+ Good Friday – March 30th, 2018 +
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Most of us have a favorite book, movie, TV show, or song we love to read, watch, or listen again and again. Why? Many reasons. But one important reason is that the more often we read, hear, or watch something, the more we notice details we hadn’t seen before.
Holy Week and the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ trial, crucifixion, and resurrection are no different.
We read the same story every year. Like monarch butterflies, we have an annual migration to Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, our source of life.
We know how the story goes. Jesus enters Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to palm branches waving as the streets echo with joy: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest! Jesus cleanses the temple and teaches his disciples. Jesus celebrates the Passover with his disciples and makes a new and greater Passover in his body and blood in the Lord’s Supper. Jesus prays in Gethsemane, is betrayed, arrested, and tried by the religious authorities. Jesus goes to Pilate, to Herod, and back to Pilate again. Jesus is mocked, beaten, and crucified.
In each of the Gospels, the gravity of Holy Week draws us in. Everything in Scripture flows into or out of this week and all that Jesus says and does for you. This is the greatest week in all history. The Great Week of our salvation. Every detail is important. Every word and name are there for a reason.
You have a custom, Pilate says to the chief priests and the crowds, that I should release one man for you at the Passover. So do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews? But the crowds cried out again: Not this man, but Barabbas.
Here we are in Holy Week, in the middle of Jesus’ trial before Pilate, and everyone and everything seems to be focused on Jesus. All the familiar characters of this story are there: Pilate, the chief priests, the crowds, and Jesus. But then the Gospels introduce a new character into the story, a name that sticks out.
Who is this guy, Barabbas? All four Gospels mention him by name. He’s not one of Jesus’ disciples. He’s not a sympathetic member of the religious council like Nicodemus or Joseph of Arimathea.
Who is Barabbas?
Matthew calls him a notorious criminal. John says he was a robber, or an insurrectionist depending on the translation. Mark and Luke both identify him as a prisoner from among a group of rebels who had committed murder in Jerusalem during an uprising against Rome.
Who is Barabbas?
He’s a criminal. Rebel. Murderer. So, why does this criminal, thief, thug, and murderer get his name next to Jesus in this, the greatest week in history?
Even Pilate gets it. “What evil has he done? I find no guilt in him”, he says pointing to Jesus.
Do you see the irony, the contrast between these two prisoners? Do you see how upside down this is?
Barabbas is the rightful prisoner. Barabbas belongs on death row. He’s the bad guy. He’s a rebel. Thug. Crook. Murderer. He deserves the guilty sentence. He deserves the chains. He deserves punishment. He deserves crucifixion.
Who do you want for me to release to you? Away with this man, and release to us Barabbas. Give us Barabbas.
Pilate’s soldiers approach Barabbas. They release his chains. He goes free. We know nothing of what happened to Barabbas next. Whatever he did, it seems likely that he didn’t know, and perhaps didn’t care who Jesus was. Like the other 9 lepers, it appears that he didn’t bother thank Jesus for sparing his life. But that’s ok. Jesus isn’t there to be served but to serve and give life as a ransom, for Barabbas, and for you, and for me.
Just a few hours earlier Jesus had prayed, Father if it be your will let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done. It was the Father’s will for Jesus to be treated like Barabbas, so that Barabbas (and us) could be treated like Jesus.
It wasn’t Pilate or the people who saved Barabbas. It was God’s love for sinners in his Son Jesus that saved him and saves you too.
Who is Barabbas?
We are Barabbas.
We are the crooks, the rebels, the murderers, liars, slanderers, betrayers, adulterers. We deserve the guilty sentence. We deserve the chains. We deserve punishment. We deserve death.
But God shows his love for us in this, that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Jesus stood next to Pilate and took Barabbas’ place, our place too; the innocent for the guilty. Jesus became the criminal to set us free. Jesus became the murderer to save us. Jesus became the guilty one to declare us innocent. Jesus took our death to give us life. God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us.
Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows. He was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and by his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; We are all Barabbas. And the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
“Take me, instead,” Jesus declares. “I find no guilt in you. You are free. You are innocent. For this purpose I have come into the world. To die for you. To rise for you. To save you and give you life. Behold my cross. My life is yours. My righteousness is yours. My grace is yours. My body broken for you. My blood is shed for you. It is finished. For you. “
A blessed Good Friday to each of you…