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  • Pastor Tom Cunningham


Then Pilate, when he had called together the chief priests, the rulers, and the people, said to them, “You have brought this Man to me, as one who misleads the people. And indeed, having examined Him in your presence, I have found no fault in this Man concerning those things of which you accuse Him; no, neither did Herod, for I sent you back to him; and indeed nothing deserving of death has been done by Him. I will therefore chastise Him and release Him” (for it was necessary for him to release one to them at the feast). And they all cried out at once, saying, “Away with this Man, and release to us Barabbas” — who had been thrown into prison for a certain rebellion made in the city, and for murder. Pilate, therefore, wishing to release Jesus, again called out to them. But they shouted, saying, “Crucify Him, crucify Him!” Then he said to them the third time, “Why, what evil has He done? I have found no reason for death in Him. I will therefore chastise Him and let Him go.” ~Luke 23:13-22

Pontius Pilate seemed hard at work trying to find a way to release Jesus. He really did. He remembered that he always released one prisoner (usually political) on the Jewish Passover… Whether or not he always actually did this or not is still in question, but it was a loophole and seemed worthy of using. He could find no capital crime in Jesus, it seemed more of a religious vendetta to him.

"Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to releasing to the multitude one prisoner whom they wished." ~Matthew 27:15

He must have thought that the choice between Jesus and a murderer named Barabbas would have to be Jesus. There really couldn’t be another choice. Nobody would choose an insurrectionist, thief and murderer over an overzealous religious leader that preached the Kingdom of God is within you… right? … right? He never thought in his wildest dreams that they would choose Barabbas. Who would? Yet, even now we live in a day where the perpetrator is often perceived as the victim and the innocent are at best ignored or punished and at worst considered intolerant, racist or hatemongers.

We seem to be choosing Barabbas all over again. In obvious ways and subtle ways, society is rooting for anybody but Jesus. Any religion but Christianity: Secularism over Christianity in public schools and public life in general; Easter bunny over the Resurrection of Jesus Christ; Santa Claus over Jesus — and Halloween, now the most popular holiday in America second to Christmas, is embraced by the schools like it is the most amazing celebration for children ever. All of this chosen without apology over Christianity.

Teenagers, young people in general, church kids included cannot quote even one scripture by memory, but if you catch them while listening to a secular radio station, b-bopping to top artists like Bruno Mars, Beyonce, Rihanna, Jessie J, Adele, David Guetta or Katy Perry… you can watch them sing EVERY WORD from memory, even subconsciously droning it out while swaying to the beat of every song. Easily quipping out trivia and little known facts about Hip Hop Pop artist like Usher — singing complicated lyrics effortlessly to Rap superstars like Li’l Wayne, Kanye West, Nas or Jay-Z. Lust-filled, filthy, foul-mouthed, arrogant, demonic, run-through-the-jungle-like-a-hyena star-crossed music fanatics with no discernment and no restraint. They get teary-eyed in the memory of immortal greats like Tu Poc Shakir and the other ‘POC’ brothers like Small-POC and Chicken-POC! Rap artist choose to be called names like ‘Ludacris’ which means to “cause laughter because of absurdity; provoking or deserving disdain or scorn; ridiculous; laughable: utter foolishness. Yet when you ask them for a scripture memory verse they act like they are being tortured and once again they are shouting “give us Barabbas” and “crucify the cramp-my-lifestyle dude named Jesus!” It is even predictable. This generation is choosing Barabbas all over again!

Now at the feast he was accustomed to releasing one prisoner to them, whomever they requested. And there was one named Barabbas, who was chained with his fellow rebels; they had committed murder in the rebellion. Then the multitude, crying aloud, began to ask him to do just as he had always done for them. But Pilate answered them, saying, “Do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?” For he knew that the chief priests had handed Him over because of envy. ~Mark 15:6-10

Ultimately Pilate was not blameless, oh no, he was guilty of what many of us are guilty of: Going with the flow, pacifying the crowd; the ‘don’t rock the boat’ mentality of choosing the popular way, even if it is deadly wrong. Pilate allowed an innocent man to be killed, thus bending to public opinion instead of doing what was obviously right. He was the only one that could have truly prevented it and he didn’t because he was afraid to face the consequences of choosing what is RIGHT over what is POPULAR. And the heathen rage! Oh how they rage!

Many times in our daily walk with God we have choices to make. Big ones and not-so-big ones. Christianity or the world. Right or wrong. Righteousness or sin. Jesus or Barabbas. Both choices lay right in front of us. It has to surprise us sometimes as we realize how many times we blatantly choose Barabbas.

Barabbas would have had a unique viewpoint of this kangaroo court starring the ‘King of the Jews’. The prison was about 1500 feet from the Praetorium (Pilate’s palace in Jerusalem) and so it is unlikely that he would have been able to hear the words of Pontius Pilate addressing the crowd. It is certain however that he would have clearly heard the unified cries of the assembled crowd of Jews. Pilate asked the crowd whom he should release and the crowd shouted “Barabbas” (Mt 27:21)… that, no doubt, would get his attention as he listened from his cell!

Consider this passage in Matthew 27:22-25:

Pilate said to them, “What then shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said to him, “Let Him be crucified!” Then the governor said, “Why, what evil has He done?” But they cried out all the more, saying, “Let Him be crucified!” When Pilate saw that he could not prevail at all, but rather that a tumult was rising, he took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, “I am innocent of the blood of this just Person. You see to it.” And all the people answered and said, “His blood be on us and on our children.” ~Matthew 27:22-25

It is quite possible and even probable that Barabbas would have heard only the shouts of the crowd, spaced out in intervals and sending a clear message to the guilty heart of the murderer and sinner in his cell. Barabbas would not have heard the questions Pilate asked while addressing the crowd or could he have known whom Pilate was talking about, Jesus or Barabbas. He would have simply heard the crowd crying out in unison, “Barabbas!! Barabbas!! … Let Him be crucified… let Him be crucified… his blood be on us and our children”

He would have heard his name and the shouting that he perceived as a mob-rule coming after him — and knew in his guilt that judgment was immanent and his life-style had finally caught up with him. He must have gone into a cold sweat. He determined in his heart, “this is it!”

