Fear takes over when you’re alone on death row and hear the crowds outside shout your name. Then a second later, you hear them demand, “Crucify him.”
You have nothing left to handle the terror. Of course, you know you’re guilty and it terrifies you out of your mind. I am, Barabbas, the notorious revolutionary, the militant robber and murderer.
Now the guards come for me. The steady cadence of their march down the hall draws closer, closer, till they stop at my cell, and with it, my heart stops, too. Their keys wrangle the lock and the door screams on its hinges. One last look around the cell, in a cold sweat I drop into their ranks. They pull my shackled wrists down the hall; I pass another prisoner being led to my cell. Our eyes meet for a split second. His barely open, the blood trail down His face and bits of flesh torn from His skull. But in that split second, I see . . . what? I’ve never seen that before.
He’s thrown into my cell and the door slams shut. But I’m led into the light, squinting against the sunshine. Pushed into the crowd who had screamed my name, they now break into a cheer. The guard unshackles my wrists, and spits, “Released.”
Pilate from the podium, “Here is your choice: Barabbas, the rebel murderer.” And under his breath, “May whatever God who lives have mercy on your souls.”
The people, worked up in a frenzy by crooked religious leaders with a vendetta, exchanged Jesus, the innocent, for Barabbas, the guilty. Given the same choice, Jesus would have spared Barabbas, too. For He came to die for sinners and Barabbas qualified.
Barabbas is the first person who can say, “Jesus died for my sins.” Literally, Jesus changed places with him. The middle cross was meant for Barabbas, in between two of his mercenary sidekicks. Jesus took the punishment the rebel deserved while Barabbas walked out free.
There’s no better picture of what happens to us, too, when we accept Jesus as our substitute.
We don’t know much about Barabbas but perhaps that’s by design. We can just as easily write our own sins on the sign above Jesus’ head. Guilty.
And who knows but in the dark hours later that day when Barabbas hung on the fringes of the crowd and watched his two friends, and the One he passed in the hallway, hang from their crosses. He couldn’t look away. Hardly recognizable in His tortured body, there was Jesus, dying on the middle cross and yet he walks free.
And so is every sinner who recognizes the mercy of that moment when Jesus died in their place. In your place. Jesus, your substitute.