Print This Page Print This Page

I AM ‘BARABBAS’ – Mark 15:6-15

Posted by Pastor Greg Allen on July 23, 2017 under 2017 |

Preached Sunday, July 23, 2017 from Mark 15:6-15

Theme: The story Barabbas shows us how Jesus is the Substitute for sinners on the cross.

(Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version; copyright 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc.)

It may be seem like a very controversial and provocative thing do; but I want to begin our time this morning by declaring that I identify with a man named Barabbas.

Folks who know the Bible, or who were raised on its stories—and particularly those who know full well who Barabbas was—might think that that’s a horrible thing to say. Barabbas is often remembered as a notorious sinner in the story of our Lord. And for me—as a preacher—to say that I identify with someone like him could sound shocking to some. But I do identify with him—and I do so precisely because he was a notorious sinner.

His place in the story of the Gospel makes me want to say—in a very carefully qualified way—that I am ‘Barabbas.’ And I am even hoping that, after our look at his story in the Gospel of Mark, you’ll be willing to say that you are ‘Barabbas’ as well.

* * * * * * * * * *

Now; there’s not much we can know for certain about this man Barabbas. He is mentioned in all four of the Gospels; but he is mentioned only briefly—and he then disappears from history as quickly as he came in. And yet, from what little we can know, let me tell you a few things about him.

The name by which we know him (that is ‘Barabbas’) was not actually his true name. The name ‘Barabbas’ means ‘Son of Abbas’; which itself can be translated, ‘Son of A Man’. So, we really only know him by the name of his father; and it may be that we really really aren’t even given the name of his father. This man’s name, it seems, was veiled; and that was perhaps because of his villainy.

At the time of Jesus’ trial before Pilate, this man called Barabbas was a prisoner of the Roman authorities; kept in custody nearby. Matthew’s Gospel calls him “a notorious prisoner” (Matthew 27:16); which suggests that he was a rather well-known and significant prisoner—one that the Romans were probably very glad that they had caught. John’s Gospel tells us that he was “a robber” (John 18:40), which speaks of his character. But it is obvious that he was being held for more than mere robbery, because he was destined to be executed. Luke’s Gospel tells us that he was kept in prison “for a certain rebellion made in the city, and for murder” (Luke 23:19); the ‘rebellion’ most likely being that hostile and violent ‘Zealot’ movement that sought to overthrow the occupying Roman government in Jerusalem and cast the Romans out. And when we come to our passage in Mark 15 this morning, we find that he was chained together with other fellow-rebels; so it may be that he was something of a ring-leader in this hostile rebel movement.

This man Barabbas, then, was a pretty bad guy. He was, from the standpoint of Rome, a dangerous, unscrupulous, murderous terrorist. He was scheduled for execution; and given Rome’s attitude toward such criminals, it would most likely be that the form of execution they had planned for him would have been public crucifixion. The Roman governor Pontius Pilate had given the order for at least two other crucifixions to be carried out that morning; and it may be that Barabbas was on the list to be the third.

And that brings us to our story in the Gospel of Mark. Mark 15:1-5 tells us of how the Lord Jesus—after having been arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane—had been brought by chief priests and scribes and elders to stand before the governor Pilate. They accused Him before Pilate of saying that He was ‘a King’; and they requested that He be put to death. But Pilate, upon examination, could find no wrong in Jesus. And then, verses 6-15 go on to tell us of Pilate’s response to their request;

Now at the feast he was accustomed to releasing one prisoner to them, whomever they requested. And there was one named Barabbas, who was chained with his fellow rebels; they had committed murder in the rebellion. Then the multitude, crying aloud, began to ask him to do just as he had always done for them. But Pilate answered them, saying, “Do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?” For he knew that the chief priests had handed Him over because of envy. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd, so that he should rather release Barabbas to them. Pilate answered and said to them again, “What then do you want me to do with Him whom you call the King of the Jews?” So they cried out again, “Crucify Him!” Then Pilate said to them, “Why, what evil has He done?” But they cried out all the more, “Crucify Him!” So Pilate, wanting to gratify the crowd, released Barabbas to them; and he delivered Jesus, after he had scourged Him, to be crucified (Mark 15:6-15).

