Apologetics, Biblical Doctrines, Church, Church history, Death & Dying

Barabbas: Christ Died for Me

Mark 15

1 And straightway in the morning the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council, and bound Jesus, and carried him away, and delivered him to Pilate.

2 And Pilate asked him, Art thou the King of the Jews? And he answering said unto him, Thou sayest it.

3 And the chief priests accused him of many things: but he answered nothing.

4 And Pilate asked him again, saying, Answerest thou nothing? Behold how many things they witness against thee.

5 But Jesus yet answered nothing; so that Pilate marvelled.

6 Now at that feast he released unto them one prisoner, whomsoever they desired.

7 And there was one named Barabbas, which lay bound with them that had made insurrection with him, who had committed murder in the insurrection.

8 And the multitude crying aloud began to desire him to do as he had ever done unto them.

9 But Pilate answered them, saying, Will ye that I release unto you the King of the Jews?

10 For he knew that the chief priests had delivered him for envy.

11 But the chief priests moved the people, that he should rather release Barabbas unto them.

12 And Pilate answered and said again unto them, What will ye then that I shall do unto him whom ye call the King of the Jews? 13 And they cried out again, Crucify him.

14 Then Pilate said unto them, Why, what evil hath he done? And they cried out the more exceedingly, Crucify him.

15 And so Pilate, willing to content the people, released Barabbas unto them, and delivered Jesus, when he had scourged him, to be crucified.

16 And the soldiers led him away into the hall, called Praetorium; and they call together the whole band.

17 And they clothed him with purple, and platted a crown of thorns, and put it about his head,

18 And began to salute him, Hail, King of the Jews!

19 And they smote him on the head with a reed, and did spit upon him, and bowing their knees worshipped him.

20 And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple from him, and put his own clothes on him, and led him out to crucify him.

21 And they compel one Simon a Cyrenian, who passed by, coming out of the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to bear his cross.

22 And they bring him unto the place Golgotha, which is, being interpreted, The place of a skull.

23 And they gave him to drink wine mingled with myrrh: but he received it not.

24 And when they had crucified him, they parted his garments, casting lots upon them, what every man should take.

25 And it was the third hour, and they crucified him.

26 And the superscription of his accusation was written over, THE KING OF THE JEWS.

27 And with him they crucify two thieves; the one on his right hand, and the other on his left.

28 And the scripture was fulfilled, which saith, And he was numbered with the transgressors.

29 And they that passed by railed on him, wagging their heads, and saying, Ah, thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days,

30 Save thyself, and come down from the cross.

31 Likewise also the chief priests mocking said among themselves with the scribes, He saved others; himself he cannot save.

32 Let Christ the King of Israel descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe. And they that were crucified with him reviled him.

33 And when the sixth hour was come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour.

34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? Which is, being interpreted, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?

35 And some of them that stood by, when they heard it, said, Behold, he calleth Elias.

36 And one ran and filled a spunge full of vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink, saying, Let alone; let us see whether Elias will come to take him down.

37 And Jesus cried with a loud voice, and gave up the ghost.

38 And the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom.

39 And when the centurion, which stood over against him, saw that he so cried out, and gave up the ghost, he said, Truly this man was the Son of God.

40 There were also women looking on afar off: among whom was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the less and of Joses, and Salome;

41 (Who also, when he was in Galilee, followed him, and ministered unto him;) and many other women which came up with him unto Jerusalem.

42 And now when the even was come, because it was the preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath,

43 Joseph of Arimathaea, an honourable counsellor, which also waited for the kingdom of God, came, and went in boldly unto Pilate, and craved the body of Jesus.

44 And Pilate marvelled if he were already dead: and calling unto him the centurion, he asked him whether he had been any while dead.

45 And when he knew it of the centurion, he gave the body to Joseph.

46 And he bought fine linen, and took him down, and wrapped him in the linen, and laid him in a sepulchre which was hewn out of a rock, and rolled a stone unto the door of the sepulchre.

47 And Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses beheld where he was laid.

It had not been easy, but soldiers in the Roman army finally captured the terrorist called Barabbas. As he was thrown into a dirty prison cell in the city of Jerusalem guards made a point of coming to look at him. They were glad Barabbas had finally been arrested. They hated this man who was not above murder. Some of the soldiers secretly feared him and his persuasive power over people. It would be a good day when Barabbas was executed. He was a troublemaker. As a zealous nationalist, Barabbas was an instigator of violence thereby breaking the Pax Romana, or the Peace of Rome.

