Feb 24, 2016 – Barabbas and Jesus
Tonight as we continue in the shadow and light of our Lenten season we turn to 2 prisoners in a Roman jail in Palestine. Both are held under the same guard, both are equally condemned (though we might like to think only one is truly guilty) and both have a shot at being set free by the Roman Governor if only the people will ask for him as they come to the feast of Passover.
When we read such passages we tend, well I tend, to identify myself with the wrongdoer, in this case Barabbas. However in this case that’s sort of hard to do as I’ve never murdered anyone. Still it’s more reasonable for me to do that rather than identify with Jesus just because I know Jesus to be perfect, good, holy, righteous and the Son of God. So that leaves me out.
So what is interesting for me in today’s reading is that both Jesus and Barabbas – me – are in jail together. We’re incarcerated and awaiting punishment, together. We’re under guard so that we cannot escape, hurt others or evade our respective punishments of death. There is no difference between Jesus and Barabbas – you and I – in that jail.
And there is where I get caught-up short – Jesus is in that same circumstance as we are – under guard, in jail and awaiting execution. This is the perfect, holy, innocent, righteous Son of God in my circumstance. The key for me at this point is to realize that it’s not for me to identify with Jesus, but rather that Jesus has chosen to identify with me, Barabbas. Jesus has given Himself into my circumstance – that’s the miracle for me. I am in the shadow of a jail cell, under guard and Jesus, the light of the world, is there too.
For us looking back on this it is astounding. But for Barabbas, well this is just ‘another day at the office.’ He’s there because he was guilty of murder in an insurrection against the Roman authority. And so he knows what his fate is going to be. And he knows that, though the roman governor can set him free if the people ask for him, Barabbas knows that that isn’t going to happen. Why should it?
Yes, his cause may have been popular, the removing of the Roman legions from the land of the Jews, but his actions of murder would have made it hard to live with him. So he had no expectation of hope or leniency in that dark shadowy jail cell, under the guard of the hated Romans.
But he is suddenly led out by his guards into the light of day. And they let him go! From shadow to light in the blink of an eye. And he is free. The Roman governor has called his name to be released because the people have called his name.
And again, think of identifying with Barabbas. That is our fate as well. We have no expectation of freedom, why? Because we are guilty and we know it. We know our sin and our wrongdoings deserve the punishment that is just. We have no expectation that our name will be called for us to be released.
But suddenly it is. Suddenly we are taken from the shadow of our dark cell of fear and self-hatred and set free in the light. And why? Why has that happened. Because the Other Prisoner remained. The Other Prisoner was not called to be set free, and we have been. And for no reason of our own. We know, we know that we are guilty. And we know that He is innocent, at least as far as we’re concerned. We know that He has done nothing deserving what we deserve. And yet He remains in that cell and we are free. Remember I said that only one of us is truly guilty.
We might want to think of that guilty one as Barabbas or us, but in fact it is Jesus who is truly guilty. If we don’t believe that, if we don’t trust that, then we are still locked away in the shadow of our prison. I say that because that is how God sees Jesus in that cell. Jesus has taken on Himself our guilt. And so He is indeed the only one truly guilty in the shadow of that jail cell. If He was not guilty then, then I’m not free now! The only way it works is for my guilt to be truly taken away and for Him to truly bear that dark curse.
In comparing Jesus and Barabbas it’s important to remember that one committed murder and the other was there to kill death. So in one sense Jesus also is guilty of murder – He has come to defeat death. And while we won’t see that in our Lenten journey till Good Friday and Easter, we know that the light of Easter is coming.
But for today as we continue our Lenten journey we recall the shadow of the jail cell that Jesus waited in with Barabbas. We see in these two men both the shadow of our guilt and the light of our freedom that’s given to us by the One who came to take our punishment for us, Jesus. In His name, amen.
Sermon #813 Rev. Thomas A. Rhodes, Pastor – Zion Lutheran Church, Bolivar, MO
Holy Gospel Mark 15:6-13
6 Now it was the custom at the festival to release a prisoner whom the people requested. 7 A man called Barabbas was in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising. 8 The crowd came up and asked Pilate to do for them what he usually did.
9 “Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate, 10 knowing it was out of self-interest that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him. 11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas instead.
12 “What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews?” Pilate asked them.
13 “Crucify him!” they shouted.