We are Barrabas
April 2, 2021
“We are Barabbas,” Good Friday, 2021
As you might have noticed, this evening’s service is a bit different than how we traditionally perform our services. Pastor Jesse made the recommendation some weeks ago that we should have a “Silent Service” for this Good Friday. The thinking behind our decision to make it a silent service is related to what the author of Ecclesiastes says, when he writes,
The author of Ecclesiastes says this,
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven. For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.
The author then lists several different seasons of life. One particular season involves this situation.
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.
In life in general and in the life of the church specifically, we have various seasons, experiences, and times. Sometimes we will have, as the biblical text states, a time to weep. Other times we will have the opportunity to laugh. Sometimes will have the experience of mourning, and at other times we will dance for joy. Life has seasons.
In light of this truth, we wanted this service to be a time of sober reflection, silence, and contemplation. We want the mood this evening to be somber. It is on this day that we remember and reflect on the death of the Lord Jesus Christ. We refer to this day as “Good Friday.” It is good in some sense in that it is in the death of Jesus Christ that we find forgiveness, grace, and mercy. That is all true. But it is also not good. Today in some sense is not a good day. Let me explain.
It is on this day that we remember the death of the blameless, sinless, perfect, spotless, God-man Jesus Christ. It is on this day that we remember the utter magnitude of our sin. It is on this day where we reflect on the fact that it is our sin, it is my sin, it is your sin that led the Lord Jesus Christ to the cross. On this day we remember that we like the disciples have deserted our Lord. Like Israel, we all like sheep have strayed. And it is upon the suffering servant, the spotless Lamb of God, on whom the Father has laid the iniquity of us all. This day is a scandal. The scandal of all scandals. The betrayals of all betrayals. The evil of all evil. God incarnate is crucified. He is torn to pieces by the men who he created. Today we remember and reflect on the pain, the misery, the torture our Lord underwent for us. And he did this for us, dear friend. It was our sin that hung him on that tree. He died because of us and for us. He suffered for us. On Good Friday, we celebrate the saddest day in history.
In light of this reality, this truth, I’d like us to explore this evening a passage of Holy Scripture where this idea is shown vividly. Turn with me to Mark 15:6. We will read together through v. 15. This is what the Word of our Lord says,
During the feast it was customary to release one prisoner to the people, whomever they requested. A man named Barabbas was imprisoned with rebels who had committed murder during an insurrection. Then the crowd came up and began to ask Pilate to release a prisoner for them, as was his custom. So Pilate asked them, “Do you want me to release the king of the Jews for you?” (For he knew that the chief priests had handed him over because of envy.) But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas instead. So Pilate spoke to them again, “Then what do you want me to do with the one you call king of the Jews?” They shouted back, “Crucify him!” Pilate asked them, “Why? What has he done wrong?” But they shouted more insistently, “Crucify him!” Because he wanted to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas for them. Then, after he had Jesus flogged, he handed him over to be crucified.
The story that we have here is a famous one. Prior to his cruficiction, the Lord Jesus was put on trial. This trial was a farce. He never did anything wrong. Nonetheless, the Father had a will for his Son to die for our sins. And Jesus trial had divine intent. Part of his trial involved this story that we have here. In this story, we have a beautiful picture of the gospel. We have a sober and real representation on what happened on this day, the day that Jesus died. We have a sober picture of who we are and who Christ is. Let’s talk about the characters in this story. There are four.
Pilate is one of the characters. He is the political leader who lacks a backbone. He knows that what the Lord Jesus has done nothing to deserve the crucifixion. Yet, nevertheless, out of his desire for political points and expediency, he delivers the Lord Jesus Christ to be crucified. His main motive is to keep the crowd happy. To please them. He acquiesces to their demands, lacks courage, and delivers the Son of God over to suffer the horrific Roman execution of the cross.
