Most of my life, I’ve resented Barrabas, the criminal who got released on Good Friday instead of Jesus, who was sent off to be tortured to death. Now, I’m grateful for his example.
When I watched the movie The Passion of the Christ in 2004, it was obvious that director Mel Gibson was playing up the contrast between Jesus and Barrabas – maybe too much – but it worked. I found myself resenting the injustice of it all over again.
It’s so obvious that Barabbas is the one who deserves 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. But as I watched the movie, his name got stuck in my head.
For some reason, that name 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 the passages that mention him. 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 individuals who are identified as children of Abba: Jesus and those who believe in Him.
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 “Abba Father” through us (Galatians 4:6, Romans 8:15).
Tears of gratitude filled my eyes as I realized that on Good Friday, the guilty “son of Abba” was freed so that the sinless “Son of Abba” could die instead. 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 with their Abba Father.
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).
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