Last week we looked at some of the major characters in the Holy Scriptures: Abraham, Moses, David, Peter, and Paul. Each of these are Biblical examples of God’s unmerited, undeserved, unwarranted grace poured out upon mankind. This week let’s consider some minor characters who also received extraordinary grace.
Barabbas was “a notorious prisoner” (Matthew 27:16), a “revolutionary” (John 18:40) incarcerated with “rebels who had committed murder during the rebellion” (Mark 15:7). Compared to Moses, his story doesn’t require much ink.
It’s likely that Barabbas was a zealot opposed to Roman rule in Jerusalem. Maybe he was a leader of a murderous mob that had attempted to overthrow the ruling power. Like the terrorists of modern warfare, they had targeted weaknesses in Roman security seeking to create instability and mass confusion. The murder of innocent bystanders was simply collateral damage, the cost of doing business.
I suspect that Barabbas was ruled by rage, fueled by hatred, and unconstrained by any measure of moral rightness. He was evil-hearted, compassionless, wicked. He deserved the death penalty that awaited him.
Today murderers and rapists remain on death row for years, even decades. How long had Barabbas languished in the dark, dank dungeon? Did Jesus share his cell for a few minutes on the morning before the Passover celebration? We’ll never be sure.
It’s likely that Barabbas could hear the angry mob crying out, “Crucify! Crucify him!” (Luke 23:21). He also heard Pilate’s thrice-repeated pronouncements concerning Jesus. “I have found no grounds to charge this man… Clearly, he has done nothing to deserve death… I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty” (Luke 23:14-15, 22). With shocking clarity, Barabbas also heard the mob cry out, “Release Barabbas!” (Luke 23:18).
I wish I knew the rest of the story. What happened to Barabbas?
Here’s what I think happened… After being released from his shackles, Barabbas, clinging to the shadows, went to Calvary. He had to see! There, the convicted murderer watched Jesus die a cruel, agonizing, and inhuman death. Barabbas heard Jesus pray, “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:34). Maybe Barabbas personalized Jesus’ prayer. “Father, forgive me!”
Barabbas could never be the same again. He recognized that Jesus had taken his place on the cross. Jesus, an innocent man, died so that he, a guilt-ridden criminal, could be set free. Jesus bore his shame. Jesus died in his place. Jesus died so the Barabbas could live.
And live he did! Abundantly! Having witnessed the atoning death of the King of kings, Barabbas immediately sought answers to life’s most important question: “What must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30). I like to imagine that Peter was helpful. “Even a notorious criminal can saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus alone” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
I hope to meet Barabbas one day. Maybe he’ll say, “Do you know what my name means? Bar is Hebrew for son. Abba means daddy. Like you, I’m a ‘son-of-the-Father!’ I’m Barabbas, only by God’s great grace!”