THE MAN WHO MISSED HIS CROSS
Text: Mark 15:6-15
Theme: Jesus replaces us on the cross so that we can take up the cross.
He walks up on the hill with his son in toe. He is old. He has traveled a long distance to see this hill. He wanted to return to show his son the spot where he was meant to die. He had to leave Jerusalem many years ago because of his reputation. He was a wanted criminal. But now he has returned to tell his son the story of his deliverance. He wants to tell his son about the day he missed his cross.
Barrabbas might not have been the only one to want to tell his story. In fact all of the Gospel writes tell his story. The writers of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John thought that his story was extremely significant. All of them include his story. This is important because the only miracle that all of the writers mention is the feeding of the five thousand. Though Barabbas never speaks a word—he is a major player in the final hours of Christ. So let’s travel up on the hill of Golgotha and overhear the story of the man who missed his cross.
Mark 15:6-15 records this account. “Now at the feast he used to release for them any one prisoner whom they requested. And the man named Barabbas had been imprisoned with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the insurrection. And the multitude went up and began asking him to do as he had been accustomed to do for them. And Pilate answered them, saying, "Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?" For he was aware that the chief priests had delivered Him up because of envy. But the chief priests stirred up the multitude to ask him to release Barabbas for them instead. And answering again, Pilate was saying to them, "Then what shall I do with Him whom you call the King of the Jews?" And they shouted back, "Crucify Him!" But Pilate was saying to them, "Why, what evil has He done?" But they shouted all the more, "Crucify Him!" And wishing to satisfy the multitude, Pilate released Barabbas for them, and after having Jesus scourged, he delivered Him to be crucified.”
Pilate in order to pacify the crowds attends to release one prison which was the custom at the time of the Passover. Pilate felt like this would appease the people. Pilate must have been a where of Jesus’ popularity because just a week ago the people were chanting Hosanna. Surely, the people would ask for the release of Christ. But the people did not. Pilate even set up the situation to the best of his ability. He chooses a known criminal to be released. Pilate offers the people the choice between Jesus and Barabbas.
Now Barabbas was not any everyday criminal. He was a notorious insurrectionist. The text seems to indicate that he was involved in a rebellion against the Roman authorities. This was common practice in the first century. It seems that during one of these revolts, Barabbas killed a man or participated in a killing.
In fact Barabbas could have been part of the Zealot party in Jerusalem. This was a political group that fights through war to overthrow the Roman government in Jerusalem. Barabbas’ name also sheds light on his background. Names were significant in the Jewish nation. Just like Peter had the name of “Simon Bar-Jonah.” This name means Simon son of Jonah. Barabbas was the “Son of abba.” This means “son of his father.” This was a classic reference to the Rabbis. The text seems to indicate that Barabbas was a son of a Rabbi who has joined the insurrections in Jerusalem. Barabbas could be the common case of a good son gone bad.
The reaction of the crowd must have shocked Pilate. He did not expect their response to his offer. While he was thinking about what to do with Jesus, the religious leaders were inciting the crowd to ask for Barabbas to be released. Pilate knew that Jesus was hated by the Pharisees because of jealous. But the crowds wanted to criminal to be freed and not the Christ. Pilate even implores them to reconsider. Since they do not want Jesus released he asked the people what they do what. Maybe Pilate was hoping for a lesser punishment suggested by the people, but the people scream out to have Jesus crucified. Pilate gives into the demands of the crowds and releases the sinner and scourges the saint.
As soon as the prison doors open, you can see Barrabbas fleeing the town. He has been released. He has been absolved from his crimes. Barabbas is a free man because of Jesus. That cross that Jesus hang on was probably meant for Barrabbas. Barrabbas has another chance at life because he missed his cross.
