Church Education Trust




Bible Readings:   Mark 16:6 – 15;  John 3:14 - 21



The prisoner sat alone in his cell.  We can only imagine what he was thinking…

“Was it really worth it?  Our plan has failed.  The occupying forces are still in control and now I’m their prisoner. By this weekend, they’ll be rid of me for good!”

                You see, this man’s cell was on ‘death row’, and the day of his execution was fast approaching. He was probably bitter and angry, perhaps fearful, in despair, or even suicidal.  Feeling down?  He probably felt so far down he would have had to reach up to touch the bottom!


          The day he was dreading finally arrived…he hadn’t slept the night before - how can you sleep when you know the next day is going to be your last? - He heard the sound of cell doors being thrust open as two other prisoners were taken away.  “Well,” he thinks, “This is it - my turn next…”  and he waits for what seems inevitable. 

But for a long time, there is only silence; and then in the distance he can hear a crowd shouting.  As he listens, to his astonishment, he can hear that the crowd is chanting his name…. “BARABBAS!  BARABBAS! BARABBAS!” 

Somewhere in the back of his mind he begins to remember….. “Of course, this is Passover!  And the Roman governor usually releases one prisoner at the feast…But he’s not going to think of releasing me, is he?” 

Later Barabbas would learn of the drama that was unfolding at that moment in the Praetorium - the Governor’s Headquarters, but his mind is jolted back to reality as once again he hears the footsteps of the guards outside. 

The door is unceremoniously kicked open… “Barabbas - this is your lucky day!  Pilate has finally gone crazy!  Get out!  You’re free to go!”

And so Barabbas, the previously condemned man, is in a daze as he walks out into the bright sunshine, for an extension to his life that he had no right to expect.

We don’t know very much about Barabbas, the notorious political murderer who was given his freedom instead of  Jesus Christ, but there are some things about him we should be careful not to miss….


First of all, we should take note of THE MEANING OF HIS NAME.  We know that  names do have meanings, and in Scripture the meaning of a name can be very significant.  This is surely one of those times.  You see, BARABBAS means ‘Son of His Father’, and perhaps his parents hoped Barabbas would turn out to be just like his dad.

But parents’ dreams for their children are not always realized, are they? and it is doubtful that Barabbas’ father could ever have foreseen that his son would one day be convicted as a terrorist. But the name ‘Barabbas’ reminds us that we are all sons - or daughters - of our father, and so, in a way, he is a representative figure for all men and women.


 We should also consider THE NATURE OF HIS GUILT.  That Barabbas was guilty of a terrible crime there can be no doubt. But I guess most of us would prefer not be compared to a man like him. But can we be so sure about that?

In services of Christian worship in many places today,   people will admit to having ‘sinned in thought, and word, and deed’;  We may say that, but probably deep in our hearts we feel we are really not that bad.  ‘Of course, none of us is perfect’, we reason, ‘but can we really be as bad as the Bible teaches, when it says; “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God,” or “there is none who does good, not even one” ?

And we certainly would take issue with James, when he writes that “if we offend in one point, we are guilty of all”! Surely that can’t be right?!  

At this point, maybe it would be helpful to imagine this scenario…..You are driving along the road, when - in your rear-view mirror - you notice a car behind you.  The registration number seems to be  POL 1CE (!), but the distinctive markings on the car and the flashing blue lights on the top confirm your growing fears! 

You pull over and wind down the window to speak to the man in uniform: “What seems to be the trouble, officer?” you ask - with innocence written all over your face!  “I’ll tell you what the trouble is, sir; you’ve been driving recklessly for several miles, well over the speed limit, to say nothing of the three red lights you drove straight through! …. You’ve broken the law!” “But officer,” you reply, “I may have committed a few minor traffic violations, but there are lots of other laws that I’ve kept!

I haven’t robbed a bank, or mugged any old ladies or murdered anyone!” ...... Do you honestly think that argument would persuade the policeman to let you off?  No.  If we break the law, we mustn’t be surprised when we are apprehended and called to account. 

In the same way, we may protest that we haven’t committed any serious offences against God, but the one thing we cannot do is to claim innocence.  Can we really say that we’ve never been guilty of things like greed or jealousy, hatred or lust, lying or selfishness? 

The Bible reminds us that each of us must answer to God for the wrong we have done - ‘in thought, and word and deed’.   And most serious of all, we have not given Jesus Christ the place in our lives He rightly deserves. Like it or not, we are guilty as charged.But is there a way out of this ‘condemned cell’, imprisoned - as we are - by memories of our moral failures in too many areas of life?  Can we ever be free?

I’m reminded of the man who visited some of the inmates in a prison, having been given permission to grant a pardon to one of them, the prisoner he judged to be most deserving.  He went from cell to cell, asking each prisoner about the crime they had committed.  The strange thing was that most of them wouldn’t admit to any crime….one said he had been set up, another criticised the judge’s instructions to the jury, while yet another complained about the incompetence of his legal team.

However, the attitude of the prisoner in the next cell was altogether different…he said he had no quarrel with the prosecution, the judge, or indeed the whole legal system.  As he freely confessed, “I committed a crime, and I have no-one else to blame for being where I am today!”  The visitor stood to his feet…. “You scoundrel!  You really are a bad lot!  I’m not going to permit you to stay here a day longer - because if I do, you’re going to corrupt all of these good men!”  And so the pardon was handed over, and the man was set free!  Why?  Because was honest enough to admit he had done wrong.

