Today, in our imagination, we are viewing the events of Easter Day through the eyes of Jesus Barabbas. Barabbas was in all probability a member of the Jewish movement which resisted foreign rule, quite likely the group known as the Zealots. He had led an unsuccessful revolt and, together with two other conspirators, had been captured and condemned by the Roman authorities to death by crucifixion.
Pilate, the governor, trying to find a way to release Jesus of Nazareth without upsetting the Jewish leaders, gave the crowd a choice to have released Jesus Barabbas or Jesus called the Messiah. It was a special gesture at Passover time. To his shock, the crowd, instructed by the chief priests and elders, asked for Barabbas.
Barabbas was set free and Jesus was taken to be crucified. He died between Barabbas' two friends, to whom we have given the names Nezzar and Mizbah. He died on the cross that had been prepared for Jesus Barabbas.
The Biblical record does not follow the story of Barabbas beyond this point. We have no account of the impact of these happenings on Jesus Barabbas. Did he in fact become a member of the Jesus Movement? We do not know, though perhaps the mention of his name in all four Gospels may be oblique testimony that he did become a Christian. While our musings through the eyes of Barabbas suggest the "mighthavebeen, " the realities affirmed about Easter Day are sober and glorious truth!
Jesus died on my cross. He died my death. He died with a prayer on his lips a prayer of forgiveness and a shout that "it is finished!"
My friends, Nezzar and Mizbah, died alongside him. Nezzar died with curses and insults on his lips, bitter to the end. He blamed the Romans, the Jewish leaders, the Jewish people and Jesus for not miraculously bringing the three of them down from their crosses.
A week ago in jail, awaiting crucifixion, we had heard the crowd welcoming Jesus, May God bless the one who comes in the name of the Lord!" That's part of what they sang. What if Jesus really is the Messiah? we thought. Can he act quickly enough to save us from the cross? But then he was dying there himself. Was it cruel disappointment that had Nezzar calling out, "Aren't you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!" Poor Nezzar! Didn't you hear him say, "Forgive them, Father! They don't know what they are doing"? That's not the style of the Movement, I know. Perhaps you wondered whose side he was on! Poor Nezzar, he was on your side!
But Mizbah took it differently. "Remember me, Jesus, when you come as King!" And Jesus said, "I promise you that today you will be in Paradise with me."
Rather odd that, isn't it? How three people can go through the same experience and react so differently.
Well, it was the same experience for Nezzar and Mizbah, but for Jesus...? He was dying on my cross, dying my death one person truly taking the punishment for another.
That bears some thinking! I recall what the prophet Isaiah said, "He endured the suffering that should have been ours, the pain that we should have borne..." The suffering that should have been mine, the pain that I should have borne... "But because of our sins he was wounded, beaten because of the evil we did. We are healed by the punishment he suffered, made whole by the blows he received. All of us were like sheep that were lost, each of us going his own way. But the Lord made the punishment fall on him, the punishment all of us deserve" (Is. 53.46).
Not guilty of sin himself, he looked as if he was carrying a big, big load as if he was carrying the load of a whole world of people.
And then, in some way, "it is finished" more than the pain and struggle of dying. Perhaps, as Isaiah said, "We are healed by the punishment he suffered, made whole by the blows he received."
What a person! When we would curse, he blesses. When we would call down judgment, he prays forgiveness.
Well, it is finished! The end of all things is at hand. The time of new beginnings is about to dawn! Jesus Barabbas and the resistance Movement may be finished, but not Jesus the Messiah. The future lies with him!
What's this rumour I hear? You say Jesus is alive! But how can that be? I saw him die! He died on my cross. My friends, Nezzah and Mizbah, died on either side of him There can be no question at all that he died flogged mercilessly before he was nailed and hoisted, then left to time and heat and thirst... He died all right, yet you say he is alive?
I would like to believe that I wish I had met him. When he was dying I shared Mizbah's desire to be with him in Paradise. Somehow I got left behind, yet I still believe that the future lies with Jesus. My life can never be the same again!
You say Jesus is alive tell me more! The women who were among his followers went early to the tomb with spices, you say. But how would they expect to get in? The stone over the entrance to the tomb must weigh at least half a ton... But the stone was rolled back and the body gone? An earthquake? Well, yes, something like that did stir me. And these women reported seeing angels who said he is alive? Then Jesus himself met them, you say.
Strange news! Yet can I be sure? I do believe that the future lies with Jesus. If he is alive, that places a whole new dimension on his coming and on what happened when he died!
Perhaps my friends in the Movement can still provide me with some independent information. Here's one of them now. Ben Azor, I hear strange tales about the one who died on my cross, Jesus of Nazareth. What happened at his tomb?
So it's true that the stone rolled back about the time of the earthquake! And the guards? They were there the whole time? Then, whatever happened, they saw it all! But what did they see? The tomb was already empty, you say. You're sure of that? One of the Movement's spies overheard them as they ran back into the city to tell the chief priests?
Then all we have to do is find one of the guards to confirm the story! Oh, I see... A bribe! I should have known! Those chief priests don't give up easily.
But what an unlikely story! The disciples stole his body! What nonsense! I saw him die, Ben Azor! No one who saw him die could pretend him alive!
No, but if he's really alive, then we must accept that we haven't finished with him, nor he with us. When I heard him cry out on Friday, "It is finished!", I didn't believe it was the end of him. Yet he had finished something finished what he'd come to do!
The old rebellious, sinful Jesus Barabbas was finished. This Jesus of Nazareth died on my cross, died my death. He forfeited his life for mine. I cannot live the same, Ben Azor.
He's alive! And, because of him, there is a new Jesus Barabbas. I must live for him!