They cried out again, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a robber. (John 18:40)
It was a tumultuous few days. The trial with trumped up charges, the examination by Pilate, Herod, and Caiaphas, mixed with the confusion of the disciples of Jesus often take the focus off what was really happening. Pilate would unknowingly introduce the last Adam. “Behold the man,” he said. The man as humans were created to be was finally on the scene. “Behold your king,” he added. Yes, the long-anticipated king of the Jews was taking his rightful place.
Then, there was the episode regarding Barabbas. Pilate evidently thought the Jews would choose to release Jesus instead of the rebel robber, but they didn’t. What a surprise it must have been for Barabbas. The door to his cell was unlocked and he was free. Many preachers have used this story to show the parallel to what was happening to enslaved humans because of the substitutionary death of Jesus. He was condemned and we are set free. But there is a marked difference. Those freed by Jesus’ sacrifice are not only let out of the prison of sin, but they are empowered to live in their new freedom. It is possible and even probable that Barabbas wound up back in jail within a few weeks. After all, his release did not change his vocation. He was a robber.
Too often we are willing to accept a Barabbas-kind of freedom in our own concept of salvation. We are so glad to have our debt paid and the charges dropped that we conceive of God’s grace as such a limited freedom. Skeptics of grace are afraid of a gospel that emphasizes the unmerited forgiveness that Jesus offers. They most likely assume that without some bit of restraint provided by fear, the forgiven will abuse the freedom and go on to a life of selfish consumption. They misread the totality of the salvation Jesus purchased on the cross. He doesn’t stop by opening the doors to the cell. He changes the prisoner into a disciple. Forgiveness doesn’t come alone. It comes with a new life.
The cross and resurrection are the beginning of a whole new creation where God is renewing what has been perverted. That God did not stop with the crucifixion is evidence that his freedom includes a new start as a new creation. Those who embrace the crucified Jesus also receive the resurrected Lord. He becomes the center of their lives as they live for a different purpose.
For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised…Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
II Corinthians 5:14, 17
We have new hope because we have been born of the Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead. We are not only rejoicing that the prison doors are open, but that we have a new vocation. The resurrection offers more than hope for life after death. It offers life now. We can live for something larger than our own agendas. Life with the living Lord satisfies at a level that nothing else can. We must not settle for being like Barabbas when we can enjoy being sons and daughters of the now-reigning king.