. But the reality is that once we stop and take a closer look at Barabbas we are able to see how he was like other people.
Barabbas Shared a Fate With Lazarus. Do you remember Lazarus? He was Mary and Martha’s brother, he was Jesus’ friend. Like Barabbas we don’t know a lot about Lazarus and like Barabbas what we do know about Lazarus is isolated and centred around one solitary event in his life, his death.
Perhaps you will recall that in John Chapter 11 Jesus is teaching across the Jordon river and a message comes from his friends Mary and Martha. Their brother Lazarus is sick and they want Jesus to come, the bible doesn’t specify why they wanted Jesus to come. But the assumption is that they felt that if Jesus came that he would heal their brother. Instead of rushing immediately to the bed of Lazarus, Jesus dilly dallied where he was for a couple of days and when he finally arrived at Bethany where Lazarus lived Lazarus had been dead and buried for four days.
If you do the math you realize that even if Jesus had of immediately rushed to Bethany as soon as he heard the news that he would have been too late, but the girls, Lazarus’ sisters, were inconsolable in their grief. John 11:21Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.” And I’m sure that you know the story, Jesus stood at the entrance to the tomb and spoke the words and Lazarus rose from the dead. He was alive, just moments before he had been dead, there could be no doubt of that and now he was alive and of that there could be no doubt. And he owed his life to Jesus, that was undeniable.
And Barabbas was just as dead as Lazarus. I know that he was still walking and talking and breathing, but it was just a matter of time. Lazarus had been sentenced to death by the powers of Rome, accused of terrorism and Rome didn’t take treason lightly. When Barabbas awoke that morning he knew that he was dead, that he was simply a dead man walking, there would be no more visitors and no last meal, before the sun set Barabbas knew that he would die. But instead at the end of that day he walked away from his fate, alive.
And he owed his life to Jesus, that was undeniable. One would live and one would die, that was the choice and it was only because Jesus died that Barabbas lived. Some historians scoff a the story of Barabbas, they say there is no outside collaboration for the story, no evidence that setting a prisoner free at Passover was a Roman custom, no other accounts of criminals being released.
But why would there be? They were criminals and history in most cases doesn’t record the fate of criminals. The only reason that the story of Barabbas is told is because it is connected to the story of Jesus, the story has nothing to do with Barabbas, he was just a bit player.
And the truth is that Pilate hadn’t even considered the possibility of Barabbas going free, he played the “Get of Jail Free Card” for the benefit of Jesus, not to allow Barabbas to go free. He probably picked someone like Barabbas to stack the deck in Jesus’ favour.
There are several accounts in the scriptures of Jesus giving someone the gift of life. The widow’s son in the book of Luke, Lazarus in the book of John, Jairus’ daughter in the book of Luke and others. And they all shared three things in common. They died, Jesus gave them back their lives and then. . . they died again.
Death is the great equalizer, we will all die at some point, even those that Jesus gave them a few more days or months or years eventually died. Because the reality of life is death and that’s why the scriptures tell us in Hebrews 9:27 And just as each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment.
Most of us feel a little bit like John Barrymore who said “Die? I should say not, dear fellow. No Barrymore would allow such a conventional thing to happen to him.”
And John Barrymore died in 1942 And although we don’t have dates Lazarus died, and the widow’s son died and Jairus’ daughter died and Barabbas died.
But it wasn’t just Lazaraus that Barbabbas shared something with, you understand don’t you that Barabbas Shared a Grace With Us. 1700 years after Barabbas walked away from the cross that he was supposed to be crucified on John Newton penned the words “Amazing Grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me, I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.”
If you’ve benn coming to Cornestone long enough than you have heard me say “Justice is getting what you deserve, mercy is getting less than you deserve and grace is getting what you don’t deserve. In the case of Barbabbas the murderer, justice in that day would have been being nailed to a cross. Anyone in Palestine 2000 years ago knew the penalty for treason and the penalty for murder was crucifixion plain and simple, that would have been justice. And yet that wasn’t Barabbas’ fate. Mercy or getting less than he deserved might have meant that he would have been flogged and imprisoned, or perhaps mercy would have simply meant a quick and relatively painless execution in contrast to the horror of the cross. But Grace, getting what he didn’t deserve was walking free on that day. There was absolutely no reason that the logical mind could grasp that would account for Barabbas’s freedom that day. None.
The scriptures, the word of God reminds us that we are all sinners far from God and that the penalty for that sin is spiritual death, an eternal separation from God and all that is good. And so in our case justice or getting what we deserve would be spending forever separated from God in a Christless eternity. That would be justice. And mercy or getting less than we deserve would be annihilation, there would be no promise of heaven but there would be no threat of hell, we would just cease to exist.
And yet each one of us is offered a gift we don’t deserve and never could. And the only reason that anyone of us can face eternity is the grace of God, that is why we are reminded in Ephesians 2:8-9 God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.
R. P. C. Hanson wrote “Grace means the free, unmerited, unexpected love of God, and all the benefits, delights, and comforts which flow from it. It means that while we were sinners and enemies we have been treated as sons and heirs.”
And so as we watch Barabbas walk away from the cross and we realize that He lived because Jesus died we need to understand that it wasn’t just Barabbas’s place that Jesus took upon the cross, it was ours as well.
That shouldn’t have been the way that it ended, with one man walking free because Jesus was nailed to a cross. But it was, at least it was on Friday. (Video New again)