I Am Barabbas
There is a famous scene in the classic movie, Spartacus.
The movie is about a Thracian gladiator and slave in the Roman Empire named Spartacus.
He lead a slave revolt that was eventually put down by the Roman authorities.
In the movie, the slaves were told that they could be spared a death sentence if they turned over their leader, Spartacus, to be crucified.
Well, Spartacus, about to do the noble thing, stood up to give himself up.
But his pal next to him saw what he was going to do and beat him to it, shouting out, “I’m Spartacus!”
Then the guy on the other side of Spartacus also shouted, “I’m Spartacus!”
Finally the cry rang out over the whole crowd of slaves.
Tears begin to fall down Spartacus’ face as he realizes what’s happening.
As a result, they were all crucified, they all suffered the consequences.
Well, I’m not Spartacus, but there are many Bible characters I can identify with.
One of those that I’ll be talking about today is Barabbas.
No, I’m not a murderer or a thief or an insurrectionist.
But I am still Barabbas.
When I read the account while preparing for Mark, I could see myself in his place.
What do you mean, Stephen? How are you Barabbas?
I am a Sinner.
Christ Died in My Place.
I am a Sinner.
We don’t know much about Barabbas.
But what we do know is that he was not a nice man.
He was downright criminal, and absolutely deserved the punishment he was about to receive.
The different accounts list his crimes, and it may not be exhaustive.
Matthew says he was a notorious prisoner (Matt. 27:16).
Mark and Luke call him a murderer and a rebel (Mark 15:7; Luke 23:19).
John reveals that he was a robber (John 18:40).
Many of the Jews at that time were not happy with Roman occupation.
This little section of the Roman Empire had become a hotbed of rebellious activity, culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem in a.d. 70.
Gamaliel talks about some of these rebels in Acts 5, Theudas and Judas of Galilee.
Barabbas was one rebel in a string of rebels that were sentenced to death at this time.
But we don’t know what he stole or who he murdered—he presumably killed someone in connection to the rebellion, but that’s not entirely clear.
The point is, he was a sinner, and very much deserving of death.
Degrees of sin.
People often say that all sin is the same in God’s eyes, that sin is sin is sin.
That’s true, but it’s also not true.
As I read through the Scriptures, it does appear that some sins are worse than others, or at the very least have worse consequences.
For some sins in the OT, like adultery and murder, you have the death sentence.
For other sins, like certain forms of fornication and perjury, you merely have to make a sacrifice and pay a fine.
Think about this: if all sin were the same to God, then murder is just as bad as perjury.
So then this would lead people to the logical conclusion that you might as well go nuts, as long as you can escape earthly consequences.
But you see, even though some sins are worse than others, that only changes earthly outcomes.
In the end, all sin damns.
All sin, any sin, carries with it the ultimate penalty of an eternity separated from God.
We find that in many places in Scripture including the oft-quoted Rom. 6:23.
We can’t show up on Judgment Day and bargain with God.
“Sure I did that, but it wasn’t that bad, was it? C’mon, you can let me in!”
While my sins are not as severe as Barabbas’s, I am still a sinner.
We are all sinners.
The terrifying thing about this is that we are all sinners—we are all guilty (Rom. 3:23).
It doesn’t matter what we do, there’s nothing we can do to make up for our what wrong we’ve done.
In Home Alone 2, Kevin McCallister befriends a homeless woman in New York, and she tells him: “Did you know that a good deed erases a bad deed?”
I’m here to say that’s not true. No good deed is good enough to erase a bad deed.
And you don’t have to take my word for it—God’s Word tells us that’s not good enough!
We can’t earn our salvation (Eph. 2:8-9; Titus 3:4-5).
Recall, “the wages of sin is death.” We don’t earn eternal life, but we do earn death with the bad things we do.
One author describes them as moral crimes against God, acts of rebellion, or sedition against our Sovereign (Koukl, Tactics, 251).
All this gives us is the eternal consequence of separation from God forever in a fiery torment.
You see, my sin places me in the same place as Barabbas.
No, I haven’t killed anyone, stolen anything, or committed sedition against our civil authorities.
But if I’m honest, I have had hatred toward another, and Jesus tells us that’s murder in our heart (Matt. 5:22).
I haven’t stolen anything, but I have coveted which is similar to lusting (same Greek word), and Jesus tells us lust is committing adultery in your heart (Matt. 5:28).
I haven’t done anything seditious against our civil authorities, but as we just described sin, it is sedition against our Sovereign.
