But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to put Jesus to death. But the governor said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said, “Crucify Him!” (Matthew 27:20-22 NAU)
Barabbas’ name means either “son of the father” or “son of the rabbi.” He had taken part in an insurrection that apparently involved both robbery and murder. Beyond these bare facts we know nothing about him except what happened to him on the day he was supposed to die. We do not know who his father was or if he was a rabbi. We do not know when the insurrection happened or how many others were involved. We do not know if the others were killed in the suppression of the uprising or were imprisoned or had already been executed. We do not know if Barabbas was crazy or angry or pathetic. Maybe he was as mean as a snake. Or maybe he was a dupe. We don’t know.
But this we know. He was within a few short hours of death by crucifixion when Pilate put him forward as ‘the other choice’ for death rather than Jesus of Nazareth. Did he know anything about Jesus? Did he care, even if he knew? Did he think what the chances might be that the crowd would vote to let him go over the preacher from Galilee? What were the odds of that? As one of my professors said about the possibility that I would get a good grade, “The odds are Slim and none, and Slim may just be out of town.”
Then, inexplicably, it happened. They were shouting his name, not to kill, but to release. Not only was he not going to die in short order, but he was actually going to walk away free. Free! Released! Nothing hanging over his head! Nothing at all! It had to be surreal to the max.
Here’s the other thing that we don’t know about Barabbas. What did he do with his freedom? Did he have a thought for the man who was crucified? Did he say “O, good! Now I can go home and make amends to my rabbi Father who has been praying daily for me all these years.” Did he say “At last. I will restore what I have taken and apologize to those whose lives I altered forever.” Or did he begin to plan the next insurrection?
The great question is not what Barabbas did, but what would I do if I’m Barabbas. If I am Barabbas, what use would I make of this sudden and inexplicable blessing? Why, of all the insurrectionists, am I the one walking away free? What can this be about?
That’s the great question because this is the great truth. I am Barabbas. Even had I not broken the laws of men, I broke the law of God intentionally and daily. Let me begin at the beginning. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. (Deuteronomy 6:5). That, as they say, settles my hash. What about yours?
I am Barabbas. I have an obligation to my Creator that I have not met. And I find that I cannot meet it. If they turn me loose on my own, I will plan insurrection again.
I am Barabbas. Inexplicably, amazingly, someone has been put forward in my place. My name is being called, not for condemnation, but for release. And the Galilean preacher? Crucified. For me.
I am Barabbas. So what will I do with my new found freedom?
What a wonderful Savior we have!