It was late when they finally arrested Barabbas. At his trial he was charged with treason against Rome and murder during the insurrection. He was found guilty of both charges and was sentenced to death by crucifixion. The sentence is to be carried out by the end of the week.
Friday. Execution Day. Barabbas sat in prison. His wrists and ankles chaffed by his chains. He was scared! He had always boasted that he feared nothing! But now, he trembled, his mouth was dry and his heart beat wildly. He had thought many times about this day, the day of his death, and dismissed it. But this was different, and he was not ready for any of this. He cursed the guards and the other prisoners.
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!”
Barabbas sat on the dusty floor of his cell, waiting. He was silent, his head between his knees. He heard the foot fall of the executioner. He heard his cell door opening, and felt the removal of his chains. He did not look up, nor did he speak. He hears “they took Jesus instead of you. You’re free to go.” He did not understand. He looks up. Just one guard stood there, motioning him to leave. “What did you say?” he asks. The guard repeats: “They took Jesus instead of you”. I’m free? Is this a trick? No. The cell door stands open.
He was free! How could that be? He had done all those things that they claimed he had done, he was convicted, he was a murderer, he was a thief and he was guilty. Now he was a free man! Or was he?
Barabbas walked away from the prison and began to wander the streets as if in a daze. He was aware of a gathering crowd and, out of curiosity, he followed them at a distance up a hill called Calvary where there was a crucifixion. He hesitated. Why had he dared come to this place? Three Criminals were being put to death. As he watched, it occurred to him that he should have been one of those dying there. So, what had happened?
What had the guard said? “They took Jesus instead.” Why had that happened? Who was this Jesus? Was he one of those three? Had one of these men taken his place on a cross? Why would he do that? He heard the name “Jesus” spoken among the crowd. Jesus. Jesus. And he recalled again the words of the guard: “They have taken Jesus instead of you.” He 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 him! Why?
Barabbas stood on the edge of the crowd watching. He became aware that this man, this Jesus, who had taken his place on the cross, was looking at him and held his gaze, for just a moment! Who was he? A person he had never met. A person he had never seen before. Oh, yes, he had heard many 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 his place, and why had he looked at him as if he were a friend? No. More than a friend. What did this all mean?
Barabbas stood there for a long time. 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. Barabbas leaned against a wall. To his surprise, his own tears had begun to streak his face, as he, too, wept. He wept the tears of regret, of guilt, of the life he had led and the people he had hurt. As he wept, he had a sense of being cleansed. He became aware of a growing realization that all his sins had been scrubbed clean and he felt forgiven! He had so many questions, and yet, at that moment, he had no need for answers.
Barabbas hurried to catch up with the grieving crowd, and followed them all the way to the place of burial. He watched from a distance as the burial rites were performed on Jesus. He watched while they place his body in the tomb. He watched the tomb being sealed. He remained there when Pilate’s guard was posted and he stayed through the night, thinking about all the events of the day and struggling to understand.
At dawn he walked the Kidron Valley alone with his thoughts. It never occurred to him that he should return home. At dusk he found himself, again, a short distance from the tomb. He began to realize that the elation of being released from prison, and then the sadness that had gripped him on Calvary the previous day were gone, and in their place a sense of peace, of calmness.
Barabbas asked himself, once again, why? And that look that Jesus had given him there on Calvary, why had it moved him so? But, Jesus was dead, right? He didn’t know. He wasn’t sure. He wasn’t sure why he was still here, by this tomb of a man he did not know. He wasn’t sure about anything, even who he 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 the angel’s message.
And now, it was getting light. It was the Sabbath. The great stone that had sealed the tomb had been rolled away. As Barabbas 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 to each other excitedly, and hurried on toward Jerusalem.
Barabbas wandered down to the open tomb and glanced inside. He saw nothing! The tomb was empty! He struggled to understand what had happened. He did not know what to do next, where he should go, what he should do. He thought about following the women or even going to Galilee, but decided he should stay there at the tomb, and do nothing. His task for the moment was to wait. Just wait. 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 and even love. He never believed in redemption, but what else could this be? So Barabbas waited and Easter dawned.
Barabbas, Child of God.