King of the Jews
He longed for blue sky, fresh air and to be almost anywhere but this place. The stench of the prison was suffocating, made worse only by the continual whimpering of his two cell mates – petty thieves sentenced to die for the offences of being meagre criminals. It was repugnant to him to be in their company – he was a warrior, a leader of freedom fighters, a man of noble deeds. He was captured by the foreign enemy who had invaded his land with the assistance of the local rulers – his own people. He could respect the invaders but felt contempt for the high priests that had bought their positions and maintained their power by appeasing the Romans.
The recent turn of events was devastating. Days ago, he led an army of resistance against the legions, now his comrades, who were still alive, were in chains like him. Had he made a mistake? Was he not the one to lead his people to freedom? Victory for Israel – freedom from Roman bondage and the return to the glory days of King David? Now he was branded as a common criminal, murderer, and an insurrectionist awaiting his death with these two vermin who had wasted their lives thinking only about themselves, stealing for their daily bread “Shut-up, stop your snivelling! Can’t you at least die like men?” he said. “You are no better than us, we will see how strong you are after a few hours on the cross!” said the first thief. The second thief was on his knees quietly praying. “Perhaps God will have mercy upon us”. God can’t save you now, the Romans will have us dead before tomorrow” said the first thief.
The cross! A brutal invention of death that crushed a man’s body and spirit in pain and shame. It was a slow death and there was no lower form of execution. Some of his own men had been killed this way and even its aftermath was horrible to look upon. It had made his blood boil and his combat against Roman soldiers became more vicious, making them suffer before he took their lives.
The creaking scream of the lock opening the rusty cell door sent a chill down his spine – was it time already? “Get up” said the centurion. “Not you rats, the zealot”. Confused, he raised himself to his feet, he thought they would all die together as further humiliation – crucified with common criminals. “This may be your lucky day rebel; Pilate is looking to dispense mercy”. Pilate – the Roman governor of Judea, the ultimate authority over the death sentence. As he ascended the stairs, the air became fresh again and he saw daylight. “Almost worth dying for” he joked to himself. As the continued upwards the sound of a screaming crowd was increasing in volume. When they reached the courtyard the scene before him felt insane – there was a sea of faces contorted in violence, desperate with blood lust. To his right stood Jesus of Nazareth a bloody circle of thorns stuck in his skull, in chains but his eyes were at peace without fear or anger. Jesus – he knew this man, had heard him speak; he could mobilize huge crowds of followers, he taught of love and kingdom not of this world. Barabbas had asked Jesus to join forces with him against the Romans. Jesus had said, “He who lives by the sword, will die by the sword: From what Barabbas had witnessed of Jesus’ miracles he could easily escape this situation, why did he remain?
Therefore, when they had gathered together, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release to you? Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” For he knew that because of envy they had delivered Him. While he was sitting on the judgement seat, his wife sent to him, saying. “Have nothing to do with that just Man, for I have suffered many things today in a dream because of Him.” But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitudes that they should ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus. The governor answered and said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” they said Barabbas!” Pilate said to them, “What then shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said to him, “Let Him be crucified!” Then the governor said, “Why, what evil has He done?” But they cried out all the more saying, “Let Him be crucified!” When Pilate saw that he could not prevail at all, but rather a tumult was rising, he took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, “I am innocent of the blood of this just Person. You see to it.” And all the people answered and said, “His blood be on us and on our children.” Then he released Barabbas to them, and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered Him to be crucified. Mathew 27 vs: 17-26 NKJ
Barabbas’ mind was reeling with everything that surrounded him, the tumult of the frantic mob and the dejected Pilate whose power had been circumvented by the people’s desire for death. He barely noticed the chains being removed from him. His life had been spared, he was free, because an innocent man was being sacrificed in his place. His eyes met with Jesus’ who although his body was beaten and bloodied seemed at peace and for a moment everything was still and nothing seemed to matter but his connection with this man. Somehow Barabbas know that his freedom was a gift and for that purpose Jesus had been born into this world, to free human kind from death, sin and the power of the devil. Jesus gave this freely and willingly and it was available to all. When the reality of his surroundings returned, he longed for that moment to be extended to an eternity, but the soldiers had taken Jesus away.
The crucifixion was as ghastly as any the Romans could muster with many supernatural events that left no doubt that a spiritual battle was taking place. Barabbas saw his two cellmates on either side of Jesus; one was reeling in agony, the other, who was talking to Jesus seemed to be at peace. His former contempt for them was gone, he was no better than them and still his life was spared. At the foot of the cross, soldiers cast lots for Jesus’ possessions. Barabbas felt an urge to attack them with his sword but an invisible force kept him in place. “He who lives buy the sword will die by the sword” Barabbas was no longer the warrior he had been yesterday, he was a changed man, given a second chance – How was he going to use it?
“Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift” 2 Corinthians 9:15 (NIV)
Lord, we thank you for Your gifts to us. By Your grace, you offer us the riches of heaven. Thank you that when we meet with You and walk in Your ways, we are never the same again. Perhaps that change is the greatest gift of all! Amen