Deep in a dank Roman prison a criminal awaits justice. He has been tried and found guilty. There were multiple witnesses.
“Murderer! Murderer!” He would forever hear the crowd screaming. Thankfully he had not long to live in the torment. The guilt and remorse were tearing at him. He hardened his heart. He would no longer feel emotion.
He had no sense of time, but he knew that the execution had to be in the next twelve hours or so. His hands got clammy. A cold sweat broke out on his forehead and his mouth went dry. A Roman cross was his fate. He had killed a Roman citizen. The Roman’s dealt harshly with murderers.
He heard the guard coming. Not yet! It was too soon. What was happening?
The keys rattle in the door and the guard enters. He has a mean look about him. Or maybe that is just how all Roman guards are.
Roughly jerked to his feet by his own chains, he moans in pain. Where are they taking him? The courtyard, not another beating! He isn’t sure that he could live through another like the last one.
The guard pushes him ahead, down the corridor and up the stone stairway. The blinding sunshine hits his face, leaving the darkness of the prison behind. They come to the courtyard. His pulse starts to race.
Why are there so many people? The courtyard is jammed full. This isn’t just a crowd. This is a mob! And they are angry.
Why? He wonders.
“Crucify him! Crucify him!” Barabbas’ heart pounds even harder. He is already on death row. Why are they again demanding that he be crucified? As his vision clears he sees a man standing before the judgment seat. He has seen this man before.
Jesus, the Nazarene, stands before Pilate, the Roman governor. What has he done? Barabbas begins looking around. He recognizes the Jewish leaders standing with Jesus. He begins to understand. Jewish justice will not crucify this man, but Roman cruelty will. The Jewish leaders are trying to convince the governor that this man is worthy of death.
Pilate stands. The crowd hushes.
“It is my custom that I release one prisoner to you at the feast. Which would you prefer? Barabbas, or Jesus, who is called the Christ? Which of the two do you want me to release to you? ”
Barabbas is stunned. It is between him and this Jesus who will live and who will die a horrendous death this day. He can’t breathe.
“We want Barabbas!” the crowd erupts. Barabbas can’t believe what is happening. Will he be freed? What has this man done that would make the people hate him this much?
“What shall I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?”
“Crucify him!” the crowd turns unreasonable. The governor has just referred to this Man as their Messiah, making Him their Savior. They become angry and unruly
“What has he done to be deserving of death?” Pilate wants nothing to do with this.
“CRUCIFY HIM!” the mob is getting out of hand.
Pilate signals the guard. “You have been freed. You will not pay for the crime you committed.” The guard removes Barabbas’ chains and shoves him away, glowering down at him.
He puts them on the other Man. His hands and feet never felt so light. He chances a glance at the other Man. Expecting anger and hatred, their eyes meet. They hold. Barabbas looks away. Who is this Man?
He sees no anger. He sees no hate. It was the look of his father when he had been hurt as a child, compassion and kindness.
The soldiers lead Jesus away. The mob follows. Barabbas can’t move. Twenty minutes before he had no hope. He was a murderer on death row. Now he is free, acquitted of his offense.
He follows behind numbly, not knowing where else to go. He witnesses a beating more brutal than he had received. Thirty-nine blows with a cat-of-nine-tales. The Romans are cruel in their torture. Jesus utters not a word. Barabbas thinks of his own beating and the string of profanities that he had used.
The solders mock Him and spit on Him. They take a crown made of twisted thorns the length of a finger and press it onto His head. “Hail! The King of the Jews!”
They strap the cross to Jesus’ back. He can barely stand. They find another man to carry the cross. Jesus comes behind, barely walking. Each time He stumbles results in cruel lashes from a Roman whip.
Barabbas continues to follow as they climb the street to the Place of the Skull. It is a Roman death field. With every step, he is reminded that he should be the one carrying the cross.
He tries to find out Jesus’ crime but no one seems to know. Some say one thing and some another. He begins to piece together what he knows. Jesus is a Jewish carpenter and teacher. He is called a Nazarene. He is hated by the Jewish leaders for the things he taught.
Finally a man tells him that the Jewish leaders want Him dead because of His teachings and what they called blasphemy. This makes sense. The Jewish leaders aren’t known for their straight ways of dealing with people they don’t like.
He comes on the hill a little late. The crosses already stand, three of them. Jesus is in the middle with a criminal on either side. Barabbas knows these men.
“If you are the Son of God, come down off the cross.” The men at the cross continue to scoff at him.
Barabbas hears Jesus say, “Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.”
The soldiers put a sign above Jesus’ head that says, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” The priests and elders of the Jews mock Him even further. “He saved others but He cannot save Himself. If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him. He trusted in God; let God deliver Him if He will have Him; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God’.”
Barabbas’ stomach turns. He can stand it no longer. He turns to leave the gruesome scene.
As he turns, Jesus cries out, “My God, my God! Why have You forsaken Me?” The cry holds such anguish that Barabbas turns one last time to look in His eyes. Then he turns and runs. He runs until he can’t run anymore. He collapses on the side of the street. He sobs. He has not cried in many years. But he can’t help it.
He was to have been executed. And now Jesus hangs in his place. Why? It isn’t right. He is deserving of death and has been released. Jesus is no more than an innocent teacher and carpenter. Or is He? The people called Him the Son of God.
Barabbas picks himself off the ground. The sky is getting dark. He isn’t far from his home. He turns down the alley that leads to his door. He opens it and enters, closing the door behind him. Closing the door forever on Barabbas the murderer and standing as Barabbas, the acquitted.
Adapted from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.