The guilty know they are guilty. There is no secret sin. “I’m doing the best I can” is such a dodge. Some say, “I only want what I deserve.” We are trained to think like that: TV Commercials demand that we should “Get the credit you deserve.” or “Take that vacation you deserve…” We really should grasp deep inside that we don’t want what we deserve do we? We want better than we deserve. We deserve judgment, but what we really want is mercy! So it is with you — never separated too far from your sins… if you would be honest with yourself for a moment, even a quiet moment, you are far more often guilty than good and thus worthy of judgment. Have you ever stolen anything? Even a pen from work? Then you are a thief. Have you ever lied, even a small white lie? Then you are a liar. Have you ever taken apart somebody’s humanity with your words? — witty as they may have been at the time but as hurtful as poisonous venom? Then you are a murderer [with words]. You often have a lustful and carnal mind — thinking things that are clearly inappropriate — and you await the coming ‘sure’ indisputable judgment of God. The crowd of witnesses to the wrongs in your life are calling your name and sentencing you accordingly. The name Barabbas means “bar”, Son of, “abbas”, father — or “Son of the Father.” I think about this apparent deliberately named character that appears at this moment in history and I wonder if this is a predetermined ‘object lesson’ from God himself, who at the beginning of time understood that even when we [as his creation] choose the world over Him, walk in calculated darkness, cause insurrection and like the Apostle Paul — even murder God’s own people… we are still, undeservedly, yet so it seems, “Sons of the Father” …

Barabbas would have doubtless been a witness to a Roman crucifixion at sometime in his life and he would have fully understood the agony of this hideous death. He heard the crowd calling for his name and in the next few moments he must have considered his fate, knowing that he was guilty and deserved to die — howbeit an undesired end. Have you sat lately and considered your fate? You might blame your parents, teachers or society, but you know in the quietness of your heart that you are indeed guilty and perhaps have just now been confronted with it. However, you had to know it was coming … that judgment would catch up to you eventually. In that day, you cannot convince yourself everything is alright, unless it is. You will want to rationalize your life and your sins, excuse them away in some form, but nothing comes to mind — no excuse is sufficient — no innocence can be momentarily contrived… only guilt reigns in your restless heart. Barabbas knew he could not rationalize his life. He was under no delusions as to what he was. He had no excuses… and no covering. Just guilt.

He heard the rank and file footsteps of the Roman soldiers who came for him — a familiar executioners song. He backs up to the rear wall as far from the door as he can get, hands sweaty as he hears the soldiers coming for him. He is alone with his guilt and he knows he has been judged. He had always managed to escape this in the past, but this time is different and as the marching soldiers close the gap to his jail cell, he begins to look inwardly to his heart that is filled with hate, violence and yes regret. Regret as to where it has brought him now. Inwardly we search for some ‘rightness’ to hold up before the light of justice, but we find none. Paul says that if we will judge ourselves in its time, then we need not be judged by others. Too little too late for this ‘Son of the Father’ — Barabbas.

There is nobody to stand with him, nobody to speak for him, the crowd crying out for his judgment — the soldiers are the swift and just executioners. He hears the final movements of locks and the door — judgment is here; to his mind these are the last seconds before the worst agony of his life and a torturous death.


As the jail door is opened a soldier lays his hands on him and leads him outside. The chains are taught and the soldiers are merciless in his final moments… In what seems like a dream, he feels the weight of chains released, sliding down his waist and legs to the ground. The firm grasp of the Soldier slackens and the pain disappears. His mind is a whirl of confusion, his senses unable to rightly perceive what is happening… when, as reason returns and his life seems to go into slow motion, to his astonishment and utter unbelief, he is released… Set free. Let go. In his dream he hears somebody say, “You are free to go…” He watches to his left as the chains that once held him in bondage hurling him towards judgment were placed on an innocent man, a man already drenched in blood. With the intense look of purpose on his face, he received the chains of Barabbas as a badge of honor and was crucified in his place — taking the judgment of Barabbas on himself…

We are Barabbas! This is the message for the ages from the life of Barabbas! We are the prodigal “Sons of the Father”.

"For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;” ~Romans 3:23

And deserving of death…

"For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” ~Romans 6:23

Jesus died in our place…

"For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” ~Romans 5:6-8

Jesus stepped in at the right time to carry our judgment on himself. Oh how I too have felt the weight of judgment and the burden of sin in my own life… Christ has given us the ability to choose Jesus over Barabbas. Why? Because Jesus did not stay in the grave that the crucifixion led too. He would not be kept down. That stone was rolled in front of the grave to keep his body down, but that stone was rolled away and he raised himself from the grave and let me tell you the good news today, “HE STILL MOVES STONES!” And because of that resurrection power we are moving stones from the graves of our lives into the victory.

"But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.” ~Romans 8:11

"Therefore He is also able to save to the ‘uttermost’ those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.” ~Hebrews 7:25

Definition: Uttermost — The extreme utmost; the ‘outer’ most. Beyond the limit; extreme.

This is the power of the resurrection to take us beyond ‘good intentions’… He has given us the power over sin! Barabbas experienced that love, grace and sacrifice first hand and whether he went on to live for God or not, he never forgot! I promise you, he never forgot!

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