Few people know what real freedom is. The story of Barabbas reveals the truth.
Are you a "free spirit"? Do you know anyone who likes to consider himself or herself a "free spirit"? A "free spirit" is usually defined as one unhampered by traditional values and morals — one who does whatever he or she feels is good or exciting, and who is proud of it. Freedom is one of humanity's most cherished values. Even some who consider themselves Christians, especially many who believe they have been " born again," claim freedom — freedom from sin and its penalties, freedom from any responsibility to keep God's laws. But is anyone truly free? Especially, are Christians free from keeping God's commandments or from carnal pulls? What is real freedom and how can one know he or she is truly free? The story of Barabbas sheds much light on ultimate freedom and how it is obtained.
Barabbas set free
Barabbas, whose name meant "son of the father" (remember that), was a notorious criminal in first-century Palestine. He had been convicted of both murder and sedition, making him liable to execution under Jewish and Roman law alike. Not a comfortable context in which to find oneself! But, according to the gospel accounts in your Bible, Barabbas was set free by the Roman authorities at the expense of Jesus Christ's life. The time setting was the Passover: "Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to releasing to the multitude one prisoner whom they wished.... Therefore, when they had gathered together, Pilate said to them, 'Whom do you want me to release to you? Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?'... They said, 'Barabbas!'... Then he released Barabbas to them; and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered Him to be crucified" (Matt. 27:15-26). Why not release Jesus, who had not sinned — who had broken no law? And why should the people — actually, in this case, a howling mob — have been accounted worthy of judging who should be released? Absurd! Yet there was a great purpose to this terrible travesty of justice. We're talking about Jesus, our Passover! Understand: Had it not happened this way, you and I could never be truly free. Why? Read on. There is much symbolism in what happened to Barabbas.
Barabbas and you
No one likes to admit to being guilty of anything, anytime. But Barabbas surely should have had little difficulty admitting that his reprieve was unwarranted. How perfect a picture of true freedom as it relates to all of us! For true freedom is freedom from the death penalty that hangs over every human for breaking God's law (Rom. 3:23, 6:23). And God's law is in force today (Matt. 5:17, Rom. 7:12, I John 3:4). Though Barabbas' guilt may have been clear to him, our guilt may not be so clear to us — this responsibility for our personal sins. The fact is that most of Christianity misunderstands! Our sins and their penalty still remain if we have not yet repented of ourselves, been baptized and received God's Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38) — if God has not judged, through His grace, that our death penalty has been paid by the sacrifice of Christ (Rom. 5:8-10, Eph. 2:8). How can you be truly free? You can be if you earnestly desire to be so. Your sins warrant your everlasting death. Barabbas was a thief who committed murder during an insurrection in Jerusalem. Like Barabbas, we have stolen from God and man, broken God's laws, rebelled against God and hated our fellowman. How? Because the law is spiritual, and to truly keep it we must keep it in attitude, by nature, and apply it to every situation in life, whether the Bible specifically covers an area or not. God's spiritual law is a way of life — the way of giving. This way of life is summed up by the word love (Rom. 13:8-10). The opposite way is the way of getting. If you break one of God's commandments, you have broken them all, because you have followed the get way rather than the give way. The apostle Paul clarified how God's Ten Commandments were to be spiritually applied — that, until almighty God revealed this great truth to him, the very law that he was striving to keep physically still held the penalty of spiritual death over him (Rom. 7:5-12). Paul used the Tenth Commandment to illustrate this spiritual understanding. Read it. The law against coveting must be applied in the mind, spiritually. Paul, through the help of God's Holy Spirit, came to understand how all of the Ten Commandments must be kept in the spirit as well as in the letter. And where he, after conversion, failed — where we fail — the blood of Christ, our Passover (I Cor. 5:7), covered those sins as he acknowledged and repented of them. The gospels record how Pontius Pilate attempted to free Jesus rather than Barabbas. But the bloodthirsty mob responded, "His blood be on us and on our children" (Matt. 27:25). This was a prophecy from the mouths of rebels! Centuries before, their ancestors, the ancient Israelites, had pictured Christ's sacrifice and shed blood when they were about to leave Egypt (Ex. 12). At the institution of the Passover, the Israelites had brushed on their doorposts the blood of a lamb, so the death angel would pass over them, sparing their firstborn. Now the descendants of those who came out of Egypt (which spiritually, symbolizes sin) were demanding, though they didn't realize it, the blood of the Lamb of God to be held accountable to them and their children. Here was their Passover, Jesus, who would cover their sins with His holy blood (Matt. 26:27-28). Naturally, most of them were ignorant of the seriousness of this demand to murder their Savior. Are you? Do you recognize that the same Jesus had to shed His blood for you personally (Rom. 5:6-8)? Have you examined yourself and deeply repented of your sins, which cost Jesus Christ His life (John 3:16-17, II Cor. 13:5)? Jesus is your Passover, too, and in order for you to live forever, you must change from your sinful ways and believe God and obey Him. Only then will you prove to your Maker that you want His way of life more than the evil ways of this world (Matt. 19:17). God cannot give you eternal life in His Family, with all its powers, if you don't love Him enough in this physical training ground to resist sin and its destructive results.
Sons of the Father
Barabbas, though freed physically, didn't qualify at that time to be freed from his spiritual sins. In fact, he didn't qualify to be freed from the penalty of his physical lawbreaking. He benefited from grace, or unmerited pardon, that fell his lot without any prior knowledge or action on his part. That's why the scripture says, "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8). The unmerited pardon Barabbas received physically can be paralleled, spiritually, with the grace and unmerited pardon God gives true Christians. And what of Barabbas' name? Remember that it meant "son of the father." Note Paul's words: "For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption [sonship] by which we cry out, 'Abba, [that is] Father'" (Rom. 8:15). We are to become very sons of our Father! Think of it — it all fits. Barabbas, you and as many as are willing of all who have ever lived are to become, first, begotten sons of God the Father, and then, finally, born as literal sons of God in the God Family (I Cor. 15:23, I John 3:1-3). Then, when we have achieved the incredible human potential, we will finally know true, ultimate freedom. And God, through His written Word, says to us now, in relation to sin and its penalty, "You are free!"