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BARABBAS

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord’s Day Evening, February 21, 2010

“Then released he Barabbas unto them: and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified” (Matthew 27:26).


The Scriptures tell us it was the Roman governor Pontius Pilate’s custom to release a prisoner at the Feast of the Passover. This was done by Pilate to please the Jews. No record is found of this custom outside the four Gospels. This can be explained quite easily. Matthew 27:15 tells us “the governor was wont to release unto the people a prisoner” – that is, it was Pilate’s custom. Mark 15:8 says that the release of a prisoner was something Pilate “had ever done unto them” – that is, this is what Pilate usually did. John 18:39 tells us that Pilate said, “ye have a custom, that I should release unto you one at the passover.” There is no contradiction here, as some Bible critics suppose. So-called “difficulties” like this are almost invariably quite easy to answer. It was Pilate’s custom to release a prisoner. It was also customary among the Jews to receive a freed prisoner from him at the Passover. All three passages tell us this release of a prisoner was something Pilate did. It is likely that no other Roman governor did that – thus the absence of a record of this being done by any others. Yet it is very unlikely that the Gospels would have recorded something that never happened, since the early readers of the Gospels would have known whether Pilate did this or not. They would either have been eyewitnesses, or would have heard about this from eyewitnesses. Thus, there is no possibility that the release of Barabbas was fiction.

I leave these matters of Biblical “criticism” to those who earn their salaries “in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing” (Acts 17:21). My purpose is to preach what God has revealed in “the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (II Timothy 3:15).

The facts of these events are simple enough. Jesus had been dragged away from prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. He had gone through a “trial” before the high priest and the Sanhedrin, the Jewish court. They had beaten Him, and had spit in His face (Matthew 26:67). They had no legal authority to execute Him, so they brought Him “to Pontius Pilate the [Roman] governor” (Matthew 27:2). Pilate had many spies that reported to him everything of importance that went on in Jerusalem. Before Pilate interviewed Him, he knew that Jesus was not guilty of stirring an uprising against Rome, or of breaking any other law. That is why Pilate repeatedly called Jesus a “just person” (Matthew 27:24), saying that he “found no fault in this man” (Luke 23:14), and “I find in him no fault at all” (John 18:38).

It has long been my feeling that Pilate was not a good man. He knew full well that Jesus had entered the city of Jerusalem followed by great crowds chanting “Hosanna to the son of David” only a few days earlier. Pilate must have feared an uprising of those who followed Jesus. Also, the governor knew that “for envy” the chief priests and elders had brought Jesus to him (Mark 15:10). Pilate thought, if he offered to release either Jesus or Barabbas, they would certainly choose Jesus. Barabbas was guilty of murder and revolutionary activity (Mark 15:7; Luke 23:25). Barabbas was also a robber (John 18:40). Pilate seems to have thought that they would ask for Jesus to be released instead of such a “notable prisoner” as this robber and murderer (Matthew 27:16). But no! When Pilate said, “What shall I do then with Jesus?” “They all say unto him, Let him be crucified” (Matthew 27:22).

“Then released he Barabbas unto them: and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified”
       (Matthew 27:26).

From this we learn two major lessons.

I. First, their choice of Barabbas instead of Jesus showed the
blindness of their unconverted hearts.

“Then released he Barabbas unto them: and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified”
       (Matthew 27:26).

These men wanted Barabbas instead of Jesus. And their choice of Barabbas showed the blindness and sin of their hearts. In Peter’s second sermon, after Pentecost, he said,

“Ye denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a murderer to be granted unto you” (Acts 3:14).

Jesus said,

“Light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19).

Not only do unconverted men reject Jesus, they also reject those who follow Him. Jesus said,

“If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you” (John 15:19).

What a lesson we have in their rejection of Jesus and choice of Barabbas! The “world” of lost men chooses Che Guevara – a murderer and an atheist – instead of Jesus. Many young people wear T-shirts with the face of this mass murderer imprinted on them! The California State Universities have a holiday for an unworthy man, who did little of lasting importance, named Cesar Chavez, but they have no holiday for Abraham Lincoln, our godly martyr-president, who saved the Union and freed the slaves! They bow and scrape to an idol worshipper like the Dalai Lama, but they mock and ridicule a good woman like Sarah Palin! They extol the virtues of Charles Darwin, but to this day they open wide their mouths, cursing and slandering William Jennings Bryan! They praise Hollywood actors for helping the Haitians, but they put several Baptists in jail for trying to help some orphans there! Never forget that Jesus said,

“If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you” (John 15:19).

“Light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19).

