We are in the last few days leading up to Easter. While marshmallow chicks and Cadbury eggs tempt our diets, we can also be tempted to miss the central focus of Easter, the resurrection of Jesus. So much happens in the last few hours of Jesus life, from the Passover meal shared with his disciples, his prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane, to his mock trials that led to his crucifixion on Friday.
But there is an interesting piece of the story that is only a few verses of the entire narrative. All the gospel accounts tell us that as Jesus stood before Pilate the crowds asked that a murderer and leader of a rebellion named Barabbas be released and Jesus be put to death. Despite the numerous repetitions from from Pilate & Herod that there was no basis for the death penalty, the crowd continued to chant for Jesus to be executed and Barabbas released. Eventually Pilate gives in to the crowd and Barabbas goes free.
The accounts create so much tension as the innocent Lamb of God and a murderer stand next to each other, the crowd demanding the evil one be set free. Innocence standing next to the guilty. The Blameless One & a criminal. Spotlessness & wickedness. Right &wrong. Good & evil. Beauty & Repulsiveness. Friend of God, enemy of God. Savior & failure.
The story of Barabbas captures the heart of the gospel story. The story of Barabbas is our story. We, the guilty, have been given new life and freedom. The one who was innocent took on our guilt and went to the cross in our place. It isn’t fair; it wasn’t right. But it was God’s mercy poured out on us so that we could be made right with him.
Romans 5 beautifully captures what happened in this moment. “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
As you wake on Good Friday hopefully we’ll be very mindful of all that happened to Jesus on that day. But may we also be a people who are reminded that Barabbas (and us also), escaped the death that we deserved. Barabbas tells the gospel story. But escaping death isn’t all there is to the story. The resurrection is coming on Sunday, and that calls us to a resurrected life.