The crowd is another character. This crowd is consists of religious leaders and unidentified persons, most likely Jewish people. The Jews needed the Romans to crucify Jesus. The Jews leaders to not have the authority to kill Jesus, but they did have the power of persuastion. They handed Jesus over to the Romans to be tried by them. And they persuaded Pilate, the Roman leader, to have Jesus killed by means of their persuasion. The crowd here is pictured as hell-bent to have a murderer released, Barabbas, at the expense of the spotless Son of God. The crowd is blood thirsty. A twisted and depraved picture of humanity.
The next character is Jesus. In this passage, the Lord Jesus fulfills what Isa 53:7 foretold of our Lord.
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.
This is Jesus. The lamb of God, who provides no defense, but who entrusts himself to his heavenly Father who judges justly.
The last character is Barabbas. We are told this of this man,
A man named Barabbas was imprisoned with rebels who had committed murder during an insurrection.
We don’t know much about Barabbas, but we know he was a crook, an anarchist, a murderer. He had blood on his hands. This man was not innocent. He was the worst of the worst. From a Roman perspective, he sought to overthrow the empire. And, yet, he gets off the hook. He is free to go.
Based upon this survey, who do we identify with? In some ways, we identify with all of the characters, except the Lord Jesus. Like Pilate, we seek to please people at the expense of pursuing righteousness, at the expense of honor God. Like the crowd, we can be held-bent on pursuing the harm of others. We wish others harm and sometimes pursue harming others. This is true. But I don’t want to locate our identity in Pilate or the crowd. Instead, I want to locate our identity in Barabbas. Focusing on Barabbas brings out the tragedy of this day, Good Friday.
Like Barabbas, we are wicked. In our nature, who we are without the grace of God in our lives, we are evil. I am not parsing words here. There’s nothing to nuance. The Bible says that we are born with a sinful nature. To understand this passage, to understand the gravity and the worth of Jesus Christ, we must see the wretchedness of Barabbas. To understand and appreciate the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, we have to see that we are Barabbas. We might look at Barabbas and say, “Well I haven’t murdered anyone.” That’s true. But this is also tur. Psalm 130:3 says this,
If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?
What’s that mean? It means this: If God were to keep track of sin, if he to not treat us graciously, who can enter into his presence? The answer is no one. We all like sheep have gone astray. Yes, we are in some ways different than Barabbas. That is true. But we are more similar than we are disalike. We too are insurrectionists against God almighty. We do deserve what Barabbas deserved—punishment for our iniquity.
Like Barabbas, we receive grace, whereas Jesus receives judgment. In the story, there is the notion of exchange and substitution. Justice must be delivered. Pilate makes that clear. There are two people in this story—one guilty, Barabbas, one righteous, Jesus Christ. One must pay the punishment, the penalty. The other get to walk free. In this story, it is the wicked who received forgiveness and redemption from the penalty. Also in this story, it is the righteous who is punished and killed. Here we have a picture of substitution—the righteous for the guilty, the holy for the defiled, the Son of God for an insurrectionist murderer, Jesus for Barabbas, Jesus for us.
Bringing these two points together. We see this. This story is not just about Barabbas and Jesus. This isn’t just a history lesson that Mark has recorded for us. Rather, this story is a mirror to ourselves. That’s what all of Scripture is. Scripture is a mirror. By reading it and studying it, we see ourselves. By reading about Barabbas, we see that we are him. Like him, we have thought, said, and done acts of evil. We are divine insurrectionist. In our sin, we have sought to undermine God’s reign and rule. But Jesus saves sinners like you and me. Like he did with Barabbas, so also he does with us. Yes, we are guilty. Tremendously so. But he takes our place. He dies our death. He bears our punishment. He suffers our guilt. He is our substitute. By the grace of God, there is an exchange—Jesus for Barabbas, the holy for the wicked, Jesus for us.
As we leave this morning, myself, Bob Hofer, Joel Jundt, and Randy Hofeldt will pass out nails to you as you leave. This nails are supposed to bring these two ideas to your mind. One that we are Barabbas. Two that Jesus has died in our place.