Who Do You Want Jesus or Barabbas
Who Do You Want Jesus or Barabbas?
I have been following the controversy over Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ with interest, so I was anxious to read Rick Groen’s review of the film Mr. Gibson’s stated goal was to provide an accurate film depiction of the last days of Christ’s life based on the Biblical account. That is why Mr. Groen’s criticisms of the film seem so strange.
Most of the things on Mr. Groen’s "wish list" didn’t happen according to the Biblical account. He faults Mr. Gibson for the manner in which he depicts Jesus as being divine, which is how the Bible portrays Him. He faults Mr. Gibson for portraying Christ’s beatings and Crucifixion as violent and gory, which is no doubt accurate. He faults Mel Gibson for not portraying Christ as weak and vacillating and struggling with His identity, which is not the Christ of the Bible. After reading the review, I came to the conclusion that, as with most works of literature adapted to a movie, if you don’t like the book you probably won’t like the movie either.
This morning I want to share with you the story of Jesus and Barabbas, and this is apparently a very significant story because it is found in all four of the gospels. Its other locations are Matthew 27:15-26, Luke 23:13-25, and John 18:39-40.
The story of Jesus and Barabbas is one of substitution. If you have ever had a substitute teacher in school then you understand what “substitution” means. A substitute teacher is one who takes the place of the regular teacher when he or she is absent. “Substituting” is switching places. When Jesus died on the cross for you and me, He became our substitute. He took our place and died for us. A fellow by the name of Dorman Follow will said, “It was on the cross that Jesus made his substitutionary atonement for us. But it is difficult for each of us to know what substitutionary atonement means for us personally, as a man or woman before God. The only way we can know this is from the vantage point of the guilty criminal sentenced to death . . . Fortunately, our Lord knew how he could engage us in learning about our atonement – he gave us the gift of Barabbas.”
The story we are going to see this morning will help us to gain a greater appreciation of the great sacrifice that Jesus made for you and me.
Mark 15:6-15 (NIV). Now it was the custom at the Feast to release a prisoner whom the people requested. 7 A man called Barabbas was in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising. 8 The crowd came up and asked Pilate to do for them what he usually did. 9 “Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate, 10 knowing it was out of envy that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him. 11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas instead. 12 “What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews?” Pilate asked them. 13 “Crucify him!” they shouted. 14 “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!” 15 Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.
This passage presents a contrast between two men: Jesus the Christ and Barabbas. It has been suggested that both Jesus and Barabbas lived sort of parallel lives, however it is evident from their stories that they were on different ends of the spectrum.
1. Who Was Jesus?
The Scripture is complete with descriptions of Jesus’ purpose. Just look at the book of John, for example. In John 1:1 and 1:14 we discover that Jesus is God, or Lord, and that he came to walk upon the earth in human flesh. In John 1:29, as Jesus was approaching John the Baptist to be baptized, John said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” In John 3:16 Jesus is said to be God’s only begotten Son who gives eternal life to all who believe in him. In John 11:25 Jesus stated of himself, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.” And in John 14:6 Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” Jesus, therefore, came to this earth to take away the sins of the world and to grant eternal life to all people who believe in him. And he did this when he, in human form, died upon the cross and he bore the penalty for our sins. And according to Romans 6:23 the wages for our sins is death. Jesus was able to pay the price for all of our sins because He was God, and He was perfect; He was without sin.
Many people who knew of Jesus viewed his purpose differently, based on their preconceptions. Those who identified Him as the long awaited Messiah thought that he would take the world by force and defeat all of Israel’s enemies like King David did. When Jesus was arrested and then questioned by Pilate, it is as if the Romans feared that Jesus was leading a rebellion. He was questioned as to whether or not he was a Galilean (Luke 23:6), probably because there was a rebel rouser from Galilee at the time called by the name of Judas the Galilean, who had led in a revolt against the Roman Empire (Acts 5:37). In John 18:33 we learn that Pilate questioned Jesus as to whether or not he was the King of the Jews, for there was to be no king other than Caesar. And Jesus replied by saying, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews” (John 18:36). This shows that Jesus knew the Romans were thinking of him as some kind of rebel leader. So, even though Jesus was the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world, to many of the people Jesus was seen as just another rebel rouser.
2. Who Was Barabbas?
In Matthew 27:16 he is called a “notorious prisoner.” John 18:40 says, “Now Barabbas was a robber.” And in Mark 15:7 and Luke 23:18-19 we read that he took part in a rebellion and that he committed murder. I read in one book that Barabbas was a political terrorist and a murderer. He might have even been a Zealot, or a freedom fighter dedicated to getting rid of the despised Roman occupation forces in Judea. So, Barabbas was a rebel rouser. He was viewed the same way as many people saw Jesus. Therefore, when Pilate was practicing the custom of releasing one of the prisoners, presented both Jesus and Barabbas to the people he was basically saying, “Do you want Jesus the rebel rouser or Barabbas the rebel rouser?” You see, many people did not realize that Jesus was not on the same level as Barabbas.
What makes this story even more interesting is when you go back to some of the ancient manuscripts. Michael Cortright states, “According to the United Bible Societies’ text, Matthew 27:17 reads: ‘Whom do you want me to release to you? Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?’” Did you catch that about Jesus Barabbas? Cortright says that several manuscripts support the fact that Barabbas’ name was Jesus Barabbas, but upon translation the name Jesus was deliberately left out for reverential considerations. They did not want the name Jesus used by anyone who was a sinner. During the time Jesus was alive, “Jesus” was a common name, and it was derived from the same word form as the name “Joshua.” Even today you will find many Latin people with the name Jesus. So, Pilate was really asking the people, “Do you want Jesus Christ the rebel rouser or Jesus Barabbas the rebel rouser?”
