Barabbas: A journey to freedom

The following story is set in the first century, and is based on the Passion narrative of Jesus Christ found in the Gospel accounts of Matthew (ch 27), Mark (ch 15), Luke (ch 23) and John (ch 18). It is also based on the Book of Acts (ch 2). The account of Barabbas’ conversion to follow Jesus Christ is fictional and not based on historical documentation.

As I walk in the light of life’s sunset, I look back through the years with both remorse and thankfulness. Remorse for the people that I hurt, the lives I upset… the lives I took. Yes, I Barabbas, was a murder. A murderer, a robber, chief of criminals. You see, I’d been searching for freedom all my life, and even killed in the attempt to attain it. Along with my people, I felt oppressed by the Roman government as they lorded their power over us, ill-treating us, extorting unreasonable tax from our families. We were captive in our own land, the Promise Land. I could bear it no longer; I convinced many in the city that something had to be done to liberate the nation. Together the troops I had rallied decided to lead an armed revolt against the Roman powers, and overthrow them once and for all. Fighting for my own freedom and for that of my people was ultimate for me.

Illustrations from volume 9 of The Bible and its Story Taught by One Thousand Picture Lessons, edited by Charles F. Horne and Julius A. Bewer, published in 1910.

Our resistance though, was no match for the Roman military. We were soon extinguished, but not without a fight. People perished in the uprising, and I was thrown in to prison along with my accomplices. The prison was a dark and cruel place. The guards treated us with utter scorn. I began to feel shame for what I had done. I began to understand that I was getting what I deserved, being held a prisoner in chains. I was now far from the freedom I had always dreamed of.

Almost a decade passed. I became very bitter and lonely. The time of Passover was when I most deeply lamented my circumstance. I was a prisoner now, and Passover, the remembrance of the deliverance of my people from Egyptian slavery, meant nothing to me. I was in the worst kind of bondage.

Then one day all of a sudden everything took a dramatic turn. It was during the week of Passover, and very unexpectedly, the guard came to my cell and told me that I was being summoned by the Governor. He led me out immediately, and as we walked through the damp and dark corridors towards imminent light, I began to get excited as I recalled how it was custom for one prisoner to be released at the time of the feast. Was this my turn? Was my freedom at the door?

We came outside, and squinting because of the bright light of day that I was not accustomed to, I saw a large crowd gathered around. It looked like a riot. I perceived that the Governor, Pilate was trying to appease the people. “Jesus or this man, Barabas?” I heard Pilate shout out and motion towards me. Then I turned to see who my contender was. I saw this man, Jesus, standing there silent. When I looked at him, our eyes met. It was a moment so brief, yet it seemed like all of eternity paused to look on. I will never forget it, for at once I sensed His innocence and knew that He was being unjustly accused. As this dawned on me, I felt shame swirling within me once again, only this time I felt pity along with it. Pity in the gaze of this man who was looking at me.

“Barabas!”, I heard the crowd roar. Immediately I turned my face from him, rapidly realizing that I was on the threshold of freedom. “But this man has done nothing deserving of death”, Pilate cried. “Crucify him!” came bloodcurdling screams from the crowd. I set my focus on them, for I could not bear to take another glance at the man who was going to be punished in my stead. I knew I deserved my imprisonment, but he did not seem to deserve death from what I could tell. “Enough!” I told myself. I had to seize this opportunity to be free again. I could not turn back. At the Governor’s order, the guard loosed my shackles and chains. With a smile on my face, I rushed into the cheering crowd, profusely thanking these people who had made petition for my freedom.

