Last time, we talked about Saint Barnabas. Now let’s jumble the letters a bit, and talk about Sinner Barabbas.
Scheming, evil, opportunistic, war-mongering terrorist Barabbas.
The guy so nasty they hired the universally unlikable actor Stacy Keach (TV’s tough-as-nails private eye Mike Hammer, Cheech & Chong’s nemesis Sergeant Stedenko) to play him in the 1977 miniseries Jesus of Nazareth.
I thought I knew everything I needed to know about Jesus Barabbas (yup, his first name was Jesus according to some versions of the texts) from the dozens of times I’d read and heard the story of Jesus of Nazareth’s crucifixion.
But once again, I was wrong.
Last year, during his What Happens When Grace Happens series, Oak Hills Church pastor/author Max Lucado spends good deal of time talking about Barabbas. The following is a paraphrase from Lucado’s sermon – not nearly as good as what Miracle Max wrote, but this is a summary of his ideas, from my heart.
Barabbas did some terrible things. He’s guilty. What’s worse, he got caught and found himself waiting in a jail cell for his sentence to be carried out.
A death sentence.
And the method of execution to be used on him was not your run-of-the-mill beheading, throat-slitting or poisoning, but crucifixion – A slow, torturous form of termination designed to ridicule and humiliate the victim.
Barabbas knew full well what the punishment would be for his crimes if he got caught. He simply didn’t think he’d get caught – and if he did, he was willing to pay that price for the cause of throwing off the Roman yoke from his people.
In theory, at least…
It seemed like a good idea at the time, but a few days – or even a few hours – in jail has a way of changing your perspective on things.
So there he is, sitting in his cell, bored out of his wits and scared out of his skin – nothing to keep him company but his anxiety – waiting with both dread and anticipation for the sound of the key in the lock. ‘Why don’t they come get me already? Let’s get this overwith,’ Barabbas mutters. But the wait continues.
Finally, he’s startled out of his solitude by the sound of the door opening. He bolts upright, not sure whether to fight, run or soil his loincloth. The guard says something, but he’s too overcome by adrenaline to hear him properly. He asks the guard to say it again.
‘You’re free to go, Barabbas. You’re not being crucified today. Jesus is,’ the guard mutters – perhaps just as astonished as Barabbas. ‘Even Pilate couldn’t find a reason to have him put to death. He’s innocent, but he’s going to die anyway. You could say Jesus is taking your place on the cross.’
What happened to Barabbas has also happened to us. We’re sinners, and the wage of sin is death. But rather than punishing us, God punished Himself. Our debt He pays, and our death He dies, that we might live. (Respectfully borrowed from the Vineyard song Amazing Love, and lovingly tweaked for plurality.)
What happens to Barabbas after he’s released? We don’t know. Quite appropriately, the Gospels focus on Jesus after that, not Barabbas.
Maybe he’s the leopard who doesn’t change his spots. He might have walked out of the cell with a ‘So long, suckers!’ attitude, and gone on to fan the flames of the anti-Roman movement that got Jerusalem destroyed and Judea dismantled as a political entity a few decades later.
Or perhaps he received a new heart that day, and lived the rest of his life in gratitude to the innocent King who took his punishment for him, striving to be like the one who died for him.
What kind of Barabbas are you going to be?
Peace be with you.
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