He’s described as a prisoner. A rebel and rioter. A thief. A murderer.
Barabbas, the worst of sinners.
The Bible introduces him at probably the most crucial and hopeless point of his life, the scheduled day of his execution by crucifixion. The verdict for his list of sins is the death penalty, and his cross awaits him.
But on this day, suddenly, Barabbas finds himself in the chaos of another man’s trial. Barabbas overhears his name: “Release to us Barabbas.” And maybe from the sidelines, Barabbas could see the lowly Jesus, willingly condemned.
It was such an unlikely exchange. A baffling but beautiful substitution: Jesus’ life for Barabbas’s life. Did Barabbas watch as innocent Jesus was led away to be beaten and take up the cross intended for another? Intended for him?
On the day of his certain death, there stood Barabbas, the worst of sinners, absolutely free. It was a Good News day.
I am Barabbas.
I’m the worst of sinners, guilty and deserving death. Without hope.
And the same Jesus makes the same exchange with me.
Jesus takes my sinfulness and all its awful penalty – the deserved eternal fury of God’s wrath and death itself – for me. He dies as me, a beautiful substitute. Though death is certain and deserved, I stand absolutely free. It’s a Good News day!
The biblical account doesn’t give the epilogue of Barabbas’s life. Did he weep at the edge of the hill where Jesus hung lifeless? Did he leave behind the ruined mess of his sins and surrender to the One who literally saved him? Was Barabbas among those early followers who rejoiced at the resurrected Jesus? Was he a first-century church-planter, with a testimony like mine: “I once was as sure as dead, but Jesus took my place"?
When Jesus dies for you, is there any better way to respond?
Read Barabbas’s story in Matthew 27, Mark 15, Luke 23, and John 18.