During the Palm Sunday reading this year, more than any year I can recall, the figure of Barabbas stood out to me. I'm sure I've heard others make the connection, but you know how it is when you have a personal epiphany--it's like this blazing light that sears into your soul, all else temporarily drops away, and you can briefly see with some kind of unhindered clarity something that you didn't see before or maybe only saw less clearly.
This happened to me. Specifically the aspect of how Jesus quite literally took the place of Barabbas I mean, we often speak in a general sense about how Christ took our place in the sacrifice of the Cross. But for some reason, it just struck me how literal it was in the case of Barabbas.
This man. A murderer. A leader in rebellion. The Incarnate Word took his place.But all together they shouted out, “Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us.” — Now Barabbas had been imprisoned for a rebellion that had taken place in the city and for murder. — Again Pilate addressed them, still wishing to release Jesus, but they continued their shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”Pilate addressed them a third time, “What evil has this man done? I found him guilty of no capital crime. Therefore I shall have him flogged and then release him.”With loud shouts, however, they persisted in calling for his crucifixion, and their voices prevailed.The verdict of Pilate was that their demand should be granted. So he released the man who had been imprisoned for rebellion and murder, for whom they asked, and he handed Jesus over to them to deal with as they wished.
We are often tempted to think that Christ couldn't possibly forgive our sin. Our sin is too heinous. Or we keep doing it--how could he keep forgiving on us? But he does. He took the place of a rebellious murderer. And he wants us to let him take our place as well. He wants us to rely on his atonement, on his mercy.
Yes, I am Barabbas, and Christ really did take my place.