And is that not the reason some of you have never yet been converted? Was not the Apostle right when he said,

“Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God” (James 4:4)?

“Then released he Barabbas unto them: and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified”
       (Matthew 27:26).

Dr. John R. Rice said,

If we are like Christ and are chosen “out of the world” then the world will not like us (John R. Rice, D.D., The Son of God: A Commentary on the Gospel According to John, Sword of the Lord Publishers, 1976 edition, p. 308).

Is it not true of you, that you want “worldly” people to “like” you? Isn’t this the sin that holds some of you back – that makes your heart desire Barabbas rather than Jesus – that keeps you in the grip of Satan?

“Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God” (James 4:4),

which is, as Dr. Gill said,

…a delight in the company and conversation of the men of the world, and a conformity to, and compliance with, the sinful manners and customs of the world, are so many declarations of war with God, and acts of hostility [against] him; and shew the enmity of the mind against him, and must be highly displeasing to him (John Gill, D.D., An Exposition of the New Testament, The Baptist Standard Bearer, 1989 reprint, volume III, p. 515; note on James 4:4).

Isn’t your friendship with some “Barabbas” what is keeping you from coming to Jesus? Throw Barabbas out! Get rid of him, and all that are like him in their disdain for Christ! Come out from among them to the Saviour! Leave the world’s side and throw yourself on Christ before it is everlastingly too late! Come to Christ – and come all the way into the church! Leave “Barabbas” and his friends behind you.

II. Second, the substitution of Jesus in the place of Barabbas illustrates the vicarious atonement of the Saviour in the place of sinners.

“Then released he Barabbas unto them: and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified”
       (Matthew 27:26).

The word “vicarious” means “taking the place of another; something endured or suffered by one person in place of another” (Webster’s Dictionary, Collins World, 1978). That is what Jesus did to save sinners. He took the place of sinners, and endured their punishment instead of them!

“He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:5).

From time to time we hear people debating over who was responsible for Jesus’ crucifixion. Was it those Jews who hated Him and asked Pilate to have Him crucified? Or was it the Romans, who actually carried out His execution? Some say that the seeds of anti-Semitism are in the four Gospels themselves. Well, I don’t think so. Let me tell you why. I was taught by my mother from childhood that anti-Semitism was a sin. So, when I read the Gospels, I saw that there were two groups of Jews – those who loved Jesus, and those who hated Him. Later I found out that there was another group (the Essenes) who were neutral, because they weren’t in contact with Jesus. Yet I have found that others, who are taught from an early age to hate the Jews, think the Gospels are anti-Semitic. So, I found, people read into the Gospels what they already think.

Actually the Gospels, and the whole New Testament, teach that the blame for Jesus’ death does not fall exclusively on either the Jews or the Romans. When Isaiah said, “He was wounded for our transgressions” (Isaiah 53:5) we believe that the word “our” refers to the whole human race,

“And he is the propitiation [satisfaction, atoning sacrifice] for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (I John 2:2).

The New Testament teaches that Jesus deliberately went to the Cross to atone for the sins of the whole human race. No matter how people try to twist the message, and blame the Jews or the Romans, their arguments don’t stand up when you read the New Testament with an unprejudiced mind. No, it wasn’t the Jews or the Romans that sent Jesus to the Cross. It was God who sent Him there to pay for our sins by His vicarious death – the Saviour making the sin-payment in the sinners’ place! “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son...” (John 3:16).

Actually the account of Barabbas can be used to illustrate the vicarious atonement, the substitutionary suffering of Jesus in the place of sinners. In his commentary on Romans, Dr. Donald Grey Barnhouse spoke of Barabbas sitting in the prison, waiting to be crucified. Suddenly he hears angry voices crying “Crucify him! Crucify him!” A jailer unlocks the door to his cell. Barabbas thinks that the time for his crucifixion has come. Instead, the jailer tells him he is being set free. Barabbas must have thought, “Christ took my place on the cross!”

“Then released he Barabbas unto them: and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified”
       (Matthew 27:26).

In fact, we have reason to think that the cross in the center was prepared for Barabbas. Many scholars believe that the two thieves, crucified on either side, were in league with Barabbas, and that he was their leader. The three of them were designated for crucifixion that morning – but Jesus took the place of Barabbas on the central cross. Chuck Missler gave the following sermon outline:

The Gospel According to Barabbas

Chuck Missler

The substitution of Barabbas over Jesus before Pilate on that fateful day has profound implications for each of us. (Barabbas in Hebrew means “son of the father”). It is illuminating to examine the contrast between the two accused more closely:

1) Barabbas stood under the righteous condemnation of the law.

2) Barabbas knew the One who was to take his cross and take his place was innocent.