The Jews in the general population of Palestine knew Barabbas well. He was a hero to some because of his patriotic zeal.

Barabbas was willing to do anything and everything to defy the armies of Rome that occupied the Land of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Barabbas was willing to disobey all Roman authority in a quest for political freedom from foreign domination.

With his arrest, the terrorist activities of Barabbas and his incitements of the people to insurrection came to an end. In his prison cell Barabbas was just another condemned criminal waiting to be executed by crucifixion.

Crucifixion was a cruel form of punishment. It was reserved for serious crimes, such as treason, desertion in the face of the enemy, robbery, piracy, assassination, and sedition. The suffering of death by crucifixion was intense, especially in hot climates. Severe local inflammation of the joints, coupled with bleeding around the jagged wounds, produced traumatic fever, which was aggravated by exposure to the heat of the sun, the strain of the body, and insufferable thirst. The swelling of the skin about the rough nails, and the torn lacerated tendons and nerves caused excruciating agony. The arteries of the head and stomach were flooded with blood, and a terrific throbbing headache ensued. The mind was confused, and filled with anxiety and dread foreboding.

The victim of crucifixion literally died a thousand deaths.

The rigors of spastic convulsions would tear at the wounds and add to the burden of pain, till at last the bodily forces were exhausted, and the victim sank to unconsciousness and death. The sufferings were so frightful that even among the raging passions of war, pity was sometimes excited.

The length of this agony was determined by the strength of the victim, but death rarely came before thirty-six hours had elapsed.

When necessary death could be hastened by breaking the legs of the victims, and by a hard blow delivered under the armpit before crucifixion. (Josephus, Vita, 75).

Barabbas was scheduled to die by crucifixion.

It was while he awaited certain death and was contemplating his last hours on earth that the door to his cell was unlocked. Guards from the royal palace commanded him to stand up and follow.

Barabbas stood up.

“Where was he going?”

No one would say.

Down the narrow corridors of the prison, Barabbas walked. Just ahead he saw rays of light. He could hear the sound of many voices. Suddenly Barabbas was out of the prison, and was walking in the sunlight. He shielded his eyes with his arm from the glare. His eyes had grown accustomed to darkness and this sudden exposure to bright light hurt his sight.

As he began to see more clearly, Barabbas witnessed a throng of people. And there was Pilate, the Roman governor himself. A sudden burst of anger sprang in the heart of Barabbas.

“If only I had a dagger,”

he thought,

“I could kill the governor right here.”

That thought gave way to others, for Barabbas was curious.

“What was going on?”

“Why was he here in the presence of the governor and this gathered crowd?

Slowly there came a dawning awareness of what it all meant.

Barabbas knew that it was the time of the Passover. He also knew that during the days of the Passover it was the custom of Pilate to release a political prisoner in order to curry favor with the Jews. And that is what was happening. Barabbas listened as Pilate raised his hand to quiet the crowd, and speak.

“Will you that I release unto you the King of the Jews or this murderer?” Pilate asked.

Barabbas looked over at the One of whom Pilate spoke, and saw Jesus. Barabbas was astonished. He had heard of this Rabbi. What person in Palestine had not heard of the Miracle Worker? Up and down the land, in small villages, and in large communities, it was being reported that this Jesus could make the blind to see, the lame to walk, and the deaf to hear. It was reported that He raised the dead, and commanded the forces of nature.

Some said Jesus was the Son of the Living God, and could forgive men of their sins. If all of that was true, then “Why was He standing here in shame and pain?”

Barabbas did not know. But Pilate did. Pilate discerned what motivated the majority members of the Sanhedrin to take Christ into custody, charge Him with crimes punishable by death, and demand His execution.

They were jealous of the Lord’s popularity with the people. Pilate wanted to strip away the phony façade of spirituality to let the people see the inward corruption of the hearts of their religious leaders. But his clever scheme was not gong to succeed. No one was more surprised than Pilate when the Jewish crowd before him began to shout back: “Not Jesus but Barabbas!” “Barabbas!” “Barabbas!”

Pilate had no way of knowing that “the chief priests had already moved the people, that he should rather release Barabbas unto them.”

Barabbas listened as Pilate asked the mad mob,

“What will ye then that I shall do unto him whom ye call the King of the Jews?”

“And they cried out again, Crucify him!”

Pilate was astonished.

“Why, what evil hath he done?”

There was no rational answer. There was only the sound of mindless emotion as guttural voices screamed and ranted,

“Crucify Him! Crucify Him!

In disgust Pilate turned away. It did not matter. “What was this Jew called Jesus to him? He was nothing!” Two orders were given.

“Release Barabbas.”

“Scourge the King of the Jews and crucify him.”

And so it was, that Jesus was taken from the halls of injustice to a whipping post to be scourged (cf. Acts 22:5).

A Roman lector stepped forward with a long handle to which was attached several cords, or leather thongs weighted with jagged pieces of bone or metal. Blow after blow was applied to the back of Christ.

The flesh of His body was broken, as He said it would be. Forty times the lector lashed at Christ.

Forty times His body was punished. Finally, this terrible ordeal ended. A mass of blood and bruises, Jesus was led away to be crucified.

If Barabbas followed Christ to the place of execution and thought anything at all, he might have recorded the horrible scene with these words.

“When I followed Jesus, at a distance, to the place of execution, I saw there all the instruments prepared for His death. He was ordered to take off His robe, and He immediately did so. After He had undressed Himself, the soldiers said to one another, “These clothes belong to us, because He who is condemned to death will not use them again.”

A small quarrel broke out as to which soldier should get His clothing, for there was a fine piece made of a seamless garment that was useful.  It was decided that dice would decide the matter. I watched, as some soldiers went to one side to gamble for the garments of Jesus beneath the cross. Meanwhile, the act of crucifixion continued.

Jesus collapsed down on His back, and was rolled upon the cross, which was also on the ground. A soldier on one side of the beam stretched out His right arm and another solider on the other side of the wooden structure took his left arm.

His cruel executioners seized Him firmly, and attached His right hand to the beam, in which a nail hole had been prepared, and they drove a nail through His hand in the part where the bone was the firmest.

Then they pulled His other arm in the opposite direction with a rope, until it reached the other nail hole, and they nailed it down in the same way.

Next, they nailed His right foot over the left with a long spike, so that all the nerves and veins were torn apart and broken.

Then someone replaced on His head the crown of thorns which caused such deep wounds that blood streamed down, filling His eyes and His ears and matting His whole beard.

With some sanctified imagination, it would not be hard to see this event through the eyes of Barabbas.

We listen as Barabbas speaks, and remembers that day.

“I must confess that when the first long spike was driven into Jesus, I felt sickened at the sight. I turned my eyes away. I did not look up again until He was completely attached to the Cross. When I did look again, I saw Jesus hanging, crucified in misery. And I, the one whose place he took, wanted to weep. Here was a substitute for me.

I listened to the voices of those around me. I heard men saying to one another that Jesus was a robber. But that was not true. I was the robber. Jesus was the righteous one. I was also a murderer.

To that crime I have to confess. But Jesus was innocent of any crimes that I knew of. Someone said that He had threatened to destroy the Holy Temple, but I knew that the Rabbi would not hurt the Sacred Structure. What is true is that

“I should have been crucified.
I should have suffered in shame.
I should have been put on the cross that day
But Jesus, God’s Son, took my place.

“As I stood by the execution site, time passed ever so slowly. Suddenly I saw Jesus make a great effort to draw a deep breath. Filling His lungs with air He cried out in an overpowering voice, raising His head and His tear-filled eyes toward Heaven:

“My God, My God, why hast Thou abandoned Me?”
I will never be able to forget that cry.
No one who heard could ever forget.
All was quiet. More time passed.

I looked closely at Christ one more time, and observed that now His eyes appeared half-dead, His cheeks were sunken in, and His features grief-stricken.  His mouth was open, and His tongue was covered with blood. His abdomen had fallen in toward His spine and seemed to have collapsed. His whole body was pale, and weakened from continuous loss of blood. His hands and feet were stretched out in the cruelest way, drawn and forced by the nails into the shape of the Cross. His beard and hair were all clotted with blood. While He was hanging there so torn and livid, only His heart was still vigorous, for it was the best and strongest quality.

But death struggled fiercely with the life in His pierced body, and won. Still, in the excessive anguish of His humanity Jesus managed to whisper one last prayer:

“Father, into Thy hands I commend My Spirit.”

His head dropped, and His beard rested on His chest.

Jesus Christ,

Son of the Living God,

King of the Jews, was dead.

A righteous man had died in the place of an unrighteous man, even me, —that much I knew.”

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