Today is Good Friday. In our imagination we are viewing the events of that day through the eyes of Jesus Barabbas. Barabbas was the ringleader of an unsuccessful revolt. Three of the conspirators were captured and had been condemned by the Roman authorities to death by crucifixion. The other two we have given the names Nezzar and Mizbah.
In all probability these three were members of a movement resisting foreign rule, quite likely the group known as the Zealots. Under the leadership of the Maccabees in the second century BC, the resistance movement had achieved a small measure of success. The movement was active in the war of 66-73AD, their last stronghold to fall being Masada.
How did Barabbas view the events of that day? What did he think when he saw Jesus of Nazareth occupying his cross between Nezzar and Mizbah? In what ways did it change his life from that point forward?
To these questions we have no certain answers. Our musings through Barabbas' eyes can only reflect the "might-have-been".
Nezzah and Mizbah, not many hours to go our fate is sealed. Don't forget my words to you. You belong to the Movement. Die as a patriot. Die bold and defiant. And do your best on this one a curse on the Romans!
These Roman soldiers just carry out orders. They don't understand about this land our land of promise. They don't know about Jewish history that we are the chosen race. They don't worship the Lord or know his Word. They don't realise that it is a serious offence for them to execute those who genuinely seek the liberation of the Lord's people.
A curse on them for them know not what they do!
I heard this story the other day about a Roman soldier it really happened. There was this young soldier fresh from Italy we'll call him Jules. Jules wandered down into the marketplace all by himself You could tell he was fairly new in the army by the shine on his sandals. Being by himself, everyone thought him fair game for a bit of fun not taking it too far, of course. Jules made for Sam's shop. He asked Sam for some leather dressing guess he needed it to keep polishing up his gear. What he said was close enough, but Sam made as if he didn't understand. Does Jules want a leather skirt? Perhaps a leather tunic? Or would Jules rather...
Hush! There's a soldier coming... It can't be our time yet. A crowd has been stirring most of the night, but it must still be only early morning out there. It's not like the Romans to execute before the whole city is up and about!
For the present, be as civil as you can! I wouldn't put it past these Romans to flog before they crucify if they are insulted.
Barabbas? Yes, I'm Barabbas! You want me? Now?
The stocks are removed, but the chains remain. I can only give Nezzar and Mizbah our silent secret sign. Ah, they understand.
What's this all about? Through doors and passageways to ... ? The judgment hall!
A crowd is here and another prisoner! I wonder who he is! He's not one of ours. Solidly built. A bit over thirty, I'd say. Strong determination about that face, but a different look no, not a Zealot.
I wonder who he is and why are the two of us here? And why the crowd? I recognise some of the Jewish leaders there but not any who are remotely friendly to the Movement! Pilate is about to speak...
"Which one do you want me to set free for you? Jesus Barabbas or Jesus called the Messiah?"
I'd forgotten that! It's a Passover custom! Once a year the Romans are nice. But what mockery is this? All I have heard about Jesus of Nazareth suggests that he has been a man of kindness and compassion. Why is he here? He has never been a threat to the authorities.
What an unbalanced choice! I am willing to die I signed a statement to that effect when I joined the Movement. And I did kill a soldier in the riot I, at least, deserve to die. But not this Jesus of Nazareth! Well the chief priests and elders are putting the word around that's how they do it! I'm a danger to them, an embarrassment to them. They don't want me, I can tell!
"Which one of these two do you want me to set free for you?"
"What, then, shall I do with Jesus called the Messiah?"
"What crime has he committed?"
A soldier is coming to release my chains, but I want to look at this Jesus. Strong and gentle, dignified and resolute, this man is going to die and he will be whipped before he is crucified.
I am handed to the ecstatic crowd and see their faces. Yet, etched in my memory is another face, the face of a man going out to die!
As in a dream I am caught up in the crowd. We are making our way to Golgotha "the Place of the Skull". That's the execution place. The scaffolding is almost permanent. Only the heavy wooden crossbars are needed and each prisoner is forced to carry his own. Here they come now. There are three of them. Jesus of Nazareth they have beaten him up so badly that someone else has to help him with the cross-bar. There are two others... Oh! Of course! Nezzar and Mizbah! I had almost forgotten! How could I?
They're laying them out on the crossbars and holding them down while the nails are driven home. I can almost feel the pain as I watch. Now the crossbars are being hoisted into the scaffolding and tied securely. And the accusing inscriptions are being tacked above their heads. "Nezzar Rokba, Rebel Jew", "Mizbah Hadda, Rebel Jew", and... "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews."
I know my two fellow freedomfighters, but who is this Jesus of Nazareth really? Is he the King of the Jews, the Messiah we have been waiting for? The Jewish leaders obviously don't like that sign, but Pilate is getting his own back on them! But who is this Jesus of Nazareth? Has Pilate written truer than he knows?
Say! That's my cross! Jesus is dying in my place! He doesn't deserve to die - even Pilate admitted that. And the people had no good answer for him when he asked them. No! He doesn't deserve to die! But I do! Nezzar and Mizbah are dying, and Jesus is dying my death!
"Forgive them, Father! They don't know what they are doing!"
That's not the way of the Movement we would curse the Romans! Who is this Jesus? What is this Kingdom he talked about? Does he want to forgive the Romans, the priests and elders, all the people... ?
Nezzar is starting to curse. He's even cursing Jesus. But Mizbah is stopping him. He wants to be remembered by Jesus in his Kingdom... "I promise you that today you will be in Paradise with me."
Who is this Jesus? He's dying my death! He's welcoming Mizbah! He wants to forgive Nezzar, the priests and elders, the crowd, even the Roman soldiers... !
If he truly is the King of the Jews, the Messiah, then belonging to his Kingdom is going to be far more important than the Movement ever was!
Jesus! It's Barabbas here! Remember me too!
"It is finished!"
Too late! I've missed my chance! It is finished! The end of all things is at hand! The time of new beginnings is about to dawn! Perhaps Jesus Barabbas is finished! But Jesus the Messiah isn't finished no way! The future lies with him!