Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers and the people, and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him. Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death. Therefore, I will punish him and then release him.”
But the whole crowd shouted, “Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us!” (Barabbas had been thrown into prison for an insurrection in the city, and for murder.) Wanting to release Jesus, Pilate appealed to them again. But they kept shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”
What is the worth of a soul? This question brings a Bible character to mind—the criminal Barabbas. When Pilate asked the crowd who between Jesus and Barabbas should be freed, the crowd chose Barabbas. As for Jesus, the sinless Lamb of God, they cried out, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”
Barabbas was a man who was guilty of insurrection and murder. We usually toss the gravity of that fact into a dusty cabinet. Now, let’s give it some thought: if Barabbas led an insurrection to merit his capture by Rome, and if his rebellion affected one whole city (see the above Scriptural passage), then he was surely a threat to the Roman Empire. Perhaps Rome viewed him as an ancient day Osama Bin Laden or an emerging Attila the Hun. Should someone with that kind of capacity to rebel be freed? Barabbas was also a murderer. If the law of Moses were to be the basis of justice, then it would be a life for a life (Exodus 21:23). Crucifixion was certainly the appropriate mode of death for one like Barabbas.
Yet, he was freed. Who freed Barabbas? The insane, hate filled mob called for his release. Yes, Pilate, released him, too. But was this decision of release and freedom just a decision among men? Why did they make a murderer and rebel go scot-free? Did God make a mistake?
OR was God making a point?
Too often, we identify ourselves with the crowd that called for Jesus’ crucifixion. We think back and say, yes, that sinful, ignorant crowd needing salvation is a picture of US. But have we ever identified with Barabbas? Barabbas—the murderer and rebel–deserved death.
Don’t we, too, deserve death because of sin? The Bible says that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). The Bible also says that if we fail to keep one little point of the Law, we are guilty of breaking all (James 2:10). We are all Barabbas. We are all deserving of death. How many times have we hated another human being? The Bible says those who hate others are guilty of murder (1 John 3:15). How many times have we disobeyed God? Rebelled against Him? What if the point God was trying to make was this: that no matter how sinful, evil, or disgraceful a man, he was worth dying for?
What is the worth of a man that Jesus would choose to take his place on death row? What is our worth that Jesus would choose to take our place on death row?
Life demands a ransom equivalent to the worth of a person. If we imagine the Prince of Wales kidnapped, what kind of ransom would be asked for? Billions and billions of pounds! Nations would be affected! Now, let’s say a poor child is kidnapped from the streets and sold into prostitution, what ransom would be asked for? A couple of dollars? Pesos? Surely people will not pay the same price compared to that of the Prince of Wales. Now, let’s think about this: how much was Barabbas worth?
Barabbas. Already on death row. Barabbas. Dead man walking. Barabbas. Worth the worms in the grave. In the eyes of God, he was Barabbas: worth the life of His precious Son. The Son of God, Creator of men, the Great King. Jesus loved Barabbas to the point that He was willing to make the Great exchange—the same exchange he offers to us: My life for yours.
It echoes what the Bible says, “ Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:7-8).
The Bible does not tell us if Barabbas believed in Jesus afterward. Perhaps he never did. Jesus gave himself up for Barabbas regardless of whether Barabbas loved Him back of not. The Redeemer of mankind willingly gave Himself up.
Jesus loved Barabbas. He saw the worth of Barabbas. Jesus sees our worth, too. He loves us so much, and His offer still stands: “My life for yours.” His death purchased our freedom. Do we believe Him? Do we receive Him? Our freedom was bought at the highest price.
Janina Marie Rivera is the Editor-in-Chief of One Voice Magazine, a teacher of world literature, and a student of the Bible. She enjoys reflecting on life’s curve balls and plateaus. She resides in the Philippines, the country known for people who smile a lot.