A notorious prisoner, called Barabbas
You may recall Judas Iscariot; he is the man who sold the Lord Jesus for thirty pieces of silver into the hands of the chief priests and Pharisees. Jesus was tried before Caiaphas the high priest and then he was taken to Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor. His accusers said, "we have a law, and by our law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God and called himself the King of the Jews." To satisfy the people, Pilate said, "ye have a custom that I should release unto you one at the Passover: will ye therefore that I release unto you the King of the Jews?" Then cried they all again, saying, "Not this man, but Barabbas" (a notorious criminal in prison) John 18:39,40. "Away with him, away with him, crucify him." Pilate saith unto them, "Shall I crucify your King?" The chief priests answered, "We have no King but Caesar" John 19:15.
Then the soldiers led Jesus away into the common hall of the palace; and they call together the whole band, Mark 15:16. Historians claim there were from four hundred to six hundred men on duty at the compound. Here in this common hall, the scourging of His back, the platting of the crown of thorns upon His head and the clothing of the purple robe was all part of hailing Him as the "King of the Jews." They had gathered to mock God's beloved Son in a pretense of royalty. The mockery, which had begun in a state of humor and sport, had ended in gross indecency and violence. This crown that He wore was designed as an instrument of torture. When we think of him who endured it all, we cannot contemplate the scene without our hearts being touched. Who can measure the grace of God or the depravity of man?
We learn that Barabbas had committed several crimes worthy of death by the Roman government. According to our Bibles, he was a notable or notorious prisoner, a robber, a murderer, a man imprisoned for sedition and insurrection, (or revolution against the Roman empire). Barabbas was the leader of these rioters and was bound with them and had committed murder during these riots. These charges are found in Matthew 27:16, John 18:40, Mark 15:7 and Luke 23:18,19. Thirty-eight verses were allotted to tell the simple story of Barabbas as a criminal who was set free by another taking his place, that is to say, Jesus Christ.
No doubt he was tried in a court and perhaps the trial was a mere formality because of his reputation as a widely known felon. Regardless, he was found guilty, condemned to die and cast into prison to be executed by Rome's frightful method of death, the cross.
What it must have been for Barabbas, waiting in his cell for the day when he would be executed for his crimes. No doubt there was a fear within every time he heard the sound of a hammer echoing from the place called Calvary. He knew Roman soldiers fasten their victims to the cross with nails driven through their hands and feet. No doubt his conscience reminded him of all the crimes he had committed and wished they could be pardoned.
And so it happened, there was no execution, no payment for his crimes, but simply a jailer who opened his prison door and said, "you are a free man." A man called Christ has taken your place at the cross of Calvary." No doubt Barabbas made his way through the gate of the city, toward the crucifixion site and wanted to see the man who took his place. To see a man who was nailed to a cross, whose body was rack with pain and suffering. To hear His prayer, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." To perhaps witness the three hours of darkness when God dealt with His Son on account of our sins. To hear His cry to the heavens above, "It is finished!"
The Bible teaches us in John 3:18, "He that believeth on him (Jesus) is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God." This verse simply means that those that are not saved are condemned already and like Barabbas, waiting for the judgment day. "How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation" (Hebrews 2:3).
Friend, this is what God's salvation is all about, another taking our place, one who would pay our debt and set us free. "For he hath made him (Jesus) to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him" 2Corthinians 5:21.
"For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; Who gave himself a ransom for all" 1Timothy 2:5,6.
Thank God for our Lord Jesus Christ, who willingly stood in the place of the condemned, who suffered the scourging due to the sinner, who endured the excruciating pain of the cross--in the place of Barabbas--in the place of me--in the place of you.
There is a chorus of a hymn, written by Philip P. Bliss, "Hallelujah, what a Saviour!" that is often sung in Christian gatherings around the world. We who are saved can relate to its beautiful words and like Barabbas, our prison doors were opened by the death of another who took our place and we go free, (John 8:32).
Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
In my place condemned He stood--
Sealed my pardon with His blood:
Hallelujah, what a Saviour!