This morning at LifePoint we were in Mark 15:1-15. This text tells the story of the sentencing of Jesus before Pilate. There is a character in the text named Barabbas, a criminal, whose story is often overlooked. We can’t forget Barabbas. His story is vital for our understanding of exactly what Jesus did. Instead of mounting the defense of his own innocence, Jesus willingly took the penalty of the cross. As a result of his sentencing, Barabbas was set free.
I closed out the sermon today with this narrative of what it could have been like for Barabbas as he was set free:
Imagine what this was like for Barabbas. There he sat, guilty as charged, in a dark cold cell, awaiting the worst form of death imaginable. He undoubtedly wasn’t sleeping well at night, awaiting the stakes that would be pounded through his flesh, pinning his body to the splintering beams that would hold him captive as he bled out and suffocated to death. He had to be thinking about his actions, the things he did wrong, the path he had taken. Perhaps his mind was flooded with thoughts of family members who would be left behind, or a cause he had fought for which now looked like a failure. But he had no one to blame but himself. Barabbas took a path, made decisions, and claimed the life of another human being. The man he killed was likely a Roman guard or soldier, working to keep the peace in the Palestine region. Was Barabbas haunted by the death of the man whose life he stole with a thrust of his blade? Did he think about the woman who was widowed, the children who would grow up fatherless, or the parents of that solider who were outliving their son? Was he thinking about the day that man’s family found out that their beloved husband, father, brother, and son had been killed in another bloody insurrection in an unstable region?
Barabbas doesn’t deserve freedom. Barabbas deserves death. The penalty of the cross fits his crime.
Suddenly, he is startled out of his half-wakeful stupor as the massive prison door unlocks and slowly begins to open. Barabbas looks up with hesitancy as the light breaks into his cell. It is time. They are here to take him to the cross. His heart sinks as the guard orders, “Get to your feet.” Barabbas raises slowly, chains around his hands and feet chaffing his wrists and ankles as the noise of their clanging echoes through the cell. He approaches the guard, but to his amazement, instead of grabbing him and shuffling him out of the cell in his chains, the guard takes out a large ring of iron keys. He unlocks Barabbas’ chains. As they drop from his wrists and ankles they bang to the floor. The guard looks at him with disgust and says, “You’re free to go.” Bewildered, his better judgment tells Barabbas just to walk out of the cell not asking any questions. But as he heads down the long corridor toward the steps that he will ascend to freedom, he can’t help it. This doesn’t make sense. He looks to the guard accompanying him and asks, “What happened? Why am I free to go?” The words of the guard would be branded on the soul of this man, never to be forgotten by guilty Barabbas, “There has been a prisoner exchange: A man named Jesus is going to be crucified in your place.”
This is why Jesus didn’t justify himself before Pilate, because substitution was his mission. Jesus’ penalty fit the crime: Barabbas’ crime. Barabbas no longer owed a debt to Rome, because Jesus paid it. This is the good news of Jesus Christ. What Jesus did for Barabbas, he did for you and me. He paid our debt.
And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.
Jesus’ penalty fit the crime. Our crime.
“This is that mystery which is rich in divine grace to sinners: wherein by a wonderful exchange our sins are no longer ours but Christ’s, and the righteousness of Christ not Christ’s but ours. He has emptied himself of his righteousness that he might clothe us with it and fill us with it; and he has taken our evils upon himself that he might deliver us from them.”