I remember that day vividly. The crowd headed out of the city towards Golgotha for the crucifixion of Jesus. I couldn’t bring myself to follow them, even though I sensed a real desire to see him again. I didn’t know why I had this desire. All I knew is that there was something about him that I couldn’t put to words. I wandered towards the Temple; I hadn’t seen its magnificence in so long. The next day was the Sabbath and I was looking forward to worshipping again with my people. It was late in the afternoon, and the area around the Temple was deserted. I sat down on a step, soaking in the fresh air around me, fresh air I had not breathed in, in so long. And yet, thoughts about the apparent unjust death of Jesus kept plaguing my mind. I knew he was dying in my place. I wrestled to get it out of my mind. I wanted to savor the freedom that was now mine!

On the day after the Sabbath, wild rumors began to spread among the Jews that Jesus had been raised from the dead. Others said that his followers had stolen his body. I heard different responses from my companions — some were apathetic and went about their business, since the feast had ended. Others vehemently called this out as a lie being spread by Jesus’ disciples. Still others seemed overjoyed at this news. I didn’t know which camp to go with, all I knew was that I was deeply disturbed.

I remained this way for the next several weeks. A war was raging within me — now his followers were claiming that the risen Jesus had appeared to them. I somehow could not bring myself to be indifferent to this stirring. Then one day, suddenly, in the midst of Jerusalem, there was a loud sound of many voices from within the city, and a multitude of people rushed towards the source of this noise. I was one among the great crowd, and what we saw and heard left us amazed and perplexed. There were Galileans there, speaking in a wide variety of languages; the foreigners dwelling in Jerusalem, from Pontus, Asia, Egypt, Libya and other regions were able to understand them. “We hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God”, they said in awe. But others mocking said, “They are drunk”.

Then a man named Peter who I recognized as one of the disciples of Jesus stood up and lifted up his voice to address the masses. His words would pierce my soul. He began to explain how the prophets pointed to this day, and that this was the fulfilling of God’s promise to pour out His Spirit on all flesh. The people speaking in various languages, was a manifestation of this outpouring of God’s Spirit. Peter went on to prove from the Scriptures that Jesus was the promised King and Messiah from the line of David. He also said that though the people had crucified and killed him lawlessly, it was part of the definite plan of God. “God raised him up from the dead!” Peter proclaimed, “ Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

At this my eyes were opened. I realized who this Jesus was. He was the Messiah we had been longing for, and He was alive! I was one among those who asked Peter, “What shall we do?” and he urged us to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. I certainly had much to repent for. I was cut to the heart. I broke down and wept, realizing how much He had done for me.

It took years for me to fully comprehend what happened in those few days after my release from prison, and I don’t think I yet fully understand. I had been looking for freedom in all the wrong places — freedom from Roman oppression, freedom from prison. But I realized that Jesus, the Messiah, had come to offer a freedom that was of far greater value — the freedom of forgiveness; the freedom from the guilt of sin, a great burden I had carried all my life; the freedom of being reconciled to God, something I thought I already had being a Hebrew by birth. I now realize that I never had it until I turned for forgiveness to the man, Jesus Christ.

While Jesus died for all of humanity, taking the just punishment of God for sin committed against Him, I, Barabbas, now realize how He took my place even more so. My freedom from the Roman prison came at a great cost — the cost of Pilate delivering Him up to be flogged and then killed on a cross. He was chained while my shackles fell off. And I thought I was walking free! How far from it I was, all the more enslaved and in bondage as the Son of God hung from a tree, a curse for my murderous sin. While I was still sinning, He was dying. This was His demonstration of love.

Jesus had very literally taken my place. Oh how I thank Him that He did! Though I was selfish in turning my back on him and walking away in supposed freedom, I would not have been able to pay the price for my own freedom had the crowd asked for His release instead of mine. Only he was able to pay this price, because He was the perfect and spotless offering to God, His blood more powerful than that of bulls and goats that our ancestors sacrificed for the cleansing of sin. Now I have forgiveness not only for turning away from Him on the day He was crucified, but also for turning away from God my entire life. And with this forgiveness, I have true freedom. The shackles of my heart and mind have fallen off. The freedom I spent my entire life looking for is now mine. And what’s more, this freedom will last into eternity, because Jesus is alive forevermore.