The cells reeked of humanity, baths long overdue. Harmless criminals occupied the front of the prison, while hardened criminals were incarcerated in the deeper recesses. Some prisoners wailed for mercy, claiming innocence. Some awaited punishment for crimes committed. Others hissed threats at their captors, chafing wrists and ankles in frantic attempts to escape.
A gruff voice barked orders, "Lock these men up...maximum security,"
"Newcomers," thought Jesus, watching the shackled men shuffle, their shadows dancing eerily on the rock walls. With only a few feet remaining, the burly guard shoved the pair into an empty cell, the shackled men tumbling in an exhausted heap. The guard scowled at the battered and bruised charged with advocating customs unlawful for Romans to practice. "Traitors," he spat. "If you witness one more sunrise, it will be too many. Pray that the gods will have mercy on your souls."
"We serve one God, and if we experience death for Christ, it will not be the end. We will experience a glorious new beginning," one responded, the other nodding in agreement.
"I assume your christ is the man called Jesus," he mocked. “Have you lost your minds? Your christ was crucified a few years ago."
Jesus snapped to attention. “Did he mention the name of Jesus?” he wondered. “A common name obviously, but one crucified? Could it be the Nazarene?”
"He's alive," came the claim of the newly imprisoned.
"Liars!" screamed the guard. "I watched the nails pierce his hands and feet. I observed his final breath. That day, Skull Hill claimed another radical."
"Skull Hill? That's Golgotha. He must be referring to Jesus of Nazareth," whispered Jesus to no one in particular, straining to hear more.
The guard growled one final curse and stomped to the front, extinguishing torches along the way. Darkness swallowed the prisoners. Night had come.
About midnight, loud singing pierced the stillness, echoing from the inner cell. Jesus jerked awake, pain rippling through shackled wrists. The object of the song's worship stirred a memory long buried.
"Unusual to be happy about prison," moaned a cellmate, Herodotus.
"Quite," responded Jesus, yawning. "I just want to get some…" Jesus paused, studying his surroundings. "Did you feel that?"
The prison's foundation shuddered violently; floors and walls trembled under the earth's rage. Prison doors screeched open and the chains of manacled prisoners dropped from hands and feet with a clanking thud.
"It must be the power of the Nazarene!" cried out Jesus. "Look around you Herodotus, all of us are free, but none can escape!"
"You are talking like a fool," huffed Herodotus. "What do you mean by the Nazarene's power? He's dead."
"I'm not so sure. For years, there have been murmurings of His resurrection. Maybe the Nazarene seeks my attention," Jesus said. "I spat in His face. That day at Golgotha should have been my end, not His. He died in my place. Maybe God's giving me time to start over…a new beginning."
"Don't let those rabble rousers get to you, Jesus. Earthquakes are common..."
"But we are free, and no one escapes," interrupted Jesus.
Herodotus scanned the nearby cells. All remained occupied. "That, I cannot explain," he admitted.
"It must be the power of the Nazarene."
"I don't know Jesus...What do you mean that he took your place on Skull Hill?"
Jesus jaw clenched, tears threatened weary eyes. "My name is Jesus son of Abbas," his words choking with emotion. "On the day of the Nazarene's crucifixion, I stood with Jesus of Nazareth before a screaming crowd. I had heard of his reputation...a teacher...a miracle worker...a friend to the outcast. He befriended people like me. The crowd was delirious for blood...someone had to be crucified. They chanted the name of the insurgent to be freed...The crowd called my name."
He turned away from Herodotus. Jesus' eyes filled with moisture. He tried to blink back the tears, but they only came faster. His heart thundered in his ears. His head throbbed.
"You? You’re...." started Herodotus.
"Yes," he moaned. "I... am... Barabbas."
The jailer’s footsteps pounded down the corridor, and torches sprang to life one by one, illuminating criminals intent on escape, but frozen in place. He crumpled at the feet of the newly imprisoned.
“What must I do to be saved?” gasped the jailer, scabbarding his sword.
Jesus Barabbas heard the words his mind could not force his mouth to form. The answer came simply. Believe on Jesus. Barrabas bowed his head, wondering if a new beginning was that simple.
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