Traditionally we call this religious celebration Easter, but some Christians more fittingly call it Resurrection Sunday.
What ever you call the holiday, have a happy one. Of course we all enjoy candy, Easter eggs and Easter bunnies, but those come from an ancient pagan holiday known as Easter. Sure eggs, flowers and even rabbits fit into the resurrection metaphor. There is no reason why we can not have some fun on such a joyous occasion, but the event we are celebrating is the resurrection of Jesus.
Jesus died on the cross in propitiation for our sins. That really should be me on that cross. Until Jesus lent me his righteousness, I had a sin debt that could have been paid no other way. Of course, everyone scoffed at a Messiah who could not even save himself.
After three days, the excitement was wearing off, and Jesus rose from the grave. The tomb was empty and over the next few weeks, 400 people saw the risen Jesus. This proved that Jesus is God with the power to forgive sin.
Below is a short story for your enjoyment. Note, I have used Yeweh in the dialog as the name for God. It is my understanding that Jews of the time would have referred to God, the Almighty as Yeweh. In modern English we Yeweh has been changed to Jehovah.
Done for You
by Reynold J. Conger
The Romans thought Barabbas and his band were thieves and murderers, but that was not the case. They were agents of God. An angel of God had come to Barabbas in a dream and ordered Barabbas to help restore traditional worship to Judah. Barabbas interpreted this to mean a rebellion against the foreign army that occupied the promised land. Eli, the Rabbi, had independently confirmed his divine commission.
Of course, he and his band of rebels had killed Romans. They had also killed tax collectors and other traitors. They had stolen, but they had been careful never to rob a son of Abraham. Well, yes, they had robbed tax collectors, but then the tax collectors worked for the Romans and thus had already betrayed their own nation. The money of a tax collector better served God by financing rebellion. Unfortunately there were so many people who misunderstood. There were so many who called him a robber even when he shared his resources with the poor.
Barabbas threw a rag over his head in place of a prayer shawl and raised his eyes to heaven. After reciting the words of the formal morning prayer, he said, “Great Yeweh. I thank you that you did not let the Roman dogs take my life. I know the opportunity will come. When it does, give me the strength and the knowledge to escape so that I can help purge your country of these Romans. Your word commanded me to fight and to lead. I humbly recognize that I am but an ant in the face of the might of Rome. Though my efforts are according to your divine will, I know they alone will not suffice. Please send your promised Messiah soon, tonight perhaps. Let my sword assist your Messiah as he sweeps the Romans into the sea. Amen.”
As Barabbas finished praying, he heard the chanting. “Crucify him. Crucify him. Crucify. Crucify. Crucify. Crucify him. . . .”
Someone wanted blood and had gathered a mob to petition Pilate. Barabbas shook his head. If only the people would cooperate with each other the Romans could be pushed out of the City of David. Once they started, perhaps God would send the Messiah to finish the job.
After a time of silence, Barabbas heard the mob yelling. “Barabbas. Barabbas. Give us Barabbas. Barabbas. Barabbas. . . .
Barabbas’ blood ran cold. Which of his enemies would be calling for his blood? Certainly it was not a Roman. With Barabbas chained in a Roman prison, any Roman could have easily paid a centurion to order Barabbas’ throat slit. It could be any of the tax collectors he had robbed, perhaps even the one who’s son had joined the rebellion. It could also be the priest who had said the rebels should not stir up the Romans lest Rome react with anger. Perhaps it did not matter who, but someone seemed to want ill for Barabbas.
Again more silence. Barabbas could almost imagine Pilate talking to the crowd. Pilate may be a politician, but he was no fool. He knew that there would be serious retribution if Barabbas were executed. Pilate could keep Barabbas safely in prison without inciting public unrest.
Again the chant rose up, “Crucify him. Crucify him. Crucify. Crucify. Crucify. Crucify him. . . .”
Barabbas cringed. Perhaps he had judged Pilate wrong. Pilate was known to change his mind, and change it quickly if there was gain in it for himself, a large enough bribe. It was more likely that this was related to an order from Rome, orders to execute a significant rebel. In any event, this was a new turn of events.
Barabbas did not fear death so much as he feared crucifixion. Barabbas could not think of a worse way to die. Death by crucifixion took hours. Hours of humiliation and pain followed eventually by inevitable death. Barabbas stood and paced as far as his chain would allow him to move.
Twenty minutes later, he heard a centurion barking orders. A blacksmith struck off his chains. Barabbas prayed he would somehow be struck dead before they could hang him on a cross. Perhaps he could grab a soldier’s sword and go down fighting. A squad of soldiers tied his hands and swept him out to the courtyard where the centurion proclaimed: “By order of Pilate, the governor representing Cesar himself, it is hereby decreed: ‘In honor of the passover, it is the custom of the governor to release one prisoner. The prisoner Barabbas has been chosen for release.’” The centurion set aside the scrap of parchment. You are at liberty. Strive to serve the emperor well. Untie him. Hail Cesar.”
Barabbas left the prison with the intent to go to Jana’s house where he had hidden clothing, some coins and a sword. She would get a message to his men, but a milling crowd swept him the other direction. Suddenly a squad of soldiers appeared, pushing people aside with the handles of their spears. “Make way. Make way. You, there, move!”
Pinned in by the crowd, Barabbas stood and watched a procession of soldiers and condemned men. The lead prisoner wore a crown woven from the branches of a thorn bush. Wounds from the thorns bled freely.
The man next to Barabbas spat on the condemned man. “Look at him. He calls himself, ‘Son of David’ and ‘Son of man’. He says he could call on a legion of angels to protect him, but he is allowing the filthy Romans to do this to him.”
The prisoner stopped and turned. Rather than confront his tormentor, the prisoner with the crown looked Barabbas in the eye and said, “I do it for you.”
The centurion lashed at the prisoner with a cord. The procession moved on. The crowd followed, sweeping Barabbas along to a hill called Golgotha. Barabbas felt uncomfortable, watching the Roman soldiers crucify the three prisoners who had been whipped and beaten to the point where they were hardly recognizable, but when they spoke, Barabbas recognized the voice of the condemned man on the right. It was a former member of his band.
An inscription hung above the head of the man on the center cross. Barabbas asked a scribe beside him how the inscription read. The scribe answered, “It says, ‘Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.’”
Barabbas realized that he might be hanging on one of those crosses had he not been released in honor of the passover. He wanted to leave, but the crowd pushed him as it pressed forward trying to be in a better position to witness the agony of the condemned men.
As was the practice, bystanders taunted the men as they hung in agony, but most of the comments were directed at the man wearing the cross of thorns. The scribe next to him yelled, “He saved others, but he can not save himself. If you are the Son of Man, come down from that cross.”
A Pharisee standing next to the scribe said, “That Jesus of Nazareth finally got what is coming to him. Imagine claiming he can forgive sin. Only God can forgive sin.”
Barabbas was shocked. No wonder the man with the crown of thorns was condemned. He had blasphemed.
The scribe replied to the Pharisee, “Witnesses heard him say, ‘I and the Father are one.’ Total blasphemy, but I shudder to think how close it was. Pilate almost let him go.”
The Pharisee said, “I thought it was a done deal once the Sanhedrin finished condemning him. Who would have thought Pilate would try to free Jesus?”
“Pilate is a slippery politicians. He knows that he could be in trouble if Rome found out he crucified a man after a rushed trial at midnight, so he offered to free Jesus in honor of the Passover. We would have had to start all over again, if that had happened,” said the scribe.
“That’s why we took a mob with us to insist that Jesus be crucified,” said the Pharisee.
The scribe said, “And when our mob started chanting, ‘Crucify him,’ he offered us our choice between Jesus and Barabbas.”
“The old bait and switch,” said the Pharisee. “Pilate knows that Barabbas is a scoundrel. Even Calaphas, the chief priest, is afraid that too many more raids by his band will turn the Romans against us. We can’t afford the risk of a legion of Roman soldiers loose in Jerusalem killing anyone who has ever said anything against Rome.”
The scribe said, “Most of us, even Calaphas, would end up on the list of men accused of lacking allegiance to Rome.”
Just then the man wearing the crown of thorns cried out, “Father forgive them. They know not what they do.”
The scribe laughed.
Barabbas pondered the chants of “Crucify him.” he had heard. He realized the mob had not been demanding his death. The mob had demanded Jesus’ death. He had been released only as a substitute. The Sanhedrin had wanted Jesus dead. Pilate had disagreed, but politically could not openly displease the Sanhedrin. Thus the shrewd fox had offered to release one prisoner, either Jesus or Barabbas. Barabbas had enough enemies in the Jewish establishment, Pilate may have hoped the release of Jesus might be more palatable. He, Barabbas, potentially threatened to unleash the military power of Rome on Judea while Jesus was simply a blasphemer. Jesus would have been the politically more palatable man to release.
Obviously Pilate had miscalculated. He, Barabbas, had been released, and this Jesus was hanging on a cross in his place.
A weeping woman slipped out of the crowd and ran past the soldiers in order to reach the foot of the cross bearing Jesus, but the centurion ordered her removed. A step away from the cross, a soldier picked her up bodily and carried her away.
The condemned man on the left joined the crowd taunting Jesus. “I was in that crowd the time you distributed the lad’s lunch to all of us. I know you can work miracles, so save yourself, and while you’re at it, save us too. What are you? All talk and no action?”
The condemned man on the right, Barabbas’s former comrade, said, “Have you no fear of Yeweh?”
“What does Yeweh have to do with this? This man has the power to save us, and he’s too selfish, or perhaps chicken,” railed the man on the left.
“We have been condemned for our crimes, and rightly so. This man has done nothing,” said the man on the right. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
“His kingdom,” said the Pharisee. “That’s right, he was always talking about a kingdom to come. Ha. Let’s see him bring in a kingdom now.”
Jesus said to the man on the right, “Verily, verily, this day you shall be with me in Paradise.”
By now the sky had darkened. Some of the crowd, fearing a storm, were leaving. By moving slowly, Barabbas carefully worked his way out of the crowd and down from Golgotha.
At the base of the hill, Barabbas found the weeping woman where the soldier had left her. Barabbas felt compelled to comfort her.
He made a clumsy attempt at soothing words. She responded by drying her eyes. “How dare they call him the King of the Jews and then crucify him?”
Barabbas sat beside her. “I’m told he was convicted of blasphemy. He claimed he could forgive people of their sins. That is the same as claiming to be Yeweh, out and out blasphemy.”
“But he can forgive people of their sins. He is the Son of Yeweh.”
Out of sympathy for the woman’s feelings, Barabbas did not laugh at the ridiculous claim. “So he said. Do you think he really can call on Yeweh to forgive the Romans who drove nails through his hands?”
The woman dabbed at one last stray tear. “Certainly. His names are Emanuel, Yeweh with us and Jesus or he who saves. He saves us from sin when we turn our lives over to him. He is the Messiah that Isaiah and the prophets wrote about.”
Barabbas put a friendly arm around the woman. “I don’t read well. I guess I spent too much time learning to fight to understand the prophets.”
“Nