Episode 1. You Me and Barabbas
That first Easter was so incredibly unfair. Jesus – the innocent man – was crucified and Barabbas – the man guilty of murder – walked off Scott free. If you were God, would you have done things that way?
Join Berni Dymet, on Christianityworks as he takes a look at you, me … and Barabbas.
So many people in our society have this nagging sense of guilt, this nagging sense that they’re not good enough. And the reason is that we aren’t good enough. And God comes to us through the Cross of Jesus Christ and cries out to us and says, “I love you”.
Let’s Tarry a While
It’s interesting how when Easter passes us by we kind of quickly forget it and move on. It was a long weekend, it was a great time to have off and have a rest, have some chocolate. It comes, we eat chocolate, we have a long weekend, it goes, that’s it, we move on, back to work, back to school, back to the empty house, whatever it is we do day after day and this week on the program and in fact over the coming three weeks we’re going to dwell in Easter for a bit longer than just a long weekend. We’re going to tarry and stay there a little bit longer.
And today’s program is the first message in a series that I’ve called ‘The Price He Paid For You’ and as well as talking about Easter over the Easter period we’re going to do the unthinkable and spend the next few weeks after Easter doing it as well. Can you believe that because it’s a big thing this Easter thing? Not as a religious holiday, I don’t mean that, I for one am definitely not into religion, it just doesn’t work for me.
Not talking about religion, I’m talking about this big thing that God was up to at Easter. The thing that Jesus went through, the suffering, the persecution, the beating, the rejection and that death on the cross.
You and I are so incredibly special to God which is what makes you and me worth dying for. He’s handcrafted us, He’s made us, He’s set us free in this amazing universe, always loving us but with the freedom He gave us a free will to accept Him or reject Him and when it comes right down to this, according to God, He made us, He loves us, He gave us free will and the point of all of that was for us to know Him and have this fantastic relationship with Him here and now and for all eternity.
But it doesn’t matter which way we cut it each one of us in our own way we’ve rejected Him. I know I have, more often than we could ever imagine or count or recall and in doing that we miss the whole point. The whole point of creation, the whole point of life, the plan and the desire of God’s heart. When we turned our backs on God and we all have, we miss the whole point of life, that’s exactly what the Greek word for ‘sin’ actually means. It means to miss the mark or as we might say today to miss the point.
I know when I use the word ‘sin’ people often write in or they call and say, ‘Come on, this is some kind of old fuddy-duddy concept, get with it Berni, get into today, sin just isn’t relevant, it’s something that priests or ministers talked about in the 1950’s, get with it, it’s old fashioned’. I know, I know that some people think of sin that way but lets come back to Easter and the central point, the central problem of all creation is that we rejected God.
We turned our back on Him, it’s hard to come to grips with. People say, ‘Well I’m not a bad person, I’m not that bad, I’m okay’ but let me ask you, from the moment you were old enough did you put God first? Was God always first in your life? Did you live your life as though you belonged to Him?
And the answer for all of us is, ‘No, we didn’t’. We’ve all done things; we’ve all turned away in our own way, in different ways; we’ve all turned our backs on God and at that Cross at a time that we now call Easter and we celebrate and we remember, on that cross God calls us home.
The consequences, what we should have paid for rejecting Him, were paid for by His Son Jesus; He died to give us a new life. Okay God calls us to a life of sacrifice, God calls us to a life of giving, He gives us a fresh new life, a wholesome life with real joy and because out of His great love He reached out to us through Jesus, He opens the door to a real and dynamic and exciting and beautiful and wondrous relationship with God.
At the heart of the message of Easter is the fact that Jesus paid the price of my sin and of your sin, of our rejection of God, our missing the whole point of creation and the fact that Jesus paid the price seems unfair don’t you think? Let’s have a read, we’re going to go to the Bible, if you have one grab it, we’re going to open up at John chapter 18 beginning at verse 38 and we’re going to read through to chapter 19, verse 16. Here it is:
“What is truth, Pontius Pilate asked? With this he went out again to the Jews and said, ‘I find no basis for a charge against this Jesus but it’s your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release the king of the Jews? And they shouted, ‘no, not him, give us Barabbas.”
“Now Barabbas had taken part in a rebellion. Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged, the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head, they clothed him in a purple robe and went up to him and again and again and again saying, ‘hail the king of the Jews’ and they struck him in the face.”
“Once more Pilate came out and said to the Jews, ‘I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him.’ And when Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe Pilate said to them, ‘here is the man’. As soon as the Chief Priests and their officials saw him they shouted, ‘crucify him, crucify him.”
“But Pontius Pilate answered, ‘you take him, you crucify him. As for me I find no basis for a charge against him.’ But the Jews insisted, ‘we have a law and according to that law he must die because he claimed to be the son of God.’ And when Pilate heard this he was even more afraid and he went back inside the palace.”
“Where do you come from?’ He asked Jesus but Jesus gave him no answer. ‘Do you refuse to speak to me?’ Pilate said, ‘don’t you realise I have the power either to free you or to crucify you?’ And Jesus answered, ‘you would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”
“From then on Pilate tried to have Jesus set free but the Jews kept shouting, ‘if you let this man go you are no friend of Caesars. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.’ When Pilate heard this he brought Jesus out and sat him down on the Judges seat at a place known as the Stone Pavement. It was the day of the preparation of the Passover week, about the sixth hour.”
“Here is your king’ Pilate said to the Jews but they shouted, ‘take him away, take him away, crucify him.’ ‘Shall I crucify your king?’ Pilate asked. ‘We have no king but Caesar’ the Chief Priests answered. Finally Pilate handed him over to be crucified.”
Pretty amazing story we’re going to take a look at it in a moment.
An Innocent Man
Not much regard for the rules of evidence if indeed there were any rules of evidence way back then. A good friend of mine by the name of Paul is a magistrate. Now, the more I get to know him, the more I realise how gifted Paul is to do that job. I’ve got to tell you, I’d hate to have to sit in judgment, this one goes free, this one gets locked up. And to make things even more difficult he’s a magistrate in the children’s court.
Now Paul has this really balanced thing happening in his outlook. He weighs this against that in almost everything he does. I was saying to someone else recently that when I look at Paul, what I see is someone that I’m really comfortable with being a magistrate. I’m really glad that this guy is on the bench in the children’s court because he’s absolutely the right person to be doing it.
When you look at the story of the crowd and Pontius Pilate and Barabbas and Jesus and this angry, ugly mob I see some of that in Pilate. When the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate and Jesus had been talking to him about truth, he says, ‘What is truth?’ And he goes out to the mob and he says, ‘Look, I have looked into this man and I find no case against him, this Jesus’.
See he wasn’t swayed initially in judgment by the religious leaders, who frankly just wanted Jesus dead because Jesus was threatening them. Jesus was going to the people and making sense to them and healing them and caring for them and loving them and standing up for them. That’s why the religious leaders wanted Him dead. That’s how poisoned that whole rule-based religion scene had become.
See Pilate wasn’t swayed by the same things that whipped up that mobbed. And all the way through this scene, over and over again, Pontius Pilate finds Jesus ‘not guilty’. In verse 38 he says:
‘Look, I find no basis for a charge against Him’.
Again in verse 4 of chapter 19:
“Once more Pilate came out and said to the Jews, ‘Look I’m bring him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him’.
Verse 6 of Chapter 19:
“You take him, you crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him.”
And then again, down in verse 12:
“From then on Pontius Pilate tried to have Jesus set free”
See he was a man who was fairly objective and he found no guilt in Jesus the Christ. Of course there’s a marked difference between my friend Paul and Pontius Pilate in that ultimately Pilate was a weak man and he gave in to the crowd. He never changes his judgment mind you, but based on this tradition he just rolls over because of this angry mob. And ultimately he said, ‘Look, look at the life of Jesus, this man who healed people and who reached out to them and who cared for them, who taught them stuff about life that made sense, of course he’s innocent’. Innocent of everything except the fact that his goodness, his genuiness, stood out in stark contrast to the manipulation and the deceit of the religious leaders of the day. He threatened their power base, that’s why they wanted him dead.
