20th July 2023
Read (Matthew 27v32-66)
I have sometimes wondered what Barabbas did with his new found freedom. Did he go straight home and embrace his mother? Did he realise that he had been given a second chance and immediately change his ways? Did he go and sharpen his sword and return to the fight against the Romans? Whatever Barabbas was doing in the hours after his release, his substitute was making His way to the place of crucifixion.
As the Lord made His way to Golgotha, Jesus in His weakened condition fell beneath the weight of the cross He carried. The Romans forced a man by the name of Simon of Cyrene to carry the cross the rest of way (v32) and when they arrived they crucified Jesus. Crucifixion was sheer, degrading torture, reserved for the lowest of the low. Jesus was placed upon the cross and nails were driven into His feet and hands in order to keep Him in place. As the Saviour struggled to breathe, as His blood flowed and as every second became a struggle - Jesus had become a curse for our sake (Deuteronomy 21v23).
Perhaps the crowd would disperse and allow the Lord to die in peace? No. His garments were divided out (v35), those crucified with HIm were robbers and even they mocked Him (v38,44), many passed beneath the cross and hurled insults (v39-40) and the chief priests taunted Jesus by saying “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” (v42-43). Was Barabbas sleeping at this stage? Eating a meal? Celebrating with friends? We do not know, but His substitute was dying in supreme agony and mocked every step of the way.
If humanity responded to Jesus in petty indifference, nature became black, with darkness falling upon the land for three hours (v45). In the midst of the darkness Christ called out “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (v46) The Son of God quoted Psalm 22v1 in the depths of His abandonment. The obedient servant had been forsaken, the sinless Son had become sin for our sake. The Lord was offered sour wine (v48) while others continue to gawp (v49) and as Jesus cried out once more be breathed His last (v50).
The shockwaves of the Lord's death drew an incredible response. The temple curtain was torn in two, symbolising the new way to God that Christ had opened by His death (v51). There was an earthquake and many of the dead were raised, coming out of their tombs and appearing to many witnesses (v53). Even a Roman centurion who witnessed the events declared “Truly this was the Son of God!” (v54)
Later the Lord's body was removed from the cross and entrusted to Joseph of Arimathea who buried the Lord in a brand new tomb (v60). A great stone was rolled in front of the tomb and a guard was placed at the entrance to ensure that none of the Lord's disciples could steal His body in an attempt to fake a resurrection (v63).
None of this would have caused Barabbas an anxious thought. I'm sure he was sleeping soundly or recovering from a night of debauchery or already up the road to reunite with his fellow insurrectionists. Why should we care? Because Barabbas was swapped for Christ - an exchange had taken place and a guilty man was set free whilst an innocent man was brutally executed.
As I consider the fate of Barabbas, I am reminded of Christ and the great exchange at Calvary. It was there that Jesus became sin for my sake. It was there that He was crushed for my sake. It was there that His life was taken and the wrath of God poured out - for my sake. Jesus took our sin and made an end of it at the cross and it is this great exchange that sets guilty sinners free.
Brothers and sisters, take time to read these old familiar verses and allow them to bathe your soul in Gospel truth. Once, you were like Barabbas, dead in sin and without hope. But now you stand forgiven by the blood of Christ - His life was swapped for yours and the work is glorious indeed! Behold the Lamb of God who comes to take away the sin of the world.
Message (Scott Woodburn)
Q103 What do we pray for in the third petition? In the third petition, which is, Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven,” we pray, that God, by his grace, would make us able and willing to know, obey, and submit to his will in all things, as the angels do in heaven.