Most people did not identify the difference between Jesus and Barabbas, but there was something different or they would not have been able to make a choice.
3. What Was Different?
We already know that Jesus was God’s one and only Son who came to take away the sins of the world, but what does that really mean? Some understanding comes in the meaning of these two names; the name Jesus Christ and in the name Jesus Barabbas.
Let’s first look at the name “Jesus Christ.” In the Bible Dictionary I read that the name “Christ” is “the Greek translation of the Hebrew word translated ‘Messiah,’ the official title of our Lord, which denotes that he was anointed or consecrated to his great redemptive work as Prophet, Priest, and King of his people.” Jesus Christ was the Son of the Heavenly Father. Next, let’s look at the name “Jesus Barabbas.” You have probably heard the term “abba” used before in the Bible, and you know that it means “father.” Barabbas, literally means, “Son of a father.” Gerrit Vos says, “Everyone in the world is in this Barabbas. The man born of a human father . . . I think God was thinking of Adam, the first father. He is Adam’s son.” Jesus Barabbas was therefore the son of sin. Jesus was the Son of God and Barabbas was the son of sin.
Therefore, we have Jesus Christ the Son of the heavenly Father, and Jesus Barabbas the son of an earthly father. This is where we find the significance of this story. Let’s focus for a moment on Barabbas. Barabbas represents all of mankind. He is the son of Adam, just as we all are. Adam, the first man, committed the first sin in human history and we have all been trapped in sin ever since. Romans 5:14 tells us that since Adam all people have sinned and are stuck with the consequences of sin, which is death. We are all condemned men, just like Barabbas. Romans 6:23 tells us that the wages, or the consequence, of sin is death, spiritual death which is eternal separation from God.
Barabbas should have been crucified on the cross because he was guilty of many crimes and we should all be destroyed for our sins and our crimes against God because we are guilty of sin. Barabbas was not crucified though, but Jesus, who was an innocent man, was crucified instead. For all of us who believe in Jesus as our Lord are spared from death. Jesus died in our place. His sacrifice on the cross 2000 years ago is still in effect for us to this very today. 1 Corinthians 15:22 says, “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.” The people did not identify any difference between Jesus and Barabbas on a conscious level, but subconsciously they knew that there was a difference and that is the reason why they chose Barabbas. They chose Barabbas because he was one of their own kind, a sinner. Everyone in the crowd who cried out for Barabbas to be released was just as guilty as Barabbas. And we are just as guilty as that crowd who cried out for Jesus’ crucifixion. How is that? It’s because every time we sin we drive the nail into Jesus’ hands or feet. All of mankind is responsible for Jesus’ death on the cross, because it was for our sins that he was slain.
The people in the crowd chose someone just like themselves, for the reason a fellow sinner would not convict them of their wrong doings; Barabbas would not make them feel accountable. Jesus, on the other hand, was perfect, so we read in 1 John 3:5, “He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin.” It was Jesus’ perfect and sinless nature that the people despised, but what they rejected in Jesus was what they needed to save them, because only a perfect person could pay for the sin of all of mankind.
4. So What?
Who do you choose this morning? Do you choose to follow the son of an earthly man, Barabbas, or do you choose to accept Jesus.
I want you to think about how you would have felt had you been standing in the same place as Barabbas. Pretend that you are Barabbas. You know that you committed many crimes and deserve death. You are a condemned man who is without hope, standing next to a completely innocent man. You know that a prisoner is to be released to the crowd, and you know that there is no way that it will be you, but the innocent man standing beside you. Then, the crowd cries out for your release. It is a miracle, you cannot explain, and you probably don’t care to explain it for all you know and care about at that moment is that you are free from the pain and torture of crucifixion. You are given another chance to live.
This is the same thing that happens to us when we believe that Jesus died for our sins and when we confess him as Lord. We are all living in sin and are condemned to death and to be tortured for all eternity in the flames of hell, but we are set free because, Jesus died in our place. Romans 10:9 tells us “That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” And we are saved because Jesus became our substitute when he took our place on the cross.
Jesus was not a victim of society. He came to this world for the purpose of dying on the cross for our sins. He allowed himself to be crucified, even though he could have called down thousands of angels to rescue him. But, because Jesus Christ is God, he knew ahead of time what would surround his trial and crucifixion, and he saw that Barabbas would be released to the crowd instead of him. Jesus allowed himself to be killed instead of Barabbas. So, Jesus died for Barabbas, and Jesus died for us. In Isaiah 53:4-5 it says, “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.”
In 1 Peter 3:18 we are told, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God . . .” Romans 5:6-8. says, “For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (NKJV)
What this says to us is that it is a rare thing that anyone would die for someone else, and if they did it would be because they were trying to save a good person, or someone who is worthy. But, Jesus died for those who are unworthy. He died for the notorious criminal named Barabbas, and he died for the notorious sinner named Dennis McGowan. He died for all of us, and he didn’t expect us to become perfect first. He died for each and every one of us while we are still in our sins, and He will come to us and save us right where we are. We don’t have to get our lives straightened up first before we accept Jesus into our hearts as our Lord and Savior, and when we do he will receive us just as we are.
I want to invite you this morning to come just as you are. Allow Jesus to take your place in death that you might inherit eternal life. Jesus wants to step in and take your place. If you feel the Lord calling you to surrender your life to him, all you have to do is believe that Jesus truly did die for you. Then you must confess that belief before all men in order to show that you are not ashamed of Jesus and the Bible tells us that you will be saved.