Recently, I was talking with a young man after his baptism. I asked him what motivated him to put on Christ. He started crying and mentioned that last weekend one of his friends was in a serious car accident and died. This made him realize the uncertainty of life. This week I visited with him to see how he was doing after his baptism. He said he was doing great. Than he told me that he was thankful that he was in jail. I was shocked that anyone would be thankful to be incarcerated. But he explained to me that if he was not in jail he would have been in the car with his friend. In fact his friend even came to his house that even before the accident. He told me that he would have been in the car and could have lost his life too. He missed his cross too.
All of us who have become Christians have missed our cross. All of us must travel to the hill of Golgotha and remember what Jesus did for us. Jesus took our place on the cross of suffering and shame. Jesus took Barrabbas’ place in death. Paul tells us plainly “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23). All of us have sinned and beyond on the cross that Jesus died on. We should have been the ones hanging from that tree. We should have received the beatings, and the whipping, and the nailing. We were the criminals and Jesus was the innocent one.
But Jesus took our place just like he took Barabbas’ place. The scripture says “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him—For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life” (Rom. 5:6-10). Peter also reminds us that we belong on the cross and not Christ. But Jesus died in our place. Peter says in 1 Peter 2:24 “and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.” 2 Corinthians 5:21 states “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, which we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Jesus was there to save Barrabbas from death. And Jesus did not just die in the place of Barrabbas, he died in the place of all of humanity.
Fortunately, Jesus took the sting of death for us. A story from Kejave, in Kenya illustrates to sacrifice that Jesus made for mankind. Eight-year-old Monica broke her leg as she fell into a pit. And older woman, named Mama, happended along and climbed into the pit to help get Monica out. In the process, a dangerous black Mamba snake bit both Mama and Monica. Monica was taken to the Medical Center and admitted. Mama went home, but never awoke from her sleep. The next day a nurse explained Mama’ death to Monica, telling her that the snake had bitten both of them, but all of the snake’s poison was expended on Mama; none was given to Monica. The nurse told Monica that the older lady saved her life. That snake bit was meant for her. Death was meant to all of us. Satan the snake wanted to inject us with the poison of sin. But Jesus sacrificed his body to the poison so that we could live.
All of mankind should be motivated by the sacrifice of Christ. Jesus replaced more than just Barrabbas on the cross that day. He replaced all of us. All Christians missed their crosses on that day. But the problem today in the churches is that too many Christians are still missing their crosses. Jesus delivered us from the physical cross of death to command us to take our spiritual crosses with us in life. But too many people are not carrying the spiritual cross everyday. There is Christians in the world today playing hide and go seek with the call to take out the cross and serve Christ. These people playing hide and go seek are hiding from the Lord and never seeking him. Jesus commands all Christians by saying in Matthew 16:24-27 “Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake shall find it. For what will a man be profited, if he gains the whole world, and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels; and WILL THEN RECOMPENSE EVERY MAN ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS.”
Jesus took the physical cross to save our souls and he expects us to pick up the spiritual cross to serve him. When Christ returns will he find you with a cross attached to your life? Will he find you involved in service to him? Or will he find you cross less? Are you walking through life missing your cross?
From all indications, from the Bible as well as tradition, there are no reports that Barabbas ever became a Christian. He simply allowed another man to die in his place without responding. Who knows what Barabbas did? Maybe he went back to work starting a revolt against Rome. Maybe he realized that he was given another chance to live life to the fullness.
Gareth Griffith realized he had another chance. On June 22, 1997, parachute instructor Michael Costello, forty-two of Mt. Dora, Florida, jumped out of an airplane at 12,000 feet altitude with a novice skydiver named Gareth, age twenty one. The novice soon discovered just how good his instructor was, for when he pulled his rip cord, his parachute failed. He was plummeting toward the ground and certain death. But then his instructor did an amazing thing. Just before hitting the ground, the instructor rolled over so that he would hit the ground first and the novice would land on top of him. The instructor was killed instantly. The novice fractured his spine in the fall, but he was not paralyzed. One man takes the place of another, takes the brunt for another. Surely, that twenty-one year old man now remembers the sacrifice the instructor made. Surely, we will carry the cross of the one who gave his life for me.