Everyday Barabbas: Who Is This Barabbas? Barabbas Is You! Barabbas Is Me!

Posted: May 24, 2015 in Gospel of Luke
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Luke 23:13-25 — Barabbas, who was he? From the book of Mark, we know that he was a prisoner of Rome during the time of Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion for having murdered a Roman soldier and for having stirred up a small but fleeting rebellion against the Roman occupying forces. Although to the many of the Jews, he may have been a hero. His arrest and incarceration were completely justified. He did the crime and was doing the time. But do we really know who he is other than what he did? Other than his rebellion and capital crime, he is mentioned nowhere else in the sequence of the gospel story nor is he mentioned in the subsequent books of the New Testament. Even his name is non-descriptive. Bar-abbas. It means son of daddy. That does not give us any help! Never in any mention of Barabbas in the gospels do they identify who his father was as was done so often in Hebrew literature, including the Bible. For example, Peter before his name was changed was often referred to as Simon, son of John. Barabbas, I guess, then was not connected to his family in any way. He was a rebel to the core. Since he was not identified with his father, he must have been a loner. He must have chosen to go his own way. In these ways, Barabbas is so symbolic of who we are before we encounter Jesus Christ.

Barabbas, not tied to his family in any way. He must have been an angry man searching for meaning in his life. Not tied to his family in any way could mean two things. He had dishonored his family in some way and was sent away to never return to his family. Or, he could have had a horrible home life that caused him to run away and never return. Many Barabbas had to strike out on his own because his father died and there was no uncles to step in and take care of his mom and the rest of his family. Either way, Barabbas was out there on his own. This is a very real possibility for who Barabbas was. Family was of extreme importance in Jewish society. Sons always honored their fathers by saying that they were son of… We know of no such references about Barabbas that would have led the writers of the gospels to mention this fact when writing of Barabbas. So, maybe Barabbas was just a young punk in the streets of Jerusalem that had to grow up hard. Maybe, he was just angry at the world because of all that. Many of us today may hate our government for what it has become but we do not murder government officials or members of the military because of it. It would have been true in Barabbas’ day too. Many Jews detested the presence of their Roman occupiers in their country. Yet, most did not try to lead rebellions and kill people. Barabbas was an angry man. Without a connection to his father in how he was publicly address, it means that he had nothing to lose in his mind. His life was full of anger to the point of lashing out against Rome. That’s pretty serious stuff. The Romans often dealt harshly with citizens of occupied lands who rebelled against Rome. Crucifixion had been perfected by the Romans as the most humiliating and painful way to die. It was very public and very painful. Imagine being so angry at the world that you lash out against the military of the most powerful nation on the planet. He was in complete rebellion. He was out of control. In his mind, it was OK to murder and create mayhem. His life has been so rough that he deserved to take it out on the Romans. Barabbas is so like you and me before we meet Jesus Christ. We are in rebellion against God. We shake our fist at him. We go against his Word and revel in our sins. We are searching for meaning in things of this world. We think that we deserve the pleasures of this life and seek after them and justify why we deserve them. We are Barabbas.

The irony of this scene is that Barabbas is standing there on one side and Jesus on the other. Each is accused of leading a rebellion. For one it is true. Barabbas had rebelled against Rome and wanted to lead others in doing so. For the other it is a lie fabricated by religious officials trying to preserve their way of life. Barabbas was guilty. There was no doubt about that fact. Other Roman soldiers had seen him commit the crime. Roman soldiers had witnesses him stirring up the crowds into an assault on soldiers in Jerusalem. Of his guilt, there was no doubt. He was convicted by the evidence of his sins against Rome. On the other hand, Jesus was not guilty. He was a sinless man who had committed no crime other than speak the truth to men who did not want to hear the truth. Jesus was pure and spotless and had done no such thing as lead a rebellion against Rome. But Barabbas was released even though he was a criminal against Rome. He was to face certain death without his release. In effect, Jesus died in Barabbas’ place. We are Barabbas at this moment when we meet Jesus.

Barabbas new what his crime was and probably was aware of what happens to criminals against Rome. They are sentenced to death, a death of painful proportions that seems to take forever. Many who were crucified took several days to die. Most on the cross wished for an immediate death that would not come. It was slow, excruciating and painful beyond belief. Imagine his relief and utter joy when his death sentence was lifted. Who knows what happened to Barabbas after this moment? But we can imagine his utter joy at being released from a sentence of certain but slow death. We are the same way when we meet Jesus Christ. We come before Him knowing that our sins separate us from God. We know that one sin is all it takes but yet we have committed so many. We know, finally, for the first time in our lives that we do not deserve heaven. We finally realize that no matter the amount of good that we do in this lifetime we do not deserve heaven because of the ever increasing pile of sins that convict us to hell. Hell is like crucifixion but just eternal. Crucifixion may have seemed like an eternity to a person on the cross. But hell is basically eternal crucifixion. Hell is real. Jesus spoke of it often. When we realize that we truly deserve the eternal pain and suffering of hell, that is when we meet Jesus.

When we accept Jesus Christ as our Savior, Jesus dies in our place. He takes the punishment for that which we deserve. We are set free from the penalty of eternal damnation that we deserve. We are Barabbas. We are set free from the crime for which there is incontrovertible evidence to convict us and send us to hell. One sin will send us there not to mention the hundreds that we commit each day, each week, each year of our lives. We are career criminals in that regard. But, yet, we are set free by the Innocent One who had no sin but was sent to the cross on our behalf. He took on the full punishment of God for us. We are set free by Jesus’ death sentence which he did not deserve. We are Barabbas. We run joyfully away from the judgement seat. That is the joy of our salvation that lives in our hearts. We as Christ followers know what we deserve and the joy that we have or should have in our lives is knowing that Jesus set us free from the penalty of and punishment of hell. When we accept Jesus as our Savior, our sentence is lifted. We are pardoned. If you do not have basic inner joy because of that, then, you do not understand salvation. We have seen the eternal crucifixion of hell that we deserve and we have been pulled back from the brink. Thank you Jesus. Thank you! Thank you!

The most amazing thing here is that Jesus took the punishment that Barabbas deserved and we do not know what Barabbas did with it. The most amazing thing is that Jesus died on the cross in Barabbas’ place and in our place. He did this because He loves you and me and wants us to be reunited with God. He did this before you and I were born. He did this while we were yet sinners in open rebellion against Him. He did this knowing full well we might reject Him. But all we have to do to accept the reward of his death on the cross is to ask Him to come into our hearts and change us forever. When we do that, the sentence that we deserve is commuted. No matter how much we have rebelled. No matter what we have done. When we accept His gift, we are made innocent in His death on the cross. When we ask Him to take away our sins against God and change us from the inside out, we are set free. We are set free. Are you Barabbas today? Do you want to be set free from the hell that you deserve? Come to the cross. Accept what Jesus has done in your place there. Accept what He has done for what you deserve. Ask Him to be your Savior. He has already done the work for you. Ask Him into your heart and make you a criminal against God no more. No more rebellion. Change. Permanent change. We have seen where we belong but we have been set free. Join your brothers and sisters in Christ! Amen and Amen.

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