The first step to freedom from guilt is to admit that we need God’s forgiveness. Perhaps you remember that in the Garden of Eden, after the disobedience of Adam and Eve, God called out, “Adam, where are you?”  It wasn’t that an all-knowing God needed an answer to the question - He wanted them to own up.

But even if Barabbas had owned up to his guilt, that in itself would not have freed him.  The court had passed its sentence, and the due punishment had to be carried out. No…. there was only one way Barabbas could be free - someone else would have to take the punishment for him.  And in the event, that’s exactly what happened.


The reason why we remember the story of Barabbas today - so many centuries later is because of the PERSON ON HIS CROSS.  Barabbas, the political revolutionary, would have been forgotten long ago, were it not for the fact that his place at Golgotha- the hill of crucifixion outside Jerusalem - was taken by the only truly innocent Man who ever lived.   The One who was executed on the cross that was meant for Barabbas was none other than Jesus Christ, the sinless Son of God. 

Back in the days when I was at school, GCSE’s were known as ‘O’ levels, and one novel we had to read for the English Literature course was Charles Dickens’ ‘A Tale of Two Cities’.   A work of historical fiction, the story is set during the days of the French Revolution, when many aristocrats were literally ‘losing their heads’ as they met with `Madame Guillotine’.

Dickens relates the story of Charles Darnay, a young aristocrat who is captured and faces execution.  All seems lost for him…..until he is visited by his friend Sydney Carton. Earlier in the novel, we learn that Sydney Carton looks not unlike Darnay, and there - in the prison cell, he puts a carefully thought-out plan into action. He manages to drug his friend, and then changes clothes with him. 

When the jailor is called, the man who is helped into the waiting carriage is Charles Darnay; and the man left behind in the cell, and who is soon to kneel at the guillotine, is Sydney Carton.  It is a heroic act of self-sacrifice, done out of love and friendship, and in fulfilment of an earlier promise he had made.

And Dickens’ novel ends with the words: ‘It is a far, far better thing that I do now than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.’  

The story of Barabbas is a vivid reminder to us that when Jesus Christ died on the cross, He was there in our place, paying for our sin.  Just as the prophet Isaiah had predicted hundreds of years before: “The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”

Lance Pibworth must have been thinking of what Isaiah said when he wrote these words;


          All my sin of every kind,

          All the thoughts that stain the mind,

          All the evil I designed…………………….Laid on Him.


          All the ways my feet have strayed

          All the idols I have made,

          All the times I have not prayed……………Laid on Him.


          All the told and acted lies,

          All success and all the tries,

          Sins that I legitimize………………………Laid on Him.


          All the times I’ve grieved the Spirit,

          All the nature I inherit,

          All the punishment I merit………………...Laid on Him.


          Laid on Him, God’s own dear Son,

          Laid on Him, the Holy One,

          Blotting out the noonday sun……….when laid on Him!



          But we need to do more than just acknowledge that Jesus died for people in general.  It was the Apostle Paul who wrote: “…the Son of God loved me and gave Himself for me.”  What Jesus did on the Cross 20 centuries ago needs to become personal to us, when - as individuals - we respond in genuine repentance, trusting in Him to forgive us and bring us new life.

I can’t help wondering if - after he had been freed -  Barabbas went to the hill of Calvary? What did he think as he watched Jesus Christ die in his place?   And was his life different after that?

In the days of the early church, the Apostle Peter found himself in a prison cell. Like Barabbas, he too was facing execution; but - unlike Barabbas - he was there - not for any crime he had committed - but because he refused to stay silent about his faith in Jesus Christ.  The Herod at the time had already put James the apostle to death. That seemed to please those Jews who were opposed to the spread of the Christian Gospel, so Peter was next on the list for the executioner’s sword. 

In answer to the prayers of Christian people, God sent an angel to free His imprisoned apostle. But then we are told something really remarkable - before the angel could lead Peter from the prison, he had to waken him up!  How was it that Peter was able to sleep so soundly when he was scheduled for execution the next day?!  The only reasonable answer seems to be that - because of Jesus - God had given His servant the ‘peace that passes all understanding’.  Before Peter was ever arrested and imprisoned, his heart was already free!

We are only too well aware that there are individuals in our society today who see themselves much like a prisoner in solitary confinement; they feel trapped and unable to escape.  Perhaps they want to be free of relationship problems or financial difficulties; they may have suffered abuse at the hands of others, they may be addicted to alcohol or other drugs; and they may be experiencing depression because of circumstances over which they feel they have no control.  They may even have entertained thoughts of bringing their lives to a speedy and premature end. 

The Christian Gospel tells us that things don’t have to stay that way.  The Cross of Jesus Christ reminds us that there is a way out of the condemned cell.  Our guilt and condemnation before God can be lifted, and - having dealt with the sin which is our biggest problem - God, in His grace and love -  will begin to deal with those other issues that may be blighting our lives.  There is a way to step through the open cell door and out into the sunshine.

One day, Jesus stood up in the synagogue in His home town, opening up the book of the prophet  Isaiah, and clearly applying the words He read to Himself:  “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good tidings to the poor; he has sent me to heal the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives….”Jesus was declaring that a big part of the ministry His Father had given Him was that of setting people free.

Later, He was to put it like this:   “He who hears my word and believes on Him who sent me shall not come into condemnation but has passed from death to life.” The testimony of Christians all over the world is that His promise still stands true for people like you and me today.



Sermon 001 Rev.Philip Campbell. 




< back to previous page >

©2008 Church Education Trust