God for us: Barabbas

God for us: Barabbas

God for us: Barabbas

God for us: Barabbas

March 29, 2024

March 29, 2024

March 29, 2024

March 29, 2024









This formed the first of three talks at our Good Friday service, 2024.

Reading: Matthew 27:11-26

What are we doing here?

It’s worth noting that this is all a little odd, that we would gather together to mark the death of a man who died about 2000 years ago in another country is strange.

But we meet because this death was significant - it was a brutal death, but the biblical accounts do not focus as much on the physical pain as do they take the time to explain the significance of Jesus death.

Three Stories

Tonight we are going to reflect on three people around these events, and what their encounter with Jesus and his cross tell us about what Jesus’ death means for us.


The first is Barabbas, his story has always drawn me in becasue in his story so much of what can seem like words or ideas we see land in the actuality of life.

In Romans 5, Paul’s says:

God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

In Barabbas story we see this fleshed out.

God is for us… and in Barabbas’ story its not just that GOD IS FOR US like a cheerleader, “I’m for you, keep going”, its that he swaps himself for us. He substitutes himself for us. For the things we cannot face for the things we cannot forgive Jesus takes our place.

Defence Attorney

A while back I came across the peculiar story of Lt Alaric Piette, a former Navy Seal who is now a defence attorney, and who specialises in defending the destitute, mentally ill, and others that no one else wants to defend. Which he says has helped him to understand the teaching of Jesus for the first time.

One of his most notorious cases that has led him to receive the most criticism was to represent an Al Qaeda terrorist accused of planning the bombing of the US Cole in which, as a former Navy Seal, many of his own colleagues had been injured and killed.

This has led him to being ostracised, criticised, denied promotion - and the words that stuck out to me was a law professor’s description of him: ‘He’s pretty gutsy, the legal train is in motion, and he steps out in front to protect his client.’ These are people who many would say deserve a conviction, and penalty, but he says they also deserve a defence.

These words could be used to describe what Jesus does for us, it’s what we see him do here for Barabbas.

This is what happens

The religious leaders have turned on Jesus because he is a threat to their power, as I often do when I think that Jesus is threatening my freedom and self determination - I want to push him back.

They want him gone. So they arrest him and after sham trial, like this is levels of injustice, the timing, the process, the conviction, the sentence every part of this trial is unjust - Jesus does not deserve to die, but anyway the convict him but don’t want to do the dirty work themselves so they tie him up and give him to their Roman governor Pilate.

Now Pilate has a problem, his job is to keep the peace but he’s pushed the people to the limit a few times now and on two occasions there have nearly been revolts, two strikes, he can’t really afford a third, he’s got soldiers but you really don’t want to come down to that. He’s got to keep the crowd on side.

He investigates Jesus, and Jesus makes no reply to even a single charge, he refuses to defend himself, Pilate is impressed.

And so in a last ditch attempt to keep the peace he falls back on this custom that is both a good will gesture to the occupied people and a mockery of them.

They are celebrating passover the festival where the people celebrate the freedom God has led them into, and so as they celebrate this their occupiers, say we’ll give you one prisoner that should die as a gesture.  We’ll let you have back one of these people who’ve fought for what you are celebrating.

Barabbas or Jesus

And so Pilate brings out in front of the crowd. Jesus and Barabbas. Barabbas a thief, a murderer, a terrorist. And on the other side Jesus. The teacher, healer, saviour. And he asks the crowd who do you want?

And they say: Barabbas.

We chose Barabbas

And this is devastating, because it is not just the choice between two men it is the choice between two ways of living. The way of Barabbas or the way of Jesus. The way of Barabbas is to that of violence, and power struggles, of rebellion and murder - it is the way of power over others to get what you want.

The way of Barabbas is what fuels every generational conflict, fuels ever neighbourhood argument, workplace dispute.

It fuels our separation from our Father in heaven.

Barabbas epitomises the people’s spiritual condition, rebelling and forcing, that becasue they choose this way it plays out escalating and resulting in the utter destruction of their city 40 years later.

The way of Barabbas is the way of destruction. Its a picture of the people’s condition, it is a picture of my condition. And its what the people choose. The people choose Barabbas.

Jesus chose Barabbas

But this is the strange thing. Not just that we chose Barabbas, the stranger thing is that Jesus chose Barabbas.

It is not the people that set him free, it was the Love of Jesus that set him free. It would not have got to the point where the people had the choice if Jesus had not let it.

See at any point Jesus could have said the right thing in the right moment and he would have rightly gone free.

But that day one had to die. And if Jesus goes Barabbas dies. And so Jesus stays quiet. That is what Jesus did for Barabbas.

Think what it would be like, you wake up that morning, assuming you’ll be dead by sunset, and instead you are sitting eating dinner with your friends. That is what Jesus did for Barabbas.

Think there are three scheduled to die that day, the other two are given the same description as Barabbas, maybe they were his partners, he’s supposed to be on the middle cross. And instead it’s Jesus who is hanging there in his place. That is what Jesus did for Barabbas.

And it is not an accident, Jesus chose to die in his place and he did so willingly, not becasue Barabbas earned it, there is nothing in his past or present to mean he deserved this.

There is not even anything in his future to show that he deserved it. There is no record that Barabbas turned to Jesus and said: Thanks, I owe you everything!

This is the total unmerited free gift of grace.

Jesus chooses Barabbas.

Jesus chose you

And it means that Jesus chose you. Jesus chose me.

We are invited to see ourselves in this story, to see ourselves as Barabbas. And I immediately push back with but “I haven’t instigated an insurrection against the government.” No but I have rebelled against God’s law. And no I haven’t murdered anyone but becasue of me the Son of God is on the cross.

Why on earth would I want to see the Barabbas in me? Becasue ultimately all of us at some point are confronted with it whether we like it or not. There are elements within me that are indefensible. There is no defence within me, answers within me, rescue from within me.

And Jesus’ love towards Barabbas shows that that is entirely beside the point. That I deserve my guilt, that I deserve my shame, is of absolutely no relevance to the conversation of Jesus choice to love me. And die for me.

And that means there is nothing that can separate me from the love of Jesus, no height nor depth, nor power, no past, present, no future action, no foolish decision, no vain ambition that can cause Jesus’ forgiveness to no longer be avaliable in my life.

While we were still sinners,while we were still Barabbas, whilst the legal train was in motion, Jesus stepped out in front to protect us.

While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

God for us.

God for Barabbas

God for you.

P.S. The next day Barabbas got breakfast