Barabbas

William J. Stewart | Faces Surrounding Calvary

Barabbas is an individual of whom we hear very little about. He is an overlooked face which surrounds the cross of Calvary. But he has a story of astounding mercy. He was the recipient of the greatest fortune and a grand opportunity.

He was a criminal. A known criminal. If he were alive in our time, his face would have been on “America’s Most Wanted” prior to his capture. He was a known murderer. We do not know how long he had been in custody, but we do know that at the time of Jesus’ trial, Barabbas was awaiting death by crucifixion.

Barabbas’ time of fortune was approaching, though he did not know it. No doubt, he was anticipating the time of his death. The days of his life were drawing to a close. If he feared death, his fear was full, as the rooster crowed that Friday morning in Jerusalem. Just hours later, he would be hung on a tree.

Barabbas expected to die that day, but the eternal plan of God would supersede his expectations. As he sat in the prison, just moments before he would be led away, he could hear the hollering of the people, “Crucify Him, Crucify Him!” He likely thought that their anger was directed towards him and the hideous crimes he had committed against society. The people of Jerusalem had no love for him. The words echoed, “Crucify Him, Crucify Him!”

A guard comes into the chamber where Barabbas was. With a cold face, Barabbas prepares himself to face death. It’s time he thinks to himself. It’s time. “You’re free,” the guard speaks. Barabbas does not understand. Death? That’s not freedom. “You’re free to go,” the guard again says. Free. Free to go. Released. No longer imprisoned. Free. Who knows how many different ways the guard might have had to say it before Barabbas understood.

We do not know if Barabbas had ever heard of Jesus. Depending upon how long he had been imprisoned, he may not have known anything about Him. But there was one thing that he did know about this Man of Nazareth, He died a death that he should have. Barabbas knew that the deeds which he had done were deserving of death. Jesus had committed no crime. Yet He went to the cross, a cross that had Barabbas’ name all over it.

History does not tell us anything about Barabbas. It is quite possible that Barabbas walked away from prison that day, a free man, only to go back to a life of crime. However, I like to think that this event made a change in his life. I would like to think that he walked that same day by the hill of Calvary, and as he looked at the figure on the middle cross, a tear or two rolled over his cheek. We will never known what happened.

The opportunity was presented to Barabbas to start over. He was given a second chance at life. He messed up the first, but another chance was given. Oh, that he used it to the glory of God.

We don’t have to look very hard to see what our place is in this situation. Barabbas is our representative. The condemned. The sinful. The one deserving death. The one pardoned, having the sinless die in his place.

As Jesus walked toward Calvary, and then was nailed to a cross there, He died for Barabbas. Hopefully he realized it. As He walked up that hill, and was nailed to the tree, He did so for you and I. Hopefully we realize it.

“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” Isaiah penned these words concerning Jesus. He died on that cross because Barabbas was a murderer. He died there because Barabbas had no hope within himself. He died there because Barabbas was dead already. He died there, because all of us were as Barabbas.

“And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins… but God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ…”

Oh, how pitiful we are! Yet God saved us. We have the same options before us that Barabbas had. Either we can choose the life of sin we are accustomed to, and thus turn away from the gift of life. Or, we can be so moved by the figure in the middle, that we change our lives. What will you choose?

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