Now the other player in this game is Barabbas. Barabbas is an interesting character. His name literally means ‘Son’ which is what ‘Bar’ means, ‘of the father’ – ‘abba’. ‘Barabbas’ son of the father – Barabbas. We’ll come back to that a little later. But he is a criminal. John tells us there in verse 40 that he’d taken part in a rebellion. If you go to Matthew’s gospel chapter 27 verse 16, Matthew calls him a notorious criminal, so it was well known that this man was a crook. Mark Chapter 15 verse 7 and Luke Chapter 23 verse 19, they both tell us that Barabbas committed murder as a part of an insurrection.
So here we have it. A well-known, notorious criminal, a murderer, Barabbas versus Jesus Christ superstar. This Jesus with rock-star status who healed the lame and the sick and the blind and stood up for the oppressed and the needs of the people against all of those of religious rulers from all that manipulation. He exposed the religious hypocrisy of those leaders. Huge crowds followed him, they listened to him, they saw him heal countless people, they saw miracles.
The same crowds just a few days before, on the day we now call Palm Sunday, when Jesus came into Jerusalem riding on a donkey, they threw down palm leaves, they were shouting praises literally calling him ‘King of the Jews’ – their Messiah, their Saviour. Yet now, just a few days later whipped up by the religious leaders, manipulated by them again, here they are, baying for his blood. ‘Crucify him’. What a brutal response. No wonder politicians say that the opinion polls are fickle. There’s a great saying: ‘A week is a long time in politics’. And it was certainly true then as it is now.
Look at it again. When they’re given a choice they say, ‘We want Barabbas! We want Barabbas!’ And of Jesus, ‘Crucify him!’ When Pilate asked them about Jesus they said: ‘Crucify him’. And ultimately Pontius Pilate went against his own impartial judgment. He was weak, he was afraid of the crowd. He had Jesus beaten, he had him handed over to be crucified. Wait for it, instead of Barabbas who got set free. Do you get it. It’s a switch, it’s a substitution that’s going on here. Barabbas the son of the father was the murderer. He should have gone to the cross, but instead he was set free and the innocent Jesus was crucified in his place.
And here’s what God’s saying to us through what happened. Jesus is the Son of God and the Son of Man. ‘This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.’ God said that of Jesus. Jesus was also man. He often referred to Himself as the Son of Man. He was human, He was God in the flesh, He was perfect without spot or blemish. He was totally innocent. The Son of God – Jesus; the son of the father, the son of dad – Barabbas. God is a loving Dad. There’s a radical concept here introduced by Jesus. The Jews didn’t refer to God as Dad but Jesus called Him Abba – Dad. And this man, Barabbas – Bar-abba, son of dad – is the one who gets set free.
It’s the swap over, it’s the substitution. The ‘Son of God’ and the ‘son of God’. Both with the same name. Jesus and Barabbas. The innocent is substituted for the guilty. Jesus went to the cross for Barabbas; Barabbas deserved it but Jesus wore it. Barabbas was the murderer but Jesus was killed. Barabbas was the one who hurt people and yet Jesus suffered in his place. Barabbas – the son of the father – was guilty and he went free. Jesus – the Son of the Father – was innocent and He went to the Cross.
And who judged Him? Not Pilate. Pilate wasn’t the one that sent Him to the Cross, it was the angry mob and the religious leaders – the very people whom He came to set free, whom He loved, whom He healed, whom He taught. They were the ones that turned against Him. They were the ones who had Jesus crucified.
So what does that mean for you and for me here and now?
Who is Barabbas
Let me ask you something. Who was Barabbas? There was Pontius Pilate, there was Jesus, there was Barabbas. And then there was the angry mob in this story. To the angry mob, Barabbas was just that criminal and murderer and it was the Passover Festival. The Passover is the celebration of when God was releasing His people out of slavery in Egypt centuries before. He sent ten plagues on Egypt, on Pharaoh. And the final plague was the death of the first-born of all the Egyptians from Pharaoh’s son through to a slave’s son right through to the first born of all the animals. And yet here was the nation of Israel captive as slaves in Egypt.
And God said to them: ‘Look, get a lamb, kill it, takes it’s blood, smear it on the top of the door and the angel of death will pass over your house and you won’t suffer that death – that death in the tenth plague. It was only visited on the Egyptians but not on God’s people. And the way in which God’s angel passed them over was by the seeing the blood of the lamb on the door posts.
