“Now it was the custom at the festival to release a prisoner whom the people requested. A man called Barabbas was in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising. The crowd came up and asked Pilate to do for them what he usually did. ‘Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?’ asked Pilate, knowing it was out of self-interest that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas instead. ‘What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews?’ Pilate asked them. ‘Crucify him!’ they shouted. ‘Why? What crime has he committed?’ asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, ‘Crucify him!’ Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.”—Mark 15:6–15 (NIV)
What would you do if you hit the proverbial jackpot and instantly become wealthy? 2,000 years ago, Barabbas hit the jackpot.
Did he win some ancient Roman lottery? In a way. Every year at Passover, Pilate released one prisoner. According to the Cambridge Commentary, “The release of prisoners was usual at certain festivals at Rome.” Why did they do this? Honestly, because when you’re a brutal empire ruling through force, it helps to occasionally throw the people a bone to keep morale up and uprisings down.
In this case, the prisoners presented for pardon were Jesus, the innocent Lamb of God, and Barabbas, an infamous rebel and murderer. It seems like an easy choice, right? Why would anyone want to release Barabbas, a murderer who deserved his death sentence? Why would anyone choose to sentence Jesus to death instead? Even Pilate, the Roman governor, found no guilt in Him and knew the religious leaders were doing this “out of self-interest” and questioned the peoples’ request for Jesus to be crucified. But the crowd chose to release Barabbas and crucify Jesus.
God masterfully painted a picture here for us. Jesus, who was perfect and sinless and had committed no crime, should have gone free, while Barabbas, a notorious criminal, should have been crucified. Thus, Jesus took the punishment that was meant for Barabbas. And guess what? Jesus’ cross was also meant for us! 1 Peter 2:24 (ESV) says, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree.” And 1 Timothy 2:6 (NLT) says, “He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone.”
You see, we’re all guilty. From the moment Adam sinned, our guilt was established and our death sentence handed down, as “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23 NIV). And because that debt needed to be paid, the sentence needed to be carried out.
What a fitting picture this is. As the crowd called for Barabbas’ release and Jesus’ crucifixion, as Jesus took Barabbas’ place on the cross, the criminal was granted his freedom. He was basically given a new life!
But the biggest question for Barabbas after hitting this jackpot became “What will I do with my freedom?” We don’t actually know what Barabbas did. Maybe he went back to his old life of crime and insurrection. Maybe the fact that an innocent man who changed so many lives and healed so many broken and wounded people, who died for him, compelled him to use his freedom to seek God with all his heart. We don’t know and, quite frankly, it’s of little importance. But what is of great importance today is what you do with the freedom Christ died to give you! He was beaten, scorned, and crucified in your place for your sins so you can have freedom from sin and death!
Pause: What are you doing with the freedom Jesus went to the cross to give you?
Practice: If you’ve already received freedom in Christ, spend some time praying that the Lord would help you walk in your freedom and not fall back into bondage to anything. If you’ve never received Jesus and you’re ready to experience that freedom, simply pray and ask Jesus to forgive you of your sins and come into your life as Lord and Savior.
Pray: Father, it is for freedom that You have set me free in Christ. I pray that I may walk in the freedom of Christ and not put myself back into slavery to the world and my own sinful desires. And I pray You would use me to help others know Your freedom and experience it for themselves! Amen.