Monday, February 11, 2013

Murderer On The Loose!

Recently in the news was a story about a manhunt underway for a former Los Angeles cop. He had been on a killing rampage, murdering innocent victims, and was still on the loose. He was armed and dangerous. Can you imagine how frightening it would be to know there is an armed murderer on the loose in your city or town?

Years ago, a police helicopter kept circling over my neighborhood. It was apparent they were looking for someone, and knowing there is a prison about 10 minutes away, it made me suspicious that an escapee was on the run. My children were young then, playing outside, when a state trooper sped into my driveway. He came to a quick stop, jumped out, and told me to get the kids in the house, lock the doors, and stay inside. He took off down the road and I quickly did exactly as he said. Later we were told that they had tracked down an escaped prisoner who was hiding in the bushes, two houses down. As far as I know, he was not a murderer, but even so, it was enough to give us quite a scare.

The news about that murderer in California reminds me of a murderer who was on the loose a long time ago. His name was Barabbas. He lived nearly two thousand years ago, during the time of Jesus. The story of Barabbas is recorded in the Bible and it takes place in the early morning hours when Jesus was arrested and placed before Pilate. Already held in jail as a prisoner, Barabbas was a robber and a murderer. He was obviously a very rebellious person, having caused an insurrection in the city prior to his arrest. (Luke 23:19). If anyone deserved to be on death row awaiting execution, it was Barabbas. 

Interestingly enough, a strange custom had been in place during each Passover feast. The Roman governors always pardoned and released a prisoner in honor of the Jews. No one is certain how this practice started. Perhaps it was an ancient custom, or possibly just a traditional good will gesture. Whatever the reason, it certainly was not part of the Jewish law, and surely didn’t do much for upholding justice. Regardless, during this particular Passover, the peculiar practice of releasing a prisoner was to once again be done. Only in this case, Pilate gave the Jews a choice of who to release. They could release Jesus, who had just been arrested, or they could release Barabbas, who was on death row.

It seems like it should have been a no-brainer. After all, why would anyone want to release Barabbas – a man so barbaric, so dangerous, so evil, and such a menace to society? Even Pilate didn't think Jesus deserved death. However, the Jewish chief priests and elders persuaded the crowd to demand that Jesus be the one held as prisoner and crucified, and they convinced the people to plead the release of Barabbas instead. That’s exactly what happened! And a murderer was on the loose!

In this strange twist, a convicted criminal was released, and an innocent man died in his place! (Matthew 27:15-26, Mark 15:6-15, John 18:39-40). Barabbas deserved his sentence. Jesus didn’t. Jesus was given the punishment that Barabbas was doomed for – the cross. Thus, the guilty one was set free, while the blameless one paid the penalty. Barabbas was given a new lease on life. He had a brand new start - a second chance. 

Before this event took place, Barabbas had no hope of gaining freedom. There was nothing he could do to earn his release. He was condemned to certain death and if it weren’t for trading places with Jesus, he would have been surely executed. Instead, Barabbas was pardoned from his crimes and walked away a free man.

Sound familiar? I just is possible that this whole Barabbas incident was somehow orchestrated through God's providence for the sole purpose of illustrating what Jesus does for each of us? You see, the story of Barabbas is actually the story of you!

Look at the similarities. You were guilty of sin and there was nothing you could do to earn your forgiveness. You were doomed for eternal punishment. Only because Christ took your place – took the punishment on the cross - were you released from prison, released from the bondage of sin. As in the case of Barabbas, the righteous one (Jesus) died for the unrighteous one (you). The innocent one died for the guilty one. Only because of the sacrifice of Christ, do you walk in a newness of life – pardoned and set free.

This true story makes up my favorite parallel in the entire bible. Each time you are reminded of the story of Barabbas, let it remind you of who you are - a sinner saved by grace. You are Barabbas!

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