And so there’s this tradition where the Roman Governor at the Passover Festival all these years later would release one criminal to the people. And this year that criminal was going to be Barabbas. Someone who had been part of an insurgency, an uprising; someone who killed multiple people. I mean, the worst sort of all criminals possible is who Barabbas was. Bar-abba – ‘son of the father’, one of God’s children. You see, you and I are Barabbas in this story.
I said before that attitudes to sin vary enormously in our society and so many people see ‘sin’ as an outdated concept. But the whole point of creation was us to have a relationship with God and to give glory to God but in our free will we rejected Him just as Barabbas rejected God, just as Barabbas went out and sinned. And when we did that we missed the point. And that’s what God calls ‘sin’. It’s conspicuous, you can’t hide it. We’re all guilty of that and ‘the wages of sin is death’.
See, God is wondrous and perfect and holy and awesome and a loving God and it’s hard to imagine love and judgment in one person. Yet my friend Paul, the magistrate, I was talking about him earlier, Paul is a really fair and compassionate man, he’s a great husband, he’s a wonderful father, but he’s also just. I look at him and it gives me some understanding at how those things fit together in God’s nature. In His love, instead of letting you and me pay the price, in His love God sends Jesus, His Son, to die in my place.
Now you and I might say, ‘Look, I’m no Barabbas. I haven’t killed people. I haven’t done all these horrible things.’ The point is, the moment we turn our back on God, the moment we reject Him, the moment we do one thing wrong – because God is holy, pure, perfect, clean – the moment we sin we deserve death. God’s Word tells us ‘The wages of sin in death’, and yet when we put our faith in this Jesus, in this Jesus who died on our behalf, we’re forgiven.
You too are one of the sons and daughters of Abba – Dad – God. We too are loved by Him and we too can put our faith in Jesus and believe with our hearts and with our heads that on this very first Easter, on that Cross, Jesus paid the price of our sin and when we believe in Him we have complete forgiveness.
“Finally, Pilate handed Him over to be crucified, so that the soldiers took charge of Jesus. Carrying His own cross He went out to a place of the Skull which in Aramaic is known as Golgotha. Here they crucified Him and with Him two others, one on each side and Jesus in the middle. And Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the Cross. It read, ‘Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews’. Many of the Jews read this sign for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. The Chief Priest of the Jews protested to Pilate, ‘Don’t write ‘King of the Jews’ but that this man claimed to be the King of the Jews.’ And Pilate answered them, ‘What I have written, I’ve written.’
“When the soldiers crucified Jesus they took His clothes off, divided amongst them in four shares, one for each of them with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in a single piece from top to bottom. Let’s not tear it they said, let’s decided by lot who gets it. This happened so that the Scripture might be fulfilled which said, ‘They divided their garments among them and cast lots for my clothing’. So this is what the soldiers did.
“Near the Cross of Jesus stood His mother, His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw His mother there and the Disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, ‘Dear woman, here is your son and to the Disciple, here is your mother.’ And from that time on this Disciple took her into his home.
“Later, knowing that all was completed and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, ‘I’m thirsty.’ A jar of wine vinegar was there and so they soaked a sponge in it and put the sponge on a stalk of hyssop plant and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. When He’d received a drink Jesus said, ‘It is finished’. With that He bowed His head and gave up His Spirit.”
That’s the price, the price that Jesus paid for you and for me and Barabbas. And as much as we here in the 21st Century might have a cultural problem with the notion of sin, it doesn’t change anything. It doesn’t change God, it doesn’t change who God is, it doesn’t change why God created us, it doesn’t change the reality that you and I have fallen short of the glory of God. You and I have both rejected God and it doesn’t change the reality that He loves us so much that He sent His one and only Son.
So many people in our society have this nagging sense of guilt, this nagging sense of inadequacy, this deep down sense that they’re not good enough. And the reason is that we aren’t good enough. And God comes to us to the Cross of Jesus Christ and cries out and says to us:
“I love you. You are my Barabbas, you are my child. I love you, I sent my Son to pay the price. Look at my Son, look at the Cross, put your faith in Him and you can have eternal life. A new life, a fresh life, a life that begins now, a life with me that goes on forever.”
When we believe Jesus we have the forgiveness that Jesus purchased. When we believe the door is flung open into a deep relationship with God, when we believe we have eternal life, we do. Anybody, the worst criminal, you, me even if he had believed … Barabbas.