Summary: Being led to one’s execution can be our worst nightmare. Jesus took our place of execution to set us free to live in Him.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, do you ever have bad dreams? Nightmares they call them. Do you ever find yourself free-falling in a dream , not able to stop? Or, what about trying to get away from a fire but your feet won’t move? Those are scary dreams. For at least a couple of years after coming to the United States I had ongoing nightmares of being back in communist Czechoslovakia. The beginning of such dreams was not too bad. In fact, being in familiar places again and seeing the faces of family members and friends was rather nice, but then came a terrifying thought – how am I going to get out of there again? Visions of soldiers with guard dogs chasing me and dark prison cells made me wake up in cold sweat.
We all experience nightmares sometimes. They may be played out in different scenarios, but one thing is for certain – we are awfully glad when we wake up from them, realizing it was only a bad dream.
I would like to suggest a nightmare for you. Imagine that you have committed some serious crime, were caught, tried, and sentenced to death. You are spending your last night in a dark cell, thinking what you could have done differently in life. Hours drag on. Then you notice the night is getting lighter and hear the sound of boot steps coming closer. The steel door opens, the guards handcuff you and fasten a chain on your legs. They lead you beside staring eyes out to the yard, to the gallows. Someone puts a hood over your head and the noose tightens around your neck, you can’t even clear your throat. Your knees begin to tremble as you realize the executioner has his hand on the lever that is ready to release the hatch under your feet. You try to say something, but can’t. Only a thought races through your mind: “Oh God, have mercy!”
There is a pause, and you wonder why. Then the noose loosens and the hood comes off. They remove the leg chains and unlock your handcuffs as your bewildered eyes stare in the face of the executioner. “You may go,” he says, pointing to a figure of a man standing beside you. “He will take your place.”
You feel a great sense of relief and want to laugh out loud, but you can’t. You meet the gentle eyes of the man who is taking your place of execution, and feel very, very humbled, with a sense of awe and deep gratitude.
Then you wake up thinking, no, it was just a dream; something like that could never happen in real life. But something like that did happen in real life, in Jerusalem nearly two thousand years ago.
There was a man sitting in a prison cell, awaiting his execution. He had committed a serious crime. He was guilty of insurrection and murder. Today we would call such a person a terrorist and wouldn’t think twice about proper justice for him. Barabbas they called him. Quite a nickname. Back in those days men were given what we would consider a first name, and they were also know for their father’s name – Simon Bar Jonah, Simon, son of Jonah. I would be called Stan, son of Josef, Stan Bar Josef. Barabbas means Son of a father. Rather anonymous, don’t you think? Some say a rabbi could have been referred to as a father, so perhaps Barabbas could have been the son of a rabbi. Others say Barabbas was not a very complimentary nickname – perhaps he didn’t know who his father was.
Barabbas heard the sound of the soldiers’ footsteps coming toward him. They opened the door and led him outside in shackles. But instead of taking him to be flogged in preparation for his crucifixion, the guards brought him to the procurator’s palace and stood him next to a man from Galilee, Jesus. What a contrast! Jesus, Son of God, Son of the heavenly Father – and Barabbas, son of an unknown father. The embodiment of holiness next to the embodiment of guilt. But the guilty one went free. Jesus took his place on the cross. And no one woke up from this nightmare. This scenario was for real. And, in this scenario, God played out publicly His plan of salvation. Barabbas was the representative of fallen humanity – not worthy of mercy, guilty and deserving of punishment. Yet Jesus, the innocent Son of God, died instead of him, in his place. In His plan to rescue fallen humanity from the nightmare of sin and just punishment, God sent His only begotten Son to take our place of punishment. The Bible teaches that this is love: while we were yet sinners, Christ died for the ungodly. This is the manifestation of God’s overwhelming love for us: He sent Jesus to suffer and die for our sins so that we would not have to. When we believe in Him and place our trust in Him as our Savior, He gives us life and sets us free. We stand forgiven, cleansed, and delivered from the nightmare of sin and guilt.