Note: Devotion taken from sermon on Sunday, May 28, 2023.
Matthew 27:15 Now at that feast the governor was wont to release unto the people a prisoner, whom they would.
16 And they had then a notable prisoner, called Barabbas.
17 Therefore when they were gathered together, Pilate said unto them, Whom will ye that I release unto you? Barabbas, or Jesus which is called Christ.
The Passover was a festival of liberation, remembering how the Israelites had been set free from their bondage in Egypt by their savior Moses. So, the release of a prisoner at this time seemed a fitting custom.
Even Pilate, a battle-hardened soldier known for his personal cruelty and ruthlessness, could clearly see that the Lord Jesus posed no threat to the common good. This custom seemed to pose the perfect opportunity, the perfect loophole, to arrange the release of Christ from the penalty of death. Surely the people would choose to free Jesus rather than another prisoner he held named Barabbas.
He is mentioned in all four Gospels (cf. Mark 15:6-15; Luke 23:13-25; and John 18:39-40), and we learn more of him in the other accounts:
Mark 15:7 says, “And there was one named Barabbas, which lay bound with them that had made insurrection with him, who had committed murder in the insurrection.”
Luke 23:19 says of him, “(Who for a certain sedition made in the city, and for murder, was cast into prison.)”
John says simply in John 18:40b, “Now Barabbas was a robber.”
Even his name is spiritually significant. Barabbas is an Aramaic or Semitic name, composed of two words.
First, there is the word Bar, which means “son.” Peter was known as “Simon Bar-jonah” or “Son of Jonah” (Matthew 16:17). Maybe you’ve heard of the contemporary Jewish practice of a Bar mitzvah, when a Jewish boy is made a “Son of the covenant.”
Second, there is word abbas, which comes from the word abba, which means “Father.” Mark tells us that when Christ was praying in Gethsemane he cried out “Abba, Father” (Mark 14:36).
So, Jesus is the Son of God, and Barabbas means “Son of the Father.”
In the end the people chose to release Barabbas (v. 21: “They said Barabbas”). We see in v. 26a Pilate’s final decision: “Then released he Barabbas unto them.”
We cannot overlook the spiritual depths of this decision. The just and sinless man, the Lord Jesus Christ, would go to the cross, while the sinful and guilty man, Barabbas, would be set free.
It pictures for us what will happen writ large on the cross. It pictures what the theologians call the penal substitutionary death of Christ on the cross.
We are all Barabbas. We were guilty sinners, deserving of God’s wrath, and we were set free, while Christ, the sinless and just man, died in our place. In Romans 5:8 Paul says, “But commendeth his love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
Let us grasp hold anew today to the depths of the salvation that is in Christ.
Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle