What’s The deal With Barabbas? David Jackson & Pastor Phil Sessa

Focus: Matthew 27:1-26; Mark 15:1-15; Luke 23:1-25; John 18:39-19:16 blog

Barabbas was a Jewish national/zealot. Hebrew custom establishes the idea that Jewish parents name their children based on certain characteristics. Barabbas means “son of the fathers”; that is, “Bar” means son and “abbas” means fathers. Growing up, I bet Barabbas thought he was something special. He was the hope of Jewish history (son of the fathers). His name suggests that the Jewish nation had a lot riding on his shoulders (son of the fathers). Barabbas was the product of the long line of Jewish wise men and sages (son of the fathers). He embodied and represented them. Little is known about his parents other than that they were political figures and did not raise him themselves. It is said that Barabbas was raised by the community- being groomed for a purpose. He was not raised with a lot of discipline. 

Historically, Barabbas came on the scene during the interim between the old and new testaments. At that time, the Jewish people were subject to Roman power. Some said that Barabbas was a ‘robin hood’ character. He was hot-headed, quick tempered, and had little difficulty using violence to accomplish his goals. To him, the end justified the means and he didn’t mind doing whatever he wanted, whenever, or by whatever means necessary. This lifestyle got Barabbas on Rome’s top ten list of most wanted men. He had led a revolt in which several Roman soldiers were killed. He had stolen from the roman and Jewish treasuries. He was known for ambushing people and taking their belongings to finance the initiatives of his motley crew. And, interestingly, we find him (the son of the fathers) in Roman custody when he is first mentioned in the gospels.

Romans kept their notorious criminals in a jail that was located in the garrison of soldiers. This jail would be equivalent of the maximum-security prisons of today. This jail was about a half mile from the governor’s palace and tribunal.

The story opens with the Roman governor judging the case of Jesus. And, the governor gives the people a choice of choosing Jesus, the Son of God, or, Barabbas, the son of the fathers. Jesus was divine, Barabbas was not. Jesus was Son to God the Father and heir to heaven, Barabbas was son of human people and heir to a collapsed history and dejected people. Jesus represented choosing the divine while Barabbas represented choosing the least admirable qualities in us all. Truly, there was no comparison and the obvious choice of the people should have been to choose Jesus. Instead, the Jewish people chose Barabbas; the lesser figure, the substitute, the crook, the man.

But, this is not where I want us to contemplate. Let’s contemplate the story as it unfolds from the viewpoint of Barabbas. He was locked up about a half mile from where Jesus was at. From where he was located, Barabbas could hear the words of the crowd as they shouted their responses in unison.

Imagine living close enough to Yankee Stadium whereby you could hear the chants of the crowd. While you don’t hear the umpires, yet you can easily hear the crowd shouting “let’s go Yankees” or “de-fense”. You can predict what are going on because you can hear the crowds’ woes, boo’s, chants, and their cheering. Now leave Yankee stadium, if you will, and go with me to the jail cell of one, Barabbas.

So, here’s Barabbas- locked up in jail. Now, remember, he could hear the crowds shouting in unison – but he couldn’t hear the governor. He hears the crowds scream:

1.Not this man, but Barabbas; 2.Crucify him, crucify him; 3. We have a law, and by our law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God. If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar’s friend: whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar; 4. Away with him, away with him, crucify him; 5.  His blood be on us, and on our children.

Can you imagine what was going on in the mind of Barabbas? He had been in custody for a long time. He had not seen the face of another common person nor had he had a visitor in years, besides a Roman soldier. By this time, he was accustom to seeing the routine faces of the roman guards. No doubt he thought that the people had betrayed him- after all, he did all of his bad deeds FOR them, right? How dare they turn on him like this? He just heard the death sentence be pronounced on him. This may sound all too familiar, but the crowd that perhaps once supported him was not turning on Barabbas, the son of the fathers, but on Jesus, the Son of God.

Now, imagine the dread and the fear that seized his soul. Imagine what the other prisoners thought or said to their “champion” as they heard the sentence. No doubt a reverent, dreadful silence fell over the place. I imagine that there was a long wait. And then, they heard the footsteps and the keys clinging in the distance- getting closer and louder. They heard the guards returning for Barabbas. For all intents and purposes, they all, including Barabbas, thought Barabbas was going to be summarily executed. But, something happens when the doors are opened to his cell, and the instruments of death tell him that he was free to go. Imagine the fear- yet excitement he felt as the chains and the instruments of his captivity and imprisonment were removed. Then, imagine the solemnity that gripped him when he was told or came to realize that Jesus took his place!

Application: Lets’s consider how many times we chose Barabbas over Jesus in our lives. Let us not forget the significance of the story. In Barabbas’s mind- he was as good as dead. He heard the death sentence. But, Christ took his place. It is entirely possible that Barabbas went on to live a holy life after that. Perhaps, he realized the true meaning of the exchange and sacrifice that Christ made on HIS behalf- and it was enough to turn him around and truly live a life that was worth his dying for.

You may be Barabbas today locked up in the jail cell of your sins. Perhaps you will have diner today, with Barabbas, one that is chained to their own sins. Will you be like the Roman guard that released Barabbas? How you ask. Simple, show a person, a family member, a loved one a friend, a neighbor, your mother, your father, your children, that they have violated God’s Holy Law, His 10 Commandments, and therefore are on death row, deserving of God’s capital punishment, eternity in hell, because they are in bondage to their sins.

This sounds harsh. Does it? Does it not sound harsher, perhaps evil, to let one you say you say you love, die in their sin. We love getting together with family, but that is not what Easter, Resurrection Day is all about. It’s always been about Jesus, his death, his burial, and most importantly HIS RESURRECTION!

Tell your loved one, AFTER YOU HAVE HELPED THEM TO SEE THEIR SIN AND THEIR BONDAGE that Jesus died in their place to set them free. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if today, there were those that repented and put their trust in Jesus Christ. What are you waiting for, you may or may not have tomorrow and the following days to live. If you have not repented, and put your trust in Christ, today is the day. If you have not been a true and faithful witness then when you sit with your family, talk in a side room, be faithful to your Lord.

When you hear give us Barabbas, think, give us, Michael, Andrea, Anthony, my dad, my mom, my children because you desire them to be released but the Son of God, Jesus Christ.

May God richly bless you as you obey,

Until the nets are filled…Blessings, Pastor Phil, and David


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