When I was in my 20s, I intensely struggled with a sense of unworthiness before God; yet at the same time, I felt like I was just good enough to deserve His love because I was so well-behaved. It was a stressful way to live, and eventually, it took its toll.
I had knots in the muscles of my back, my stomach was sometimes upset, and I effectively alienated a number of people who didn’t agree with every point of my legalistic theology. A person can only live like that for so long, and as I slowly pulled away from the crazy-making, God sent along people, books, and circumstances to open my mind to His love.
In one instance, He used a scene in controversial movie,The Passion of the Christ, to help shake me out of my toxic sense of insecurity and self-righteousness.
Give us Barabbas
I was watching the scene in which Barabbas is released instead of Jesus, and I started to get frustrated. The Barabbas twist in the crucifixion story annoyed me since my childhood. I mean, it’s so obvious that Barabbas is the one who deserved to die; he’s the actual bad guy – yet he’s the one who gets pardoned, rather than Jesus, who just stands there and takes it.
The movie played up the contrast between Jesus and Barabbas – perhaps too much – and I found myself resenting the injustice all over again; but then something happened.
For some reason, his name stuck in my brain and agitated me as I sat there. And even after I left the theater, it kept cropping up in my mind.
In the days that followed, I kept thinking of the grotesque actor who played Barabbas – a 2,000-year-old criminal who probably never appreciated the magnitude of the exchange that saved his life.
I still couldn’t shake that name; and it bothered me so much that I reread all the passages about Barabbas. Then I decided to look it up in the concordance on the off-chance that the meaning might be straightforward enough to shed light on this mysterious individual. And there I found the simple meaning of his name.
Barabbas (Βαραββᾶς, ᾶ, ὁ): son of Abba.
I took a deep breath. I couldn’t believe it.
I’m sure there were plenty of men named Barabbas back in that day, but in the inspired Word, there are only two others who are identified as sons of Abba: Jesus and us.
Jesus prays to His “Abba Father” in Mark 14:36. And in two different places in the New Testament, believers receive the good news that the Holy Spirit has come to live in us and cries through us, “Abba Father” (Galatians 4:6, Romans 8:15).
On Good Friday, one guilty “son of Abba” was freed so that the sinless “Son of Abba” could take his place. It wasn’t right. Jesus deserved better. Barabbas should’ve had the stripes across his back – he should’ve been the one who was bruised and beaten; he should’ve been the one dangling naked from that cross. But the greatest Son of Abba took the place of His lesser brother so that both of them could live together in eternity.
We are Barabbas, and Jesus is the Lamb of God who was slain to save us from ourselves while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8). God, in His infinite love, “made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).