Summary: The major theme is that Barabbas missed his cross because Jesus took his place. The story of Barabbas brings new meaning to the Doctrine of Substitutionary Atonement.


“The Substitute On The Center Cross”

Text: Matthew 27:15-26

Theme: Barabbas missed his cross because Jesus took his place. Barabbas brings to meaning to the Doctrine of Substitutionary Atonement.

From the pulpit of Bayview Baptist Church, May 20, 2001

The story of Barabbas plays a major role in the crucifixion of Jesus.

Barabbas was a thief, murderer and terrorist who had been condemned to die.

He must have been shocked when he heard the Roman soldiers coming to his jail cell for his release.

As strange as it may seem to us, Barabbas is the one man with whom all of us can identify.

According to the Gospel accounts, during the week of the Passover Feast, the governor traditionally released any prisoner the people wanted released, no matter what the crime (Matthew 27:15; Mark 15:6-8).

This was an often forgotten tradition, but this year Pilate used it like pulling a rabbit out of the hat as a way to get himself out of his dilemma.

Pilate was scared!

He knew the Jewish religious leaders had trumped up the charges against Jesus because they were jealous of Jesus’ power over the people.

Pilate also knew that if he didn’t cooperate with these religious leaders, they could cause problems for him with his Roman superiors.

I’m fairly sure that Pilate didn’t believe Jesus was guilty.

I would base my belief upon the fact that Pilate is the only one who gave Jesus a chance to declare His innocence, then Pilate said, “Why? What crime has He committed? I find no fault in Him” and then Pilate washed him hands of the matter.

Pilate was also disturbed because he had been warned by his wife, who sent a message to him while Pilate was sitting on the judge’s seat that read, “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of Him” (Matthew 27:19).

Pilate was looking for a loophole of escape and the chief priest and the Jewish elders provided just what he was looking for to save his own skin.

Barabbas was a notorious prisoner.

He was public enemy number one.

He was more than just a common rebel.

We would call him a terrorist today.

Barabbas belonged to a group of patriotic freedom fighters called Zealots, a Jewish organization whose main purpose was to resist Roman aggression.

Barabbas’ name means “son of the father” or “son of a rabbi.”

It’s interesting to note that Barabbas was his last name.

His first name was “Yeshua or Jesus” which was a common name in Jesus’ day.

Barabbas had been arrested and convicted of the crimes of thief, insurrection and murder (Mark 15:6-7).

After being transported by Roman authorities to Jerusalem, Barabbas was held at the fortress of Antonia, which was the holding tank for all prisoners in Jerusalem.

Jesus was taken to what is known as the Pavement for His final trial

(John 19:12-13).

The Pavement was an elevated area in a courtyard just outside the fortress where Pilate was sitting on his judge seat to disperse legal rulings.

The distance between the fortress where Barabbas was held and the Pavement where Jesus was being tried was about 2,000 feet.

So Barabbas could have heard the angry mob while he was sitting in his jail cell awaiting his execution.

He probably heard the angry mob chant his name, “Barabbas!” (Matthew 27:21; Luke 23:18; John 18:40).

Barabbas probably did not hear Pilate’s question, “What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called Christ?”

Think about Pilate for a moment, and the game Pilate was playing with God.

Pilate played the “Almost” game with God.

He almost set Jesus free, but he did not.

Have you ever played that game with God?

Pastor, I almost made a decision for Jesus today!

Pastor, I almost said, “Here I am Lord, send me!”

After Pilate asked the question, “What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called Christ?” Barabbas probably heard the mob shout, “Crucify Him!”

What if Barabbas heard his name being shouted: “Barabbas!”

Then, the next thing he heard was the crowd shout: “Crucify him!”

Then, he would have heard the soldiers coming toward his jail cell, and he feared the worse, but instead, the Roman soldiers set him free.

Instead of Barabbas dying on the cross, Jesus became the substitute for Barabbas on the center cross.

Barabbas was suppose to die that day.

He was awaiting death by crucifixion, yet he was set free.

Perhaps he stayed in Jerusalem that day and watched anxiously as Jesus took his place.

Barabbas missed his cross because Jesus took his place.

Jesus became a substitute for the criminal, Barabbas.

And Jesus was our substitute too.

He bore our sins and died the death we deserve.

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