Luke 23:13-25 depicts the trial of Jesus before Pontius Pilate. The Jews, in their hatred for Jesus, sought reasons for Jesus to be condemned to death. However, Pilate could find no fault in Jesus. In fact, Pilate sought ways and means to have Jesus released. He tried to let the Jews choose between Jesus and another criminal. Therefore he picked the worst criminal he could find: Barabbas.
Barabbas was a prisoner who had been involved in an insurrection, and had also committed murder. Here was a criminal who deserved the punishment of death. Even the name “Barabbas” shows nothing good about this man: “Barabbas” literally means “son of a father.” What a redundant description of a man! Barabbas was practically a nobody.
When faced with the choice of Jesus versus Barabbas, the Jewish mob demanded the release of Barabbas, but the crucifixion of Jesus. Such a choice is literally incomprehensible. Barabbas was a murderer; Jesus was innocent (v.14-16, 22). Barabbas was a nobody (a “son of a father”); Jesus is the Son of the Father (John 20:30-31). Yet, many factors were in play in their decision-making. The Jews were influenced and pressured by the chief priests and scribes, who urged and instigated the crowd to call for Jesus’ crucifixion (cf. Matthew 27:20). Perhaps sin prevented them from accepting Jesus as their Lord (John 3:20-21). Many also found it too inconvenient to follow after Jesus (John 6:60, 66).
Is it possible for Christians today to pick Barabbas instead of Jesus? We may not be standing in Pilate’s hall, choosing between Jesus and Barabbas. However, in life we are often presented with choices; often our choices involve choosing between Jesus and something else. Unfortunately, sometimes we do not pick Jesus. It could be due to pressure from friends and the world. It could be due to the temptation of sin. It could be due to a matter of inconvenience. Brethren, when we decide to choose our selfish desires over the cross of Jesus, we are in fact choosing Barabbas.
In selecting Barabbas over Jesus, a substitution had taken place. Barabbas was the one who ought to die for his crimes, but Jesus substituted him and took his place. However, being crucified had always been part of God’s plan, as taught by Jesus Himself (Matthew 16:21), and construed since the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8). Jesus could even have called twelve legions to save Him, but He did not (Matthew 26:53). Jesus was the sacrificial lamb for sins, yet not just for Barabbas, but for the whole Jewish mob, and even for the whole world (John 1:29).
Brethren, we did not just choose Barabbas over Jesus; we are Barabbas himself. We are the sinner that was supposed to die, because we all have sinned, and are deserving of death (Romans 3:23; 6:23). Even though we choose Barabbas and sin over Jesus, yet by God’s grace and love we have hope because of Jesus who took our place instead (Romans 5:8). Therefore, we must no longer choose sin, because Jesus did not die that we may sin again, but that we may live unto righteousness (1 Peter 2:24).
Jesus is the one who substituted and died for us. But really, He is the only one who could do that, because He is the only one who could offer that perfect, unblemished sacrifice for the redemption of the whole world (1 Peter 1:18-19). Jesus is our only Saviour, and only in Him can we find salvation (Acts 4:13). In order to receive that salvation, we need to believe on Jesus and obey His gospel (John 8:24; Acts 2:38).
Will we choose Jesus or Barabbas? It is an obvious choice: only Jesus can save us and offer us the hope of eternal life. However, making the right choice will require effort and self-sacrifice (Luke 9:31). Will we be like Moses, who chose to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season (Hebrews 11:25)? Will we be committed to choose Jesus in our everyday decisions, and make Him our number #1 priority? Or will we be selfish, and allow Barabbas to run free in our lives? Let us not be as the Jewish mob who said “Give me Barabbas;” let us say, “Give me Jesus.”