3) Barabbas knew that Jesus Christ was for him a true substitute.

4) Barabbas knew that he had done nothing to merit going free while another took his place.

5) Barabbas knew Christ's death was for him perfectly efficacious.

Barabbas and Jesus changed places! “The murderer’s bonds, curse, disgrace, and mortal agony were transferred to the righteous Jesus; while the liberty, innocence, safety, and well-being of the immaculate Nazarene became the lot of the murderer.

“Barabbas is installed in all the rights and privileges of Jesus Christ; while the latter enters upon all the infamy and horror of the rebel’s position.

“Both mutually inherit each other’s situation and what they possess: The delinquent’s guilt and cross become the lot of the Just One, and all the civil rights and immunities of the latter are the property of the delinquent.” (John W. Lawrence, The Six Trials of Jesus, Kregel Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI 1996, p.181; http://idolphin.org/barabbas.html).

“Then released he Barabbas unto them: and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified”
       (Matthew 27:26).

Only one thing is wrong with Chuck Missler’s outline – there is no proof in the Bible or tradition that Barabbas became a Christian! In fact there is Biblical evidence that he was not converted. Over fifty days after Christ was crucified, Peter said to a crowd in Jerusalem,

“Ye denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a murderer to be granted unto you” (Acts 3:14).

Peter would never have called Barabbas “a murderer” if he had been converted. It was not a practice of the early church to name a man’s sins after he became a Christian. If Barabbas had been converted he would have been an important person in the church at Jerusalem. Peter would not have called him a murderer any more than Paul – who also murdered before his conversion. No, Barabbas was physically spared by Jesus dying in his place, but he was not converted.

I’m afraid that Mr. Missler’s outline could mislead someone. In each of the last four points, he says “Barabbas knew” – as though “knowing” the facts of the Gospel brings salvation!

But the Bible does not teach that salvation comes by knowing or believing the facts of the Gospel! The idea that you can be saved by giving assent to the facts is an error called “Sandemanianism,” after its founder Robert Sandeman. Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said that Sandemanianism is “one of the main problems before us at the present time” (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, M.D., “Sandemanianism,” The Puritans: Their Origins and Successors, The Banner of Truth Trust, 1996 reprint, p. 177). Sandemanianism teaches that you are saved by believing Bible verses – the idea that, if you mentally accept Bible verses on salvation, you are saved! The Sandemanians of the 18th century were strongly Calvinistic, but they hated the preaching of Whitefield. Whitefield was also a Calvinist, but he preached that sinners must feel their sin. That is, after all, what the Westminster Catechism teaches – the most famous book on Calvinistic doctrine. So Whitefield was true to the Catechism when he preached that the unconverted must be convicted of sin. Before they can be converted, they must feel their sin – and they must mourn and, usually, they must weep over their sin before they can partake of the blessing of Christ’s substitution! (See Question LXXXVII, The Shorter Catechism Explained From Scripture, by Thomas Vincent, The Banner of Truth Trust, 1998 reprint, pp. 227-229).

Yes, Barabbas knew that Christ died in his place – but since he was never convicted of sin, he was never converted. I have spoken with hundreds of people who knew the doctrine of substitution – but who were not converted! This man Barabbas knew that Christ died in his place. What a shame that he went to Hell anyway! Knowing the doctrine that Christ died for our sins never saved anyone! You must be convinced of sin, feeling real sorrow and pain for the depravity of your heart, and the sins of your life! You must find refuge from God’s wrath, and cleansing from sin, by trusting Christ Himself, not a Bible verse!

(END OF SERMON)
You can read Dr. Hymers’ sermons each week on the Internet
at www.realconversion.com. Click on “Sermon Manuscripts.”

Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: Matthew 27:15-26.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“Charged with the Complicated Load”
(by Charles Wesley, 1762; and Augustus Toplady, 1776).


THE OUTLINE OF

BARABBAS

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

“Then released he Barabbas unto them: and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified” (Matthew 27:26).

(Matthew 27:15; Mark 15:8; John 18:39; Acts 17:21; II Timothy 3:15;
Matthew 26:67; 27:2, 24; Luke 23:14; John 18:38; Mark 15:10, 7;
Luke 23:25; John 18:40; Matthew 27:16, 22)

I.   First, their choice of Barabbas instead of Jesus showed the blindness
of their unconverted hearts, Acts 3:14; John 3:19; 15:19.

II.  Second, the substitution of Jesus in the place of Barabbas illustrates
the vicarious atonement of the Saviour in the place of sinners,
Isaiah 53:5; I John 2:2; John 3:16; Acts 3:14.