Pastor Hopkins preached this sermon at the Divine Service on Good Friday, 4/10/2020. The service was broadcast live on Facebook at 9am, and is now available as a recording. To follow along from home, the bulletin is available as a PDF: Good Friday Chief Service Bulletin
No matter how many times this story is told, it never changes. Pilate always asks the same question; the crowd always gives the same answer, and that answer never seems to make sense.
Reports were that this Man had raised the dead, healed the sick, and fed the hungry. And so, wherever He went, the people welcomed Him. That’s why none of this makes sense to Pilate. Surely the people have been talked into this – coerced and manipulated.
After all, he knows how the system works. And he knows how the chief priests work.
They played their parts in orchestrating it to be sure, but it takes more than a little bit of mass manipulation, and a sham trial in a kangaroo court to get here. Doesn’t it?
Fickle as they may be, folks don’t make the turn from Palm Sunday to Good Friday on a dime.
It takes something more to close the distance between, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” and “Crucify Him.” Doesn’t it?
Surely, it takes more than clever rhetoric and pushy priests to trade Jesus for Barabbas.
Or maybe it doesn’t.
For as long as anyone can remember, the people have been conditioned for this. From that first act of rebellion in the Garden, they have been rebels. And from the day Abel’s blood spilled onto the ground, they have been murderers. And the only way they’re going to make it through this is if they look out for their own.
Somehow that isn’t obvious. That’s why lots of the movies portray the scene this way: Barabbas is released. And he rushes into the crowds, only to be cast aside – just a pawn in the big game. The people and the priests don’t seem to want anything to do with him.
But that doesn’t fit. Barabbas has committed murder in the insurrection. That is, he had spilled blood in the name of the great rebellion.
There were lots of rebels in prison, but they knew his name. John doesn’t record the detail, but Matthew does. He writes that Barabbas was “notorious.”
He was a son of the revolution! Asking for his release would have been like asking for Nathan Hale. He was a hero. Just how much convincing does it take?
Barabbas is one of them – a son of the revolution. And if he goes free, then the rebellion continues. If he goes free, then hopefully, one day, they’ll all be free, too.
Free to take what they want; free to do as they like; no more authority, no more rules; no more guys in the sky telling them what to do and what not to do. Call him Caesar, call Him YHWH – It doesn’t matter. The new boss is the same as the old boss.
Barabbas was their kind of rebel. Jesus wasn’t. That’s why they set him free. That’s why you set him free.
The words St. Peter speaks in Solomon’s Portico are true for everyone:
[Y]ou denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you… Acts 3:14
Jesus was crucified at your request.
And now with every nail and thorn He is mocked and spit upon.
“Hey you, would-be Messiah. Why don’t you come down? Hey you, failed Savior – save yourself. Come be free like Barabbas. Come be free like us.”
Of course Jesus could. But, Jesus won’t. He won’t because if Jesus sets Himself free, Barabbas has to die. If Jesus sets Himself free, you have to die.
This is why Good Friday is good. This is the great exchange. This is the big trade. This is The Son of the Father, given as payment for a son of the Father. That’s what Barabbas’ name means. Bar: Son. Abba: Father. Son of the Father.
It means that Barabbas is one of you; and it goes far beyond all the murder and rebellion. Barabbas is one of you, because He is a child of God. Barabbas is one of you, because for the sake of Christ, he is set free.
Scripture doesn’t say what happened after he was released. But I hope he went to Golgotha. It would have been risky, lest the crowd change their mind. But still, I hope he went.
I hope he sat at the foot of the cross on Good Friday right next to you. I hope he stood shoulder to shoulder with all the other rebels, and felt the still warm blood drip from Christ’s wounds. I hope he felt the price of His freedom splash on his grimy head.
That would have been very difficult, just like I know that all of this can be difficult. It always is. And it isn’t just the brutality or the gore. It is scary to come and see what the punishment for your sin is: death and hell.
But this story is not a tragedy. And it is not over tonight.
One can ponder how will Barabbas spend the next few days. Will he trail behind Joseph and Nicodemus to see where Christ is laid? Will he follow the women to the tomb? Will he see you there?
As it is for him, so it is for you. How you spend the next couple days are up to you. You’re free now.