Summary: Jesus took the place of Barabbas. This sermon shows that we are Barabbas, and calls people to be thankful that Jesus took our place.
Mark 15:1-15 – Barabbas: That’s You!
Today, as we proceed through our study of The Life of Jesus, we get ever closer to Jesus’ death. Today we are looking at one aspect of His trial and crucifixion that may or may not be new but it bears repeating anyway. To be reminded of what Jesus did for us is always worth hearing again. Let’s read Mark 15:1-15.
I’m told of an overly-ambitious American attorney who telephoned the governor just after midnight, insisting that he talk to him regarding a matter of utmost urgency.
An aide eventually agreed to wake up the governor.
"So, what is it?" grumbled the governor.
"Judge Garber has just died," said the attorney, "and I want to take his place."
The governor replied: "Well, it’s OK with me if it’s OK with the undertaker."
This passage of scripture is about taking someone’s place. The Roman tradition, to appease the crowds, was to show mercy once a year. It was an attempt to control the mobs, by being able to say in an uprising, “But look what we have done for you!”
In the year that Jesus died, likely 30AD, there was a prisoner named Barabbas. It’s obvious to see the change of public opinion. The crowds that had shouted Jesus’ praises on Sunday were now shouting for His execution. They swayed on their opinions so far that they requested that this scoundrel named Barabbas be set free while Jesus be killed.
Well, today I want to show you that you and I are Barabbas. In a physical sense, Jesus took Barabbas’ place. But in a deeper sense, each of us is a Barabbas, and it was our punishment that Jesus took.
Let me explain. We first have to look at the name. Barabbas is a Hebrew name which literally means, “son of father”. That’s fairly ambiguous. I mean, every person is a child of his/her father. Every male is a son of his father, and every female is a daughter of her father. That name Barabbas applies to each one of us. So when we say that Jesus died in Barabbas’ place, He died in our place.
Let me get more specific. John 18:40, in most translations, call Barabbas a thief or a robber. The NIV uses a phrase that I will get to in a moment. But we can see that Jesus died for a thief or a robber. Is that you? Have you ever wanted very strongly what someone else had, to the point of not being happy with what you already had? That’s what the Bible calls coveting, and it’s a sin.
Have you ever lusted? Wanted someone that wasn’t yours? Either you were already taken or the other person was. Lust is stealing, and that makes any of us who have ever had wandering eyes or thoughts a robber and a thief.
Well, who else was this Barabbas fellow? Matthew, Mark and Luke all mention that Barabbas was a murderer. Well, surely, none of here today is a murderer. Then again, Jesus said that being very angry with another person is the same as murder. Wishing another person dead is murder. And honestly, as an old pastor told me years ago, spreading lies and gossip about someone else kills their reputation and good name, which in a sense kills them too. So maybe none of us has actually pulled a trigger, but thinking about the things that Jesus said were like murder, how many of us are innocent?
The last thing that the Gospels say about Barabbas’ charges is that he was an insurrectionist. He rose up against the leading government, the Romans, and tried to rebel against them. Well, let me say, even if you have never stolen or murdered, I know you have rebelled. I know that you looked at God square in the eye and said, “I don’t want to do what is right. I want to do what I want. I want to ignore my conscience. I want to follow my desires instead of follow God.” That’s insurrection. God made you, He put you here, He deserves to be obeyed, and I know that each of you walked away from Him.
So it could have been you in that prison cell awaiting execution. The good news is that, even as Jesus took Barabbas’ place, He took your place too. The death you deserved, Jesus took it. The punishment you deserve, Jesus took it. The separation from God that you deserved, Jesus took it. The truth is, you are Barabbas, you deserve to die, and Jesus took your place.
Now, one interesting thing about Barabbas is that we have no idea how he felt about this whole thing. He got off scott free from his deserved punishment, but the Bible doesn’t tell us how he felt about it. Relieved? Thankful? Or unthinking and callous about the whole thing?