Pilate’s Pardon Of Barabbas Was A Pardon For All Of Us

The governor answered and said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” They said, “Barabbas!” (Matthew 27:21)

Tomorrow is Good Friday, and I want you to spend some time this weekend thinking about its importance. The story below is why we can describe that fateful Friday as Good Friday.

In Jesus’ time, the Romans had a long-standing tradition at Passover of releasing one prisoner as a gesture to illustrate its respect for the Jewish holiday. Mark’s account of Pontius Pilate’s decision to release Barabbas covers the exchange between Pilate, the Jewish leaders and others as Pilate struggled with his decision:

Now at the feast he was accustomed to releasing one prisoner to them, whomever they requested. And there was one named Barabbas, who was chained with his fellow rebels; they had committed murder in the rebellion. Then the multitude, crying aloud, began to ask him to do just as he had always done for them. But Pilate answered them, saying, “Do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?” For he knew that the chief priests had handed him over because of envy. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd, so that he should rather release Barabbas to them. Pilate answered and said to them again, “What then do you want me to do with him whom you call the King of the Jews?” So they cried out again, “Crucify him!”
Then Pilate said to them, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they cried out all the more, “Crucify him!” So Pilate, wanting to gratify the crowd, released Barabbas to them; and he delivered Jesus, after he had scourged him, to be crucified. (Mark 15:6-15)

Ironic, isn’t it? Here the Jews were waiting for their long-awaited Messiah and there he stood in front of them. Yet they played an important and necessary role in prophecy. As the story points out, it was their request for Barabbas’ freedom that led to the death sentence that put Jesus on the cross to save us all from our sins.

Barabbas was a convicted murderer who was sentenced to a cruel death on the cross for his acts. Romans – in that day – often crucified common criminals along the roadside as a deterrent to the passersby. Without some act of mercy, Barabbas knew his fate. He was, as they say, as “guilty as sin”.

So here stood two men in front of the Jews – one guilty and one innocent. But there was one more striking similarity at play that day. Names were important in Jewish culture. It told the everyday Jew a great deal about the parents’ expectations and hopes for their child. Jesus was referred to in many ways in the New Testament: Lamb of God, Savior, The Christ, King of the Jews, Rabbi, and Son of God. There are scores of references to him by names and titles other than Jesus. The one that means the most to me is the Son of God. Without that mantle, his death on the cross would mean nothing and our salvation would be futile. In other words, we all would still be dead in our sins.

Barabbas’ name meant “Son of the father”. So here in rather dramatic fashion, stood two men, both sons of the father – one innocent of the crime for which he was accused and one guilty as charged.

It was no accident for Barabbas to have been selected to stand of the platform that day. It was God’s divine plan and what a message God sent to all us. His only real son was sacrificed by death on the cross so all of us could live free and become children of God. Barabbas represented all of us that day. The Jews did not realize it at the time, but there on the platform stood the Redeemer and the redeemed.

Unless and until we accept Jesus as our Lord and savior, we are just like Barabbas – dead in our sins. But the Redeemer is always near, reading and willing to trade his righteousness for our sins. What a deal!

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