Here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we are continuing our journey through Lent along the Easter Road. Last Sunday we were considering how Jesus was “Riding into the Storm.” This coming Sunday, the Sunday before Easter, is often known as Palm Sunday or Passion Sunday.
Jesus rides into Jerusalem, on a donkey, and is greeted by cries of “Hosanna!” But in only a short time those cries of welcome are turned to cries of condemnation and “Crucify.” Mark 15:7-15 gives us an account of how significant that turn around of events would be for the life of one condemned prisoner. A man called Barabbas.
It appears that Pilate followed a custom during the Passover week to release a prisoner from jail. The prisoner could be anybody that the crowd asked for. Having had his wife warn him of the innocence of Jesus, Pilate feels that the crowd will be shouting for him to release Jesus from jail. It doesn't turn out that way.
It seems that, at first, there was sympathy towards Jesus. But then, among the crowd, spread agitators speaking on behalf of the powers that had caused Jesus to be arrested. Instead of shouts for “Jesus of Nazareth,” the crowd shout for “Jesus Barabbas” to be set free. Though he is not happy at the turn of events, Pilate feels that if he doesn't respond to their request, he will have a riot on his hands. Barabbas is freed, but Jesus is sentenced to death by crucifixion.
Matthew's Gospel refers to Barabbas only as a "notorious prisoner." Mark and Luke suggest Barabbas had been involved in a riot against the Roman power and had committed murder. He may well have been seen as something of a “freedom fighter” to downtrodden Jews suffering under the might of Imperial rule.
We don't know what happened to Barabbas after his release. We can say though, that if Jesus had not “... humbled Himself and become obedient to the point of death-- even death on a cross” (as Paul writes in Phillipians 2:8), then Barabbas would never have been set free.
Barabbas is a character whose life reminds us of the New Testaments claim, that because of Christ's death, we can live free and forgiven. For one of the thieves, who died on a Cross next to Jesus, it only took a moment of recognition, of who Jesus truly was, to receive an assurance; “Today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
Our Christian freedom is an act of God's amazing grace. We don't enter life with a “Get out of Jail Free” card. As we enter into Holy Week, it is worth reminding ourselves, that all the things Jesus will face, are taking place, so that we may know God's love can make us... as free... as Barabbas!
For some music, a song called "Barabbas" by Jimbo Whaley and Greenbrier .
The Reverend Adrian J Pratt B.D.