“But ye denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted unto you, and killed the Prince of life; whom God raised from the dead; whereof we are witnesses” (Acts 3:14-15).
The irony of it all was not lost on Peter.
Jesus of Nazareth did good for people– He healed the sick, cast out demons, raised the dead, and taught excellent standards of living (Matthew 9:35, Luke 6:27-36, Acts 10:38).
Barabbas was a robber, an insurrectionist, and a murderer (Mark 15:7, John 18:40). He was in prison.
Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God, the Author of life, the Word made flesh (Acts 3:14, John 1:1-3, 14).
Barabbas took life.
Jesus of Nazareth upheld the right of authority while maintaining in Himself even greater power (Matthew 22:21, John 19:12, Matthew 7:29, 8:27, 9:6, Mark 1:27).
Barabbas worked hard to undermine Roman authority and wanted nothing more than to get Rome out of Jerusalem.
Jesus was not of this world (John 1:1-14).
Barabbas most certainly was of this world.
And yet, in the end, Barabbas goes free, and Jesus dies on the cross (cf. Matthew 27, etc.).
The Jews, in their ignorance and the hardness of their hearts, demanded that Pilate hand over to them a murderer while they handed over the Author of life to be killed. One can only imagine how this line fell upon Peter’s audience– the very people who had demanded His crucifixion– and the strong impact it would have made upon those who believed it. The sudden weight of the horror of the actions they themselves had perpetrated would have suddenly fallen upon them. The terror! The horror!
But this was how God fulfilled His plan (cf. Acts 3:18)– and it was accomplished with subtle and profound irony.
Nevertheless, we should not be hard on Barabbas. After all, what Jesus did for him physically, Jesus has done for all of us spiritually. Barabbas deserved death for his deeds, but found himself released while Jesus bore the cross intended for him and died upon it. All of us deserve spiritual death and condemnation for the sins we have all committed (Romans 3:23, 6:23), but He bore the cross and the penalty of our sin so that we could be redeemed and have eternal life (Romans 5:1-11, 2 Corinthians 5:21, Ephesians 2:1-18)!
We may not have sinned as grievously as Barabbas did, but Jesus endured the penalty of all such sin nonetheless. Let us praise God for His plan of salvation and the willingness to sacrifice His Son for our redemption, and serve Him!
Ethan R. Longhenry