So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas,and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified. —Mark 15:15
If grace is "unmerited favor," then perhaps there is no clearer illustration in Scripture than the exchange of Jesus for Barabbas. The gospels variously identify Barabbas as a robber, an insurrectionist, and a murderer, a combination of crimes which we often associate today with terrorism. In contrast, the gospels clearly highlight Jesus' innocence. Pilate shrewdly observes that Jesus had been handed over simply because of envy. Two things are perfectly clear: Barabbas did not deserve to go free, and Jesus certainly did not deserve to die.
Of course this story highlights for us a central truth about Christ's death on the cross: He died as a substitute for sinners. Isaiah had written centuries before about Him, "But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned-every one-to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all." (Isaiah 53:5-6)
We will perhaps never know, because Scripture has not recorded it, how what happened on that day affected Barabbas. Did he feel lucky or guilty? Was he thrown in prison again or did he live peaceably? Did he ever repent and trust in Christ?
How do you respond to the cross of Christ? Are these words of the hymnist true for you?
Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
In my place condemned He stood,
Sealed my pardon with His blood:
Hallelujah! What a Savior!