It should have been him.
One day he was preparing to die, the next he was a free man. But, strangely, freedom did not feel as...freeing...as he thought it would.
Barabbas did not know how long he had been running when he finally collapsed in the dirt. He lay there for what seemed like hours, catching his breath...thinking.
He had to go back. If he did not, he knew he would regret it for the rest of his life. He needed to witness it for himself, to somehow pay respects to the man who had taken his place on death row. Barabbas picked himself up off the ground and headed back toward the city. When he reached Golgotha, he found a tree, hid behind it and waited.
Eventually, he saw the mass of people in the distance. The man, Jesus, staggered along the pathway and stumbled several times, only to be yanked back up and pushed down again. It was evident that Jesus was too weak even to hold his own cross, as another man walked beside him, bent over, carrying the tree for him. Slowly, agonizingly, the mob made its way to the top of the hill. And Barabbas watched in horror as long, thick, nails were hammered into the hands and feet of an innocent man.
A week ago he did not believe in Jesus’ innocence. And no way did he trust his claim to be the Son of God. But that was before. Before he had looked into the eyes of the one willing to die for him.
He would never forget the moment, as long as he lived. The shouts of the people still reverberated in his head, “Maqqabah ushsharna! Maqqaba ushsharna!” Defiant fists pumped into the air and spit flew past him and onto Jesus bloody and battered skin. And from somewhere deep inside, arose the unfamiliar yet overpowering emotion of sympathy. Barabbas could not resist turning his head toward the poor, pathetic Jew barely able to stand on his own. The man beaten and swollen so badly his own mother probably did not recognize him.
Barabbas had taken his share of eye daggers. He had been on the receiving end of more than a few glares overflowing with hate and contempt. He had expected the same from Jesus. He prepared himself for eyes consumed with rage. But when he looked into Jesus’ eyes, he saw no anger there. Only sadness... weariness... compassion...love. Barabbas felt the gaze pierce his soul. And right then he knew that Jesus was the Son of God. He knew Jesus could have saved himself, that Jesus of Nazareth had a choice between life and death. And he had chosen death.
Barabbas had not been able to look away – his eyes were held in place by some invisible force, broken only when he was physically wrenched away by a guard instructed to unlock his chains. And when the guard gave him a hard shove, Barabbas fled as fast and as far away from there as possible.
But the look haunted him, which was the reason he had come back. As much as he did not want to be there, as tempted as he was to turn his head, he could not look away. And now, as the cross was raised, and he saw Jesus hanging there, in his place, Barabbas wept.
Barabbas was guilty of many things. But he had been given a second chance. He now had a choice to make: how would he would use the gift of freedom handed to him? Would he keep quiet? Would he be ashamed to admit that a simple Jewish carpenter had saved him from impending death? Would he reveal what he now knew to be true - that Jesus was, indeed, who he said he was? Would he dare speak of the moment he looked into Jesus’ eyes and his heart was changed? The moment he had looked into the eyes of God?
One thing Barabbas knew: that the life he was spared would never be the same. And one thing he would never – ever – forget:
It should have been him.
“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23 (NLT)
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