And since we are all sinners, we have all been seditious against our Lord.
You see, I am Barabbas!
Christ Died in My Place.
We see that Jesus had taken the place of Barabbas on that fateful day.
Pilate had a custom at the Passover where he would release a prisoner condemned to death, showing mercy and clemency to the people.
After some questioning, he realized Jesus was an innocent Man, not worthy of death, so he tried to get Him released.
He put up Barabbas, this notorious and vile man, as the alternative.
Amazingly, the people shouted for Barabbas to be released instead of Jesus.
Barabbas had killed, Barabbas had stolen, Barabbas had tried to get the Romans out of Palestine.
But Jesus had healed, even raised people from the dead, He made food out of nothing instead of stealing it, and He preached a kingdom that was not of this world, even urging people to pay their taxes.
Jesus was the polar opposite of Barabbas, and yet the people wanted the release the guilty man rather than the innocent One.
When I read through the accounts, it’s very easy to put myself in Barabbas’s shoes.
As I said, I have not done the horrible things that Barabbas did, but in a way, I have.
We have all sinned and are deserving of death in the eyes of God.
And just as Jesus died in place of Barabbas, He also died in my place.
I can only imagine what was going on in Barabbas’s mind as the crowd shouted for his release rather than for Jesus’s.
Perhaps he was a hardened criminal who thought he had lucked out, saying, “I hate to be that Guy,” then continuing on with his earlier life of crime not giving a second thought to his replacement.
Or maybe he realized he deserved to die and was ready for death as the thief on the cross later admitted (Luke 23:41).
Maybe he knew about Jesus and what He had done for the people (healing them, feeding them, teaching them), maybe he didn’t—he was in prison, who knows what kind of news they got in there.
Maybe he would have preferred to die if it meant keeping Jesus here on this earth.
Regardless, Jesus still died in his place, just as He died in mine.
I know what I deserve, and anything short of death is too good for me.
Yet while I was still a sinner, Christ died for me.
While Barabbas was still a sinner, on his way to the cross, and deservedly so—no hint of remorse or regret—Christ took his place and died for him.
God’s perfect justice demanded Barabbas be punished, but instead, Jesus, showing God’s perfect love, suffered and died instead.
God’s perfect justice also demands our punishment, but Jesus took it on Himself—the only One who could have done that—and we are so blessed for it!
It doesn’t matter how Barabbas responded.
Maybe he changed his life after this, or maybe he went right back into a life of crime, Jesus still died in his place.
If he went back into a life of crime, he may have been executed later.
If he turned his life around, he could have done so much good!
In any event, Jesus died in my place just as he did for Barabbas, and I’m so incredibly grateful!
I don’t deserve it just as Barabbas didn’t deserve it.
What did Barabbas do to earn his freedom? Not a thing.
What can we do to earn ours? Not a thing.
The question Barabbas was given: “What will you do with Jesus?”
He was given another opportunity, a second chance.
The question now is to you: “What will you do with Jesus?”
I am Barabbas, and I hope for his sake he did not throw away his chance when Jesus took his place on that cross.
My sins put Jesus up there just as surely as the Roman guards—even more so.
As God, Jesus could have come down off that cross, but He allowed Himself to be crucified for you and for me.
So my sins put Jesus up there, just as surely as yours did, just as surely as Hitler’s and Barabbas’s, just as surely as Peter’s and Paul’s.
And through that sacrifice, I have a chance to be saved—they all had a chance to be saved—and so do you.
What will you do with Jesus?
The chance to be saved is given to all and none of us deserve it!
But as the song says, “And you must give an answer, for something you must do.”
I am humbled and awed by the cross, by what He was willing to go through for us, for me.
But I can’t just sit and stare at it in my mind’s eye—I’ve got to do something!
No, I can’t earn salvation, but I do have to respond to it.
As I said, I have no idea what Barabbas’s response to Jesus was, but my response is to accept that gift of salvation.
I hope that’s your response, too.
As I said, we don’t know what Barabbas’s response was.
If Barabbas had continued on his path of violent crime, he might have been caught and executed later.
Yeah, Jesus died for you and me, but if we continue on our path of sin, we will be caught, and we will suffer the consequences.
On the other hand, if Barabbas had turned his life around, he could have done so well.
If we accept His gift of taking our punishment for us, and we turn our lives around, we might just avoid that ultimate punishment, too.
We might be able to avoid earthly consequences depending on what our sins are, but we will definitely be able to avoid eternal consequences. Praise God!
Will you accept His gift by obeying the gospel this morning?