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The Characters of Lent: Barabbas
Mark 15:6-15

Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Lent Service III—March 11, 2009

Pontius Pilate was surprised and disappointed when Jesus was sent back to him from Herod, at least with his head still attached.  Herod had not “taken care” of this problem as Pilate anticipated he would.  Change of venue had failed, so now Pilate tries to set Jesus free with another legal maneuver: amnesty.

“Now it was the governor’s custom at the Feast to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. The crowd came up and asked Pilate to do for them what he usually did.  At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Barabbas who had taken part in a rebellion, and had been thrown into prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising.”

Barabbas is actually Bar-Abbas, son of Abbas.  It’s an ironic coincidence that the most violent terrorist group in the Middle East today goes by the name of Abbas.  That’s exactly what Barabbas was, a terrorist, supposedly on the side of the Jewish people, trying to drive out the Romans, but actually using the cause just as an excuse to commit murder and mayhem.  Barabbas was public enemy number one of both the Romans and the Jews.  Setting Barabbas free would be like the cases today that make us so angry, when murderers and other violent criminals go free after just a few years. 

“So, wanting to release Jesus, when the crowd had gathered Pilate appealed to them: “It is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover.  Which one do you want me to release to you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” For he knew it was out of envy that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him.”

Pontius Pilate knows Jesus is innocent, he wants to set Jesus free, so he gives the crowd an offer they can’t refuse: Either take Jesus, or I set Barabbas free.  Surely they will take Jesus; no one wants Barabbas walking the streets again.

“But the chief priests and the elders stirred up the crowd to ask for Barabbas instead and to have Jesus executed. ‘Which of the two do you want me to release to you?’ asked the governor.  ‘Do you want me to release “the king of the Jews”?’ They shouted back, ‘No, not him! Give us Barabbas!’”  Again Pontius Pilate’s legal maneuvering fails. 

“’What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called Christ?’ Pilate asked.

They all answered, ‘Crucify him!’  When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an riot was starting, their shouts prevailed.  Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them, the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, the one they asked for, and surrendered Jesus to their will.  He had Jesus flogged and handed him over to be crucified.”

All of us are like Barabbas: guilty, deserving of punishment, even death.  And yet all of us, like Barabbas, have been set free, set free from our sins, because Jesus has been condemned in our place.  As Isaiah says, “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him.”

Did Barabbas understand why he was set free that day?  Did Barabbas repent and become a Christian out of gratitude for being saved from death?  We don’t know.  But, like Barabbas, by Jesus’ death you have been saved, saved from eternal death and damnation. 

That is the lesson of the Lenten story of Barabbas.  Amen.

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