Now; why would I propose to you that I identify with such a man as this man Barabbas?—this notorious condemned criminal? How could it be that anyone would want to be identified with such a man as him? Well; it’s true that he was a sinner who deserved to executed. In fact, he deserved to die the horrible and shameful death of crucifixion. But by the end of that morning, he walked away a free man—and that was because Someone else took his place on the cross.

And I can sure identify with that!

* * * * * * * * * *

Now; I don’t know if all of these things had impacted the heart of Barabbas. I don’t know if he became a transformed man after this event. We don’t know anything more about his story from this point on. But I can tell you a thing or two about my story—and yours also.

You and I—like Barabbas—are sinners. It may not be that we have sinned in precisely the same way as Barabbas did. But like him, we are criminals before God. We are, in point of fact, ‘robbers’; because as creations of God, we are obligated to whole-heartedly worship and faithfully obey our Creator—owing to Him all that we are and have and can do; but we have withheld from Him what we owe Him. We’ve robbed Him of His glory; and have refused to acknowledge Him and give Him the thanks that is due Him; and we have taken the good things that He has graciously given us and have used them for our own sinful pleasure or for the harm of others or for the worship of other things than Him. Our acts of robbery don’t just involve material things of temporal value; bur rather are of things that are spiritual, and that are of eternal value! What robbers you and I are!—truly robbers of the worst kind!

And like Barabbas, we are also rebels. We have known God’s good commandments; but we have refused to obey them. We have repeatedly and willfully put our feet into the places that He has said not to go; and have even, at times, defied Him in our doing so. We have refused to submit to His rightful lordship over us, as our Creator, in the things that we do; and we have arrogantly declared ourselves to be ‘autonomous’ of His authority. What’s more, we have expanded that rebellion past Him and have even rebelled against those authority figures He has placed over us—whether they were parental authorities, or governmental, or civil, or vocational. The Bible tells us that “rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft” (1 Samuel 15:23); and this means that, as rebels, we stand very guilty before a holy God. If your and my hearts were fully exposed, what rebels they would show us to be!

And also like Barabbas, we are murderers. It may be that we have never actually taken it in hand to literally slay someone; but it is certainly true that we have many times wished in our hearts that we could do so; and have even imagined in our minds how we would do so. We have hated others, and have spoken evil of them, and have sought to cut them down with our words, and humiliate them, and lower them beneath ourselves, and—to some degree—take a portion away from their lives. Jesus Himself once said that to even be angry with someone without a cause, or to insult someone with a derisive name, or to call them a fool, is to put ourselves in danger of hell fire for the crime of murder. And that makes us all—in some way or another; to one degree or another—murderers who stand guilty in the sight of God.

If we looked at this man Barabbas all by himself, you and I might get away with thinking that we’re not so bad. But if we would just look over the Ten Commandments of God honestly, we’d soon realize that we are every bit a sinner as he was. And if the translation of this man’s supposed nickname—’Son of A Man’—is accurate, and if it is taken at face value, then we are even ‘Barabbas’ in name; because we are all sons and daughters of a man named Adam; and we are all under the judicial curse of sin that he brought upon our race. We all stand guilty before God for sin—bearing both the guilt that Adam has passed on to us because of his sin in the Garden of Eden, and the guilt of our own sins that we have committed since his time.

The Bible tells us that, before a holy God, the wages of sin is death. We are very much like Barabbas then in that we are worthy of death—just as he was. But as the apostle Paul put it in Romans 5:6-8;

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 (Romans 5:6-8).

And so, I declare that I am like Barabbas in that respect too; because Jesus—lovingly, graciously, obediently, willingly—took my place on the cross and died for me. He was my sinless Substitute on the cross; and because of Him, I now walk free.

I believe that all of this is illustrated to us—in a remarkable way—in the story of Barabbas as we find in Mark 15:6-15. And as we look at it together, my hope is that you’ll be able to say with me—and with full sincerity of heart to God—“I also am ‘Barabbas’. I accept the sinless Son of God, Jesus, to be my Substitute on the cross too!”

