Do old memories, submerged beneath the years, suddenly surprise you like a visit from an old lost friend? I had one of those revisit my conscious memory the other day. A memory from my dad echoed back. There are some great ones, good ones, and a few not-so-good memories, but this one memory revisiting me is still indelible.
There were at least four couples from our church, along with their kids, vacationing together at a lake in southeast Oklahoma. I remember the sunburn and the poison ivy that I got the privilege of displaying on and all over my skin. But that's not what I remember most about that trip. All these years, what sticks with me is the memory of my father's words to remind us of God's love for us. Their emotional meaning and the casual setting in one of the cabins are as real to me today as they were decades ago when they happened.
My dad was doing the devotional thought on Sunday before we took Communion. I was a little impatient for a little more time outside in nature. But his words from this event in the late 60s have stayed with me. They are a sweet and powerful memory of what true love is really like. Of all the characters that dad could have used for his illustration, he chose a villain, a criminal, a terrorist as his powerful example of love.
All four gospels[NOTE] mention this criminal by name: Barabbas. Dad started his devotional thought with the word, "Imagine!"
For a 12-year-old, imagining was a simple task. Then he continued raising my interest: "Imagine being on death row knowing that these are the last hours of your life. You are thinking of the ones you love, the memories of your past, and the people you had murdered."
Dad had my attention, for sure.
"Slowly, though somewhat muted, you hear sounds of approaching guards as they move closer to you. You hear the keys jingle, and the clicking of the sandal heels as they creep closer and closer to your cell."
I literally remember hearing the footsteps, the clicking of the sandals, and the sound of the keys in my head. I remember the fear and adrenalin that came over me as I listened.
"As the cell opens, Barabbas notices the strange look on the jailer's face. It's a look of resignation mixed with disgust. Then, the execution guard says, 'You are free to go; someone else is going to die in your place.'"
My father's "imagined version" of this story is not detailed in the Bible precisely in the same words his imagination had recreated it. However, Mark does tell us how this murderer was set free:
A man called Barabbas was in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising. The crowd came up and asked Pilate to do what he usually did for them.
"Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?" asked Pilate, knowing it was out of self-interest that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas instead.
"What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews?" Pilate asked them.
"Crucify him!" they shouted (Mark 15:7—13).
So, Barabbas, the convicted murderer, went free. Jesus, the innocent Son of God, replaced Barabbas to be abused, sentenced, and executed. They crucified Jesus in place of Barabbas!
My father asked us, "Can you imagine how Barabbas must have felt?"
We have no record of Barrabas' reaction to this freedom.
Was he curious about the one who died in his place and what this other man had done?
Barabbas must have had absolute joy knowing he could walk away from his brutal execution now set free to move on with his life.
The analogy was obvious: Jesus died in the place of Barabbas. More importantly, Jesus died for you and me (2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 3:18).
"Imagine," my father continued, "leaving your heavenly home to come to earth and sleep on the hard ground, scramble to find places to rest and endure being called all kinds of false names. Imagine people lying about you. And now, in that fateful moment, the chief priests, the elders, and the religious leaders plotting your death — a horrific death, to save us sinful, convicted, and lost humans — Romans 5:6-11 refers to us as "powerless," "ungodly," "sinners," and "enemies"! How great and how much love does that sacrifice require?
John said it this way:
This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins (1 John 4:9-10).
Jesus loved us enough to take our place, just like he took Barabbas' place!
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God (1 Peter 3:18).
There's an interesting side note to that vacation trip. I noticed my wife-to-be for the first time. I think our love had to mature and grow through the years until, at last, we married.
I was blessed to have a great Christian example of how to love my wife. Still, to this day, when I notice that I am not showing my wife the love she deserves, I think, "How would her father, David, approach her and show her love in this circumstance?"
Another faithful Father, our heavenly one, is our Father who IS love (1 John 4:8). Through his Son, Jesus Christ, God showed us a love that I will never match. I may not match this awesome example of love, but I can try! I can stretch to love others more! Let's all try extending the love that God has shown us to include sharing that love with others.
Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us (1 John 4:11-12).
We may not know how Barabbas reacted to Jesus dying in his place — although I hope he discovered Jesus and learned about the Lord's sacrifice for him — but I react to God's love for me demonstrated Christ's sacrifice. My reaction is shock, joy, thankfulness, and a need to display this incredible love in all my relationships. What a sacrifice! What a gift! And, what amazing love Jesus had, that he would die for Barabbas, and you and for me.
[NOTE] Passages on Barabbas: Matthew 27:15—26; Mark 15:6-15; Luke 23:18-19; John 18:40.