39 But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover; do you wish then that I release for you the King of the Jews?” 40 So they cried out again, saying, “Not this Man, but Barabbas.” Now Barabbas was a robber.
This part of the story of Jesus is repeated in all 4 accounts of the Gospel in the New Testament. I didn’t want to just copy and paste all of them and fill up this space with verses, so I decided to include hyperlinks to the different perspectives of the story for you:
In reading the different accounts, you will see that while John here calls Barabbas a robber, Luke calls him an insurrectionist and murderer; meanwhile Mark records it a little differently. He says that Barabbas was among the crowd of insurrectionists who were all charged with murder. What do you see here? At first glance, it appears to be a biblical contradiction, doesn’t it? Let’s think about this. John calls him a robber. Now, we could take that as meaning he was in prison because he stole something. However, the inclination here is not that Barabbas was there for stealing, but rather that was his profession. He was a thief, cheat, swindler, etc. His identity was based upon his previous actions. The other accounts, however, tell us why he was in jail this time. There was some sort of uprising against the Roman government and he got rounded up because he was either in the wrong place at the wrong time or he was part of it. There may or may not be historical documents clarifying this further, but he was found guilty of murders that occurred as a result of the insurrection. In looking at the situation involving Jesus and Barabbas, again we are faced with the choice we saw in the Garden of Eden: life or death. Except this time the choice will not just affect us, but rather others.
Since my pastor preached on this last year, I have always remembered what he taught, that in this story, we are represented by Barabbas. That our sinful debt has been paid and instead of paying the price for our deeds, we are freed from the judgment and Jesus takes upon Himself the death that we deserved. It is such a powerful point in this story that is often preached and taught. However, if you have read at least a few of my writings you will know that I try to stay away from the common messages we get out of the bible, if anything so as not to be boring but so we can continue learning new things as God intends us to from His Word. This time, let’s put ourselves in the place of the Jews.
I want to preface what I’m about to say with, “I know that when Barabbas went free, he did not rule or reign over anyone.” Let us think about what he most likely did once he was released. John identifies Barabbas as a robber. He identifies Christ as the Word of God, our Savior, the Son of God, etc. So, if someone is once bound and then freed to continue doing what they were doing, what do you think will happen? I know this is an assumption, but based on my studies and experiences in the criminal justice field, a career criminal is most likely to remain a criminal, despite the consequences. I’d like to think that Barabbas’ pardon changed his life. Regardless of how his life turned out after this event, it is the choice between the two men that I am focusing on.
If we are looking at this story from the perspective of the Jews, who are we going to “let free”? Are we going to let free the sinful man or the loving man? Are we going to release and let reign the one who not only deals destruction in society and our personal lives or rather the one who loves unconditionally and pushes us to be better members of the Kingdom of God? I’ve often struggled with the concept of “letting God” do anything. “Let go and let God” is a common phrase. Has anyone ever thought, “why do I have to let God do anything? If He is God, then He can do whatever He wants, can’t He?” We will see this later as the man hanging next to Jesus scoffs Him and ridicules Him to save Himself. The Roman guards we are about to see do the same thing. We saw earlier His power over a legion of hardened Roman soldiers. In His temptation by Satan, Satan recognized His authority to call upon thousands of angels to come and fight for Him. So what is the deal? Why must we “let God” do something in order for Him to do it?
The answer lies in the very message that Jesus has been trying to tell us all along. Love. Our free will is a direct example of God’s perfect love for us. If He thought it was more important for us to serve Him and be unwillingly controlled by Him, then we would simply be made to love and revere God. Rather, His love is what puts the control in our hands. This is why we have a choice. He wants us to love us genuinely, just like we want to be loved genuinely. (makes sense since we are made in His likeness, doesn’t it?) He patiently waits for us to come around and desire a relationship with us. He loves us regardless of our acceptance of Him. He doesn’t need us to love Him, respect Him, or have a relationship with Him. Rather He desires that connection with us because He wants to pour out His love on His children. It is kinda hard to receive love from someone if you don’t have a relationship with them, isn’t it?
God doesn’t want us to turn to Him because it makes Him God. God doesn’t need us to “do His bidding”. He wants us to receive His love, but we cannot do that if we don’t give Him an opportunity to. How are you rejecting His love today? Are you choosing to accept sinfulness (Barabbas) and free it in your life or are you choosing to accept love (Jesus)?