* * * * * * * * * *

Now; Mark’s words begin in this morning’s passage by telling us about the Roman governor Pontius Pilate during the trial of our Lord. And to understand Pilate’s viewpoint, you have to appreciate the conclusion that he had come to about this Man named Jesus. If you were to turn to the 23rd chapter of the Gospel of Luke; you’d find Pilate saying this to the chief priests and elders of the people:

You have brought this Man to me, as one who misleads the people. And indeed, having examined Him in your presence, I have found no fault in this Man concerning those things of which you accuse Him; no, neither did Herod, for I sent you back to him; and indeed nothing deserving of death has been done by Him. I will therefore chastise Him and release Him” (Luke 23:14-16).

So, there we have Pilate’s official testimony concerning Jesus: He declared that Jesus was an innocent Man. He was not guilty of any of the things that the chief priests and elders were saying that He had done. In fact, Pilate says that both he and King Herod—upon examination of Jesus—found “no fault” in Him. It was Pilate’s intention, then, to throw something of a conciliatory ‘bone’ to the accusers of Jesus and to ‘chasten’ Him; but then, afterward, to release Him.

But then, a seemingly-convenient ‘way out’ came to Pilate. He had a tradition; and it was yet another official Roman ‘bone’ to throw to the occupied Jewish people. As a way of keeping some kind of peace with the Jewish community, he would—every Passover—release a prisoner to them; whoever it may be that they wanted. And so; Mark tells us, in Mark 15:6-9;

Now at the feast he was accustomed to releasing one prisoner to them, whomever they requested. And there was one named Barabbas, who was chained with his fellow rebels; they had committed murder in the rebellion. Then the multitude, crying aloud, began to ask him to do just as he had always done for them. But Pilate answered them, saying, “Do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?” (Mark 15:6-9).

This is where Mark introduces us to this man named Barabbas. And you can be sure; Pilate had no desire whatsoever of releasing him! He was a notorious criminal—a danger to the peaceful rule that Rome was seeking to establish over Jerusalem! Barabbas would be the very last person that Pilate would want to set free! And so, when the people began again to demand of him that he do as he had always done for them every Passover and to release a prisoner to them, his first impulse was to offer to release Jesus to them—whom he, with perhaps a bit of sarcasm, called “the King of the Jews”.

And may I suggest to you that we here learn something of Jesus as our Substitute on the cross? Even according to the testimony of Pilate, Jesus had ‘no fault’. He was innocent. If Pilate had been faithful to the standards of true justice, He would have had to release Jesus—and to not even ‘chastise’ Him. The whole life and ministry of Jesus bore testimony to the fact that He was the sinless Son of God in human flesh, and that there was no sin in Him whatsoever. His reputation was that He only went about doing good. And even when His followers tried to fight against the authorities on His behalf, He would not allow them to do so. In fact, more than just never having sinned, He kept the commandments of His Father perfectly and without fail.

And if we are truly are like Barabbas, then we too need such a sinless Substitute to die in our place. If the wages of sin truly is death, and if Someone must die in our place, then that Substitute must have no sin of His own. It would be essential that He be a Substitute who had obeyed God perfectly. And praise to God the Father!—the Bible tells us this about His gift of His Son on the cross for us:

For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21).

If such a sinless Substitute as Jesus died on the cross in Barabbas’ place, then I am very glad to be identified with Barabbas!

* * * * * * * * * * *

Now; Pilate was a very shrewd man. He knew what was going on. He had made the suggestion that Jesus be released; because he knew that Jesus had been brought to him on trumped-up charges. Mark tells us, “For he knew that the chief priests had handed Him over because of envy” (v. 10). And when you look at what the other Gospels tell us about this story, you find that Pilate did something different than what he ordinarily did. Rather than allow the Jewish people to name the prisoner they wanted released, he allowed the people to choose one from out of only two options: either Jesus or Barabbas. Surely, he thought, they wouldn’t want that criminal Barabbas running in their streets again! Surely they would choose Jesus—who Pilate and declared innocent; and who, by this point, Pilate desperately wanted to be relieved of.

