It was late when they finally arrested me. At my trial I was charged with treason against Rome and a murder that was committed during the insurrection. I was found guilty on both charges and was sentenced to death by crucifixion, a sentence that would be carried out in just a few days!
Now it is Friday. My Execution Day. Here I sit in prison. My wrists and ankles are chaffed by these chains. I’m scared! I always boasted that I feared nothing! But now, my mouth is dry, my heart is beating wildly and there are times when I can hardly breath. Over the years I thought many times about this day, the day of my death, and I just dismissed it. But this is different, and I’m not ready for any of this.
Matthew 27:15-16,20-22 – The governor’s custom was to release one Jewish prisoner each year during the Passover celebration – anyone they wanted. This year there was a particularly notorious criminal in jail named Barabbas. Meanwhile the chief priests and Jewish officials persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas’s release, and for Jesus’ death. So when the governor asked “which of these two shall I release to you?” the crowd shouted back their reply: “Barabbas!” “Then what shall I do with Jesus, your Messiah?” Pilate asked. And they shouted, “Crucify him!”
I sit here on the dusty floor of this cell, waiting. I tremble with fear and remain silent, my head between my knees. I hear the footsteps of my executioner. I hear the cell door opening, and feel the removal of my chains. I did not look up, nor did I speak. I know what I am about to hear; “it is time for you to pay for your crimes!” Instead, I hear “they took Jesus instead of you. You’re free to go.” I didn’t understand. I look up, just one guard stood there, motioning me to leave. I ask him “What did you say?” The guard repeats: “They took Jesus instead of you, Barabbas, now you must leave”. The cell door stands open. I’m free? Is this a trick? No.
I was free! How could that be? I had done all those things that they said I did, I was convicted, I’m a murderer, I’m a thief. They were right, I am guilty. Now I’m a free man? How can that possibly be!
I walked away from the prison and began to wander the streets. I was in a daze. A convicted criminal, out of prison, that made no sense. Those who recognized me, avoided me. They wouldn’t even look my way. I felt that I had nowhere to go. The judge took me from prison and set me free, but was I free? My past followed me like a dark shadow. I have nothing to look forward to, only a past that convicts me wherever I go. I have no friends, but then I never had real friends, just fellow criminals. I am a man without a future.
I continued to wander the streets thinking about a future without options. Where could I go? What could I do? My thinking keeps returning to what had happened to me back in prison. What strange set of circumstances led the jailers to release me from certain execution? They chose someone else? Who? Why? I was a free man, yet still in a prison, a prison of my own making.
I was aware of a crowd gathering near me. Then, simply out of curiosity I stood back but followed them up the hill called Calvary where there were three crosses, a crucifixion was taking place. I hesitated. I really didn’t want to go there, but found myself at a place where, just a short time before, I feared that I would be on one of those crosses. I looked up at the three Criminals being put to death. I couldn’t watch, yet I had to! I should have been one of those dying there.
What had the guard said? “They took Jesus instead.” Jesus, that was the name. Who was this Jesus? Was he one of those three up there? Had one of these men taken his place on a cross? Why would he do that? I heard the name “Jesus” spoken among the crowd. I asked someone near me, “was one of those three Jesus?” He pointed to the middle cross. And, once again, I recalled the words of the guard: “They have taken Jesus instead of you”. I studied hard the man, the one in the middle, the one who was called Jesus. Who was this man, this man who was there on the cross dying for me! Why?
I stood on the far edge of the crowd, just watching and thinking. It was then that I became aware that this man, Jesus, who was there on the cross, was looking at me and, for just a moment, he held my gaze! He looked at me as if I was a friend! No, not a friend, more than a friend. Who was he? This person I had never met. A person I had never seen before. Oh, yes, I remembered stories about a man called Jesus, stories about miracles and teaching. If this is that Jesus, why was he there on the cross, dying in my place?
I stood there for a long time. It was hard watching these men slowly die in such a terrible way, but I felt compelled to find meaning. I heard Jesus call out in a language I did not understand, then he was gone! Dead. I watched a soldier stab him with his spear…no reaction.
Sometime later, people came and took the body of the man Jesus from the cross and carried him away. The crowd, most of whom were weeping, followed. I leaned against a wall, and was surprised to realize that my own tears had streaked my face. Yes, I wept! I wept the tears of regret, of guilt, of the life I had led and the people I had hurt. I had this strange sense of being cleansed. Does that make sense? I became aware of a growing realization that all my, my terrible, terrible sins had been scrubbed clean and for the first time ever, I felt…forgiven! I had so many questions, and yet, at that moment, I had no need for answers.
I hurried to catch up with the grieving crowd, and followed them all the way to the place of burial. I watched from a distance as the burial rites were performed on Jesus. I saw him being placed in the tomb. I watched the tomb being sealed, and Pilate’s guard being posted. I stayed through the night, thinking about all the events of the day and I struggled to understand.
The next day, I walked the Kidron Valley alone with my thoughts. It never occurred to me that I should return home, but then again where was my home? Well before dawn, the next day, I found himself, again, a short distance from the tomb. The elation of being released from prison, and then the sadness that had gripped me on Calvary the previous day were gone, and in their place a sense, of what? Of peace, of grace.
For the hundredth time I asked myself why? And that look that Jesus had given me there on Calvary, why did it still move me so? But, Jesus was dead, right? I didn’t know. I wasn’t sure. I wasn’t sure why I was still here, by this tomb of a man I did not know. I wasn’t sure about anything, even who I had become.
Matthew 28:1-8: Early on Sunday morning, as the new day was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went out to the tomb. Suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and rolled aside the stone and sat on it. 3 His face shone like lightning and his clothing was a brilliant white. 4 The guards shook with fear when they saw him, and fell into a dead faint. 5 Then the angel spoke to the women. “Don’t be frightened!” he said. “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified, 6 but he isn’t here! For he has come back to life again, just as he said he would. Come in and see where his body was lying. . . . 7 And now, go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and that he is going to Galilee to meet them there. That is my message to them.” 8 The women ran from the tomb, badly frightened, but also filled with joy, and rushed to find the disciples to give them the angel’s message.
And now, it was getting light. It would soon be the Sabbath. The great stone that had sealed the tomb had somehow been rolled away and I wondered how that happened. As I watched, some women arrived and entered the tomb. A short time later the women rushed out weeping, filled with fear, and yet, joyful. They talked excitedly to each other as they hurried on toward Jerusalem.
I wandered down to the open tomb and glanced inside. I saw nothing! The tomb was empty! I saw the body of Jesus placed right there. Again, I struggled to understand what had happened. I did not know what to do or where I should go. I thought about following the women or even going to Galilee, but something told me that I should stay there at the tomb, for a little while, and do nothing. It seemed my task for the moment was simply to wait. I was certain that something very special and important was happening.
So the new Barabbas thought about all that had happened, his peace of mind, this strange feeling of gratitude, or grace, or even love. Before, he never believed in forgiveness or redemption, but now he felt both. Now he knew where he should go, what he should do, and, more importantly, he knew whose he was. Barabbas, this Child of God, filled with joy and wonder, set out with a new spirit and purpose…and Easter dawned.
Barabbas, Child of God.