Too often we hear of the failures of the legal system in which a guilty party is set free without penalties or an innocent victim is wrongly imprisoned. When faced with these stories we are often filled with disbelief at how such an injustice could have occurred.
In the Bible we are presented with a notorious man who is guilty beyond reasonable doubt and a man who is undeniably innocent of any crime brought against him. The crowd was given a seemingly simple choice by the judge; set one man free and condemn the other to death.
If such an astonishing case occurred in modern society, we would hope that the innocent man would be set free. However, in the historical account of Barabbas and Jesus this was not the outcome.
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Following his arrest in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was brought before the Governor of Judaea, Pontius Pilate. After questioning Jesus, Pilate concluded that he could not find any fault in him (John 18:38). However, Pilate was faced with a dilemma. Although he believed that Jesus was innocent, the chief priests and elders had already turned the multitudes against Jesus (Matthew 27:20).
It was custom that during the Passover feast, which was occurring during the arrest of Jesus, that the governor would release a prisoner of the multitudes choice (Matthew 27:15). Thus Barabbas is introduced. A notorious thief (John 18:40), who was most likely a liar and much more. In his position of power, and weakness, Pilate had the audacity to give the multitude two options of who to release. Barabbas or Jesus. A criminal or an innocent man who had healed the blind (John 9:1-12) and allowed the lame to walk again (John 5:1-15).
‘17 Therefore when they had gathered together, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release to you? Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” 18 For he knew that they had handed Him [Jesus] over because of envy… 20 But the priests and elders persuaded the multitudes that they should ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus.21 The governor answered and said to them, “Which of the two men do you want me to release to you?” They said, “Barabbas!” 22 Pilate said to them, “What then shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said to him, “Let Him be crucified!”’
– Matthew 27:17,18,20-22 (NKJV)
Thus in his desire to preserve his worldly power and privilege, Pilate sacrificed principle and refused to prevent an innocent man from being murdered (E.G.W. – DA 738).
The Bible doesn’t mention Barabbas again after this trail, so it is unknown what would have been going through the criminals mind as an innocent man took his place. When we read the story of Barabbas it is easy to brand him as a criminal and as a man who deserved punishment. Why would God allow this to happen; for a guilty man to be set free whilst his innocent son took his place on the cross? Did Jesus deserve to die whilst Barabbas was set free? NO.
There is a greater significance to this story, all we need to do it remove Barabbas’s name and replace it with our own. For can we truly say that we are that different from Barabbas? We may not have committed the same crimes, yet can we say that beyond reasonable doubt that we have never sinned or hurt someone through our words or actions? Why did God allow this to happen then?
’16For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that through Him the world might be saved.’
– John 3:16,17 (NKJV)
One of the biggest hurdles that we may have to overcome in our Christian journey is accepting and believing that there is a God whose love for us is so great that His Son, Jesus, an innocent and blameless man, faced ridicule and ultimately gave His life so that we may be free.
Let us not forget the significance of John 3:16 or become desensitised to the message of love it conveys.
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‘6 For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates His own love towards us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’
– Romans 5:6-8 (NKJV)
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