A King for a Criminal


But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release for them Barabbas instead. — Mark 15:11

No greater injustice exists than to declare the innocent guilty and the guilty innocent. For the one guilty of irreparable harm to walk off scot-free offends our conscience. But, for the innocent one to pay for the crimes of the guilty assaults the very notions of truth, morality, and justice we hold dear. Still, all four Gospel writers record for us this gravest of injustices.

Barabbas appeared as part of Pilate’s last-ditch effort to save Jesus from the envy of the religious leaders. They had colluded and conspired to bring false testimony against Jesus. The evidence presented failed to prove Jesus’ guilt. Pilate repeated that he couldn’t find anything Jesus did worthy of death. Pilate’s wife sent a message calling Jesus a righteous man. Even Herod Antipas found nothing wrong with Jesus.

So Pilate stood him next to Barabbas. He assumed, that in the shadow of the notorious and guilty  Barabbas, Jesus’ innocence would shine brighter. Barabbas was guilty of capital offenses. Not only was he guilty of murder, but he was guilty of insurrection, a crime of the highest order in Rome. The punishment? Crucifixion.

But, Pilate’s plan failed. The voices of the religious leaders succeeded in subverting justice. “So Pilate decided that their demand should be granted. He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, for whom they asked, but he delivered Jesus over to their will” (Luke 23:24–25).

Jesus suffered the gravest injustice at the hands of the peccant. Though innocent, he was traded for one guilty of the highest crimes. A king exchanged for a criminal. But, this exchange was not for murderous, rebellious Barabbas alone. Jesus was traded for those who polluted justice; for those who sought to crucify an innocent man; for the ones who complicitly stood by. And Jesus was traded for us.

We are Barabbas. As insurrectionists, we rebelled against God’s will. We tried to set up our own rule in God’s place. We are guilty of murder. Our sin killed Jesus. But he willingly allowed himself to be traded, the innocent for the guilty, that we, like Barabbas, might be set free.

Heavenly Father, we are the guilty ones. But despite our guilt you traded places with us that we would be declared innocent as you are. Amen.

For further reflection read Mark 15:6–15

This is a sample from The Great Exchange: Devotions for Lent by Kyle G Jones and Kathy Strauch, a project of The Gospel Economist.

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