"Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them.
He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified."
Mark 15:15 (NIV)
Every story needs a villain. In the story of the passion of Jesus Christ, we tend to focus on Judas – the Betrayer. We judge him and, rightfully, vilified him.
But there’s another player in the story, and it is interesting to note, the Bible talks more about him that it does about Judas.
When the Scribes and Pharisees presented Jesus to Pilate as someone deserving of Rome’s most violent and horrific punishment, Pilate knew that Jesus had done nothing to warrant such treatment. But, fearful of the stirred-up crowd and wishing to remain popular, he looked for a scapegoat: Barabbas.
Imagine the scene on that day as Pilate presented the stark contrast of the two men. One was a notorious criminal; a popular insurgent, a thief, a murderer. He deserved the cross. He had earned it by a lifetime of wrongful deeds. The other a sinless, blameless man, innocent of any wrongdoing. What had he done other than heal the sick, feed the hungry, and open blind eyes and deaf ears? There was no legal or logical reason for him to be there.
This was Jesus, the Son of the Living God, versus Barabbas, the criminal.
And the response: We want Barabbas! Give us Barabbas! So, the guards set Barabbas free. And in the midst of all this commotion, Jesus stood there silently.
Jesus knew the Father would have to treat Him like Barabbas so he could treat Barabbas like Jesus. Jesus stood silently upon the platform with Pilate and in his silence said: Yes, take Barabbas. I will take his place.
God sent his Son for Barabbas. This was not a gift from the people or from Pilate. It was a gift from a loving God, showing grace by condemning his son.
Maybe Barabbas looked into the distance and saw the three crosses and thought to himself, “That middle cross was meant for me… but now it’s all yours, Jesus.” As I read this story of Jesus standing in silence and accepting a death sentence he didn’t deserve to save a man who did, I realized who Barabbas really was. He is me. He is you. He is us.
Jesus, my Savior, as we wait in anticipation to celebrate your glorious resurrection, I take this time to thank you. Like Barabbas, I deserved the punishment, but you took it for me. In your holy name, we pray, Amen.