This is my third story in my series, “Ignored Characters from the Easter Story”
From Matthew 27…
But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed.
“Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” asked the governor.
“Barabbas,” they answered.
“What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” Pilate asked.
They all answered, “Crucify him!”
“Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate.
But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”
When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!”
All the people answered, “His blood is on us and on our children!”
Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.
It was the smell that bothered him the most—the smell of the moist earthen walls, the stench of his un-bathed cell mates, the putridity of the decomposing excrement. The odor had invaded his pores in the last three weeks since his imprisonment. In this damp, dark dungeon grew mold and mania…and evil.
The night had been restless. The moaning and cursing from the others made sleep elusive, and his eyes felt the heaviness of the morning’s exhaustion. Not sure he could bear another hopeless day in the bowels of the earth, he again began rehearsing his crime in his head; he had murdered another…was it worth it? Was his vengeance satisfactory enough to warrant the execution that awaited him? Remorse steadily made its way into his scattered brain and seized his thoughts, breaking him of all pride. Barabbas cried. The hot tears ran quickly, drawing clean lines on his dirty cheeks –making his countenance a reflection of the bars that surrounded his body.
“That one!” His ruminations interrupted by voices outside the cell, Barabbas looked up. He saw them there, dressed in all their shiny Roman finery –the servants of Pilate. The rusted iron door swung open with a mournful creak and they grabbed him. The hand upon him was warm . A fleeting memory of his mother, leading him by the hand, came to mind and he wished for her, her comfort, her serenity. He knew the place where they were leading him now was a place of horror—not a place of love—was it a proper place for a criminal like him? Was it a place for anyone?
With bare feet chained, he stumbled into the day, eyes assaulted by harsh unfamiliar sunlight, and was forced by his captors to climb the crumbling stone steps which led to the upper terrace of Pilate’s quarters. Why were they taking him there? Wasn’t Golgatha away, beyond these ornamented walls? Didn’t his death on a cross mean separation, sacrifice, and humiliation? Why would he be entering into the presence of a king?
Why were all the people there? Standing in the courtyard looking like a thousand hungry souls? Did the presence of his highness not make them tremble, as it did him?—a million tiny goose bumps forming under his dirty, matted hair. Who was this other rebel here? His face seemed unaffected by the guilt of his past; His eyes, clear and calm…and something else; innocent?
Wait! Was it Passover? Was that the reason for the swarming mass of humanity? No wonder the throngs strained to hear Pilate. There was a custom at Passover in which the Roman governor would release a prisoner of the crowd’s choice. He remembered this now! He remembered being there, in this very courtyard as a youngster, with his family, when a man—a prisoner like himself—was absolved of his guilt! And now he was here. He was the prisoner. And now some child was watching him…and deciding if he lived or died. How did his life get here? What kind of man had he become? Would it be him? Would they release him? Would grace be his?
But what about the other guy? Why was He here? What was His crime? Was the name of the man really Jesus? His name was Jesus too—Jesus Barabbas. They kept yelling “Jesus!” and “Crucify him!” Which one were they talking about? What had Pilate asked of them? Who was the target of their hatred? Maybe they would kill the other Jesus—maybe they would crucify Him in place of Barabbas! Maybe Barabbas would get to live! Maybe he could live a new life! A joyful life! A life of freedom forever!
A cold palm grabbed his bicep and pulled Barabbas to the front with Jesus—A king on one side of him, a mere man on the other-- the criminal stood leg to leg with the one who held life or death in his hands.
“Which of these two do you want me to release to you?”, the voice next to him screamed out.
“Barabbas!” They were yelling his name! They wanted to free him! He wasn’t going to die!
“What shall I do then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?”
He is called “Messiah”? The “Messiah”? Does this man really think He is God’s Savior? Then Heaven save Him now. Maybe His death will satisfy this wrath.
“Crucify him!” He heard them hiss below.
Pilate hesitated, then questioned, “Why? What crime has he committed?”
“Crucify him!” Their retort was deafening, condemning.
With that, Pilate shrugged, thrust his arms into the ivory water bowl, and with dripping hands, pronounced his sentence, “I am innocent of this man’s blood! It is your responsibility!”
“His blood is on us and our children!”
Abruptly, Pilate released his grip on Barabbas. He was free. His shackles were unfettered. And Jesus—the other Jesus—was handed over to the hungry crowds so they could whip Him, strip Him, and crucify Him upon a cross.
The other Jesus was quiet now, not weeping, but somehow serene, facing eternity. As they led the Accused away, Barabbas felt a pang of guilt—the same guilt that had been transferred to the body of Another…the same guilt that killed a Man Who had become his Substitute…the same guilt that a Savior's blood would wash clean. Barabbas would now live. And this Man, this Jesus, this Deliverer would die in his place.
Again, Barabbas cried. Grateful, humble, forgiven.
And Jesus the Christ, died. Obedient, rejected, forsaken
And death was defeated forever.