What a shock it must have been to the governor, though, when the people refused to pick Jesus! Mark tells us in verse 11, “But the chief priests stirred up the crowd, so that he should rather release Barabbas to them.” And dear brothers and sisters in Christ; we need to recognize that even that turn of events was of God.

Behind all of the things that were happening in this passage was the sovereign hand of God the Father. Later on, in his great sermon after Pentecost, the apostle Peter—preaching in the power of the Holy Spirit—told many of these very same people;

“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know—Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it” (Acts 2:22-24).

It was “by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God” that the priesthood demanded that Barabbas be released instead of Jesus; and that Jesus be crucified. The priests were, after all, the custodians of the atoning sacrifices offered to God for the people; and unwittingly—by the sovereign hand of God—they were offering Jesus as the sinless Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

It was the Lamb of God who died in Barabbas’ place—and according to the sovereign purpose of God. And if that’s the case, then you can call me ‘Barabbas’!

* * * * * * * * * *

Now; all of this had taken Pilate by surprise. The other Gospels tell us that as Pilate investigated Jesus further, he became more and more afraid of Him. One of the Gospels even tells us that Pilate’s wife sent word to him while he sat in the judgment seat and said, “Have nothing to do with that just Man, for I have suffered many things today in a dream because of Him” (Matthew 27:19).

And yet, the crowds had been worked up into a fury by the chief priests; and as fickle crowds will do, even those who had a few days before been praising Jesus were now demanding that He—instead of Barabbas—be crucified. They had been expecting that He would be a conquering ‘military’ Messiah; and He had disappointed their fleshly-focused expectations. Mark goes on to tell us;

Pilate answered and said to them again, “What then do you want me to do with Him whom you call the King of the Jews?” So they cried out again, “Crucify Him!” Then Pilate said to them, “Why, what evil has He done?” But they cried out all the more, “Crucify Him!” (vv. 12-14).

The crowd was becoming intent on committing the very crime that Barabbas stood guilty of—that of murder. O, how this sin-loving world hates our Savior! The apostle Peter spoke of this too, not long after Jesus was raised from the dead. He told his fellow Jewish people;

The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified His Servant Jesus, whom you delivered up and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to let Him go. But you denied the Holy One and the Just, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and killed the Prince of life, whom God raised from the dead, of which we are witnesses (Acts 3:13-15).

But what a wonderful thing! They asked for a murderer and killed the Prince of life in his place; and then, God victoriously raised the Prince of life from the dead to prove that He was satisfied with Jesus’ atonement for us! Peter went on to preach to make this appeal to them;

Yet now, brethren, I know that you did it in ignorance, as did also your rulers. But those things which God foretold by the mouth of all His prophets, that the Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled. Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that He may send Jesus Christ, who was preached to you before, whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began (vv. 17-21).

A couple of thousand Jewish people believed on Jesus that day and were saved—many of whom where among those who had previously—in our passage—shouted that He be crucified. I wonder if Barabbas could have been there in the crowd to have heard those words from Peter on that future day. I wonder if he could have been among those who believed.

* * * * * * * * * *

We’re not told what became of Barabbas after this. And perhaps its best that we aren’t told. He best stands in that way as a representation of all the people of this world; for whom God made Him who knew no sin to be sin; so that they might be the righteousness of God in Him if they will choose to believe in Him.

Whatever it may have been that happened in Barabbas’ heart, though, this passage closes with these words;

So Pilate, wanting to gratify the crowd, released Barabbas to them; and he delivered Jesus, after he had scourged Him, to be crucified (v. 15).

Pilate was a weak leader who was ruled by fear of the people. The chief priests were envious of Jesus and sought His death. The people were easily manipulated and made to prefer a criminal over the Son of God. And as for Barabbas, he was the sinner who was worthy of dying a horrible death on the cross—but for whom the sinless Son of God became the Substitute.

I believe we cannot be saved unless we are willing, in that respect, to be identified with Barabbas. So I humbly declare that I—a sinner—am ‘Barabbas’ and accept that Jesus died in my place.

Will you declare it too?

  • Share/Bookmark
Site based on the Ministry Theme by eGrace Creative.