Text: Luke 23:17–24
(For it was necessary for him to release one to them at the feast). And they all cried out at once, saying, “Away with this Man, and release to us Barabbas”— who had been thrown into prison for a certain insurrection made in the city, and for murder. Pilate, therefore, wishing to release Jesus, again called out to them. But they shouted, saying, “Crucify Him, crucify Him!” And he said to them the third time, “Why, what evil has He done? I have found no reason for death in Him. I will therefore chastise Him and let Him go.” But they were insistent, demanding with loud voices that He be cruciﬁed. And the voices of these men and of the chief priests prevailed. So Pilate gave sentence that it should be as they requested.
Barabbas or Jesus: one must die, the other will live. Either Barabbas will die and Jesus be freed, or else Jesus will die and Barabbas goes free. The death of One buys the life of the other. So Pilate has now decided, but His power to judge comes from above, and the decision of this unrighteous man is what the Righteous One has determined in His eternal plan. Barabbas or Jesus; but the rebellious murderer Barabbas is Adam and all his race, who rebelled against God and brought death into the whole world. So which of these two: sinful mankind or righteous Jesus; the race that fell away from God, or the Father’s only-begotten, beloved Son? Justice demands death for the transgressors, but mercy toward us made the choice. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (Joh 3:16).
Barabbas means me. My heart by nature is disobedient and arrogant, rebellious and angry, which before God is murder. I confess this in truth; by my evil inclination apart from grace I would have fallen into David’s sin and I deserve death. But — incredible love — now I am completely saved from wrath and death. As Barabbas then went completely free by Jesus’ death, so now in the same way I am purchased by it and redeemed from the bondage of the law, the guilt of sin, and the power of death. In this we ﬁnd something so assuring and comforting that I no longer have the slightest reason to doubt that I am saved from condemnation. He has already suffered my death, so now God’s justice demands my freedom. Barabbas or Jesus, not both.
But we remember also with complete seriousness that Jesus’ death in our place has redeemed us from the power of the murderer, so that we do not crucify the Son of God again to ourselves [Heb 6:6] by our slavery to sin and shame Him. Barabbas must not return to rebellion and murder! Grace will keep him from it.
O God, how shall we thank You for Your loving plan for us poor condemned creatures! Your name be greatly praised forever! In this world and the next we will fall before Your feet with holy fear and blessed joy, and worship, thank, and praise You. Here and in all eternity we will offer ourselves to You, with soul and body, and live only for You. Grant us such grace. Everything must come from You. O grant it to us, grant it to us in Jesus’ name. Amen.
O wonder passing measure
To faith’s enlightened eye!
For slaves it was the pleasure
Of their own Lord to die!
The mighty God stoops from on high
For me, lost, ruined creature,
And deigns as man to die.
My sins rise up to heaven,—
And countless is their host;
But Christ Himself hath given,
And paid the mighty cost:
Since then on Him my sins were laid,
Of hell and all its torment,
I am no more afraid.
Henceforth my heart shall bless Thee
Whilst here its pulses move;
Its songs of praise address Thee
For all Thy dying love:
Thy wrongs and last deep agony
Shall be my meditation
Till I am called to Thee.
Gesenius: O Lord, when condemnation L 285:2-4 LHy 281:2-4 tr. W. Mercer;
tune: Herr Christ, der einig Gotts Sohn (ELH 224); alternate hymn: When o’er my sins I sorrow ELH 276:1-2