HE TOOK MY PLACE (Mark 15).
I am Barabbas. I made it into history. For the world of me, I had very little to do with it. I owe it all to a man called Jesus. You might like to know how it happened. The leaders, of my day, hated Him more than they hated me. The good-hearted Governor from Rome figured that if he picked one of the worse bandits and put him beside a good man that the people would ask that Jesus be set free. The Governor was in for a surprise and most of all, so was I. I could hardly believe it that they were shouting, “Release Barabbas and crucify Jesus!” The helpless Governor was stunned and set me free.
Let me tell you a little about myself. My name, in the Aramaic, meant “Ben Aba” or son of a father. My father was sort of a father to his people and an influential teacher in the community. He also was deeply religious and very zealous for the faith of our fathers. I, too, showed early signs of being zealous for our faith. I resembled my father so much that I became known as the son of the father. I began to believe that I could carry my father’s faith a step further by becoming militant. As long as these liberal leaders, the Sadducees and the Romans were in charge of our country, we had no hope for our faith to survive. In order to hasten the demise of our enemies, I joined the movement of insurrection. I began to believe that we were ushering in a Messianic age. Before long, I distinguished myself as one of the leaders. My coercive methods were not acceptable and we were outlawed. In order to live, we robbed and even killed. We caused trouble for the Romans and were an embarrassment to our Jewish leaders. I, too, was a fanatic. I believed that our leaders were in cahoots with the Romans. They had it too good to want a Messiah. I sort of believed that I could fill that role. All I had to do is gather an army and overthrow these Romans and kick them out of our land. Then the people would hail me as their deliverer. To the oppressed, I had great appeal. But to the leaders and Romans, I was a menace. The authorities apprehended me several times. And with the help of my followers, I managed to escape and elude my enemies. This time, my luck appeared to have run out. Since I could not deliver my promises, my own supporters gave up on me. Most of them disbanded, some were apprehended and jailed and quite a few were executed. I, too, was waiting to be executed. No one, with my record, left a Roman prison alive.
This was the day that I, along with two others, was to be hung on across for the public to see what the Romans did to rebels. We were considering ourselves fortunate that it was the day before Passover began. It meant that our lives would have to be terminated before sunset and our bodies put in the ground. It meant that our torture of dying would be shortened. Just think, if we had to hang there from the first day of the week? But just as the soldiers were preparing to lead us up to the hill of Golgotha, so named for the many skulls that were left hanging as a warning to any one that raised a hand against Rome, we heard loud shouting, “Release Barabbas and crucify Jesus!” Shortly thereafter, I was freed and Jesus was made to take my cross and carry it. I had never met Jesus before and what I saw melted my hatred into compassion. Not just because He was going to die on the cross that was designated for me; but, for what the Roman soldiers had done to this man. He was physically completely disabled. He bled all over. His face was disfigured and His torn clothes showed open wounds. The truth is that I had to turn away from looking on this Man that was being condemned for not agreeing with our leaders. At that moment, their kindness of demanding my release did not arouse any gratitude. Instead, I felt more hatred rising in my heart to have these people pay for what they were doing to this Man, called Jesus, the King of the Jews. I asked myself, why I did not meet this Man sooner? I could have stood by His side and ushered in the Kingdom? Where were His followers, I wondered? Why were they not fighting for Him? While I was in prison, I heard that He drew huge crowds. Where were they when He needed them? Why were most of those present that preferred Him dead?
I, too, joined the crowd and followed up the hill. Jesus collapsed several times. One merciful soldier induced a stranger, coming their way, to carry Jesus’ cross and he did so without hesitation. Women, by the road, cried out for Him; but, He told them to cry for their children and for their nation. When the soldiers drove the spikes into His hands and His feet, this Man, Jesus begged God to forgive His killers. In spite of the pain, He committed His mother into the care of one of His closest friend. I heard Him cry out, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” Then He said, “It is finished” and died instantly. At the same time, the earth shook and darkness fell on all of us. There was confusion and fear all about us. One Roman officer smote his chest and declared, “Indeed, this was the Son of the Living God!” People who had come to view this inhumane act of cruelty, began quickly to disperse. I, too, had seen enough. Even at my worse actions as an insurrectionist, I had not witnessed such cruelties. I, too, slipped away under the cover of darkness and confusion. I determined there and then not to be apprehended again by these inhumane Romans. And I knew there was no more Jesus who would take my place. I had much to ponder why this Good Man was forced to die for me. It was unbelievable how much hatred and cruelty this Man endured; and in spite of it, He forgave them. How could Jesus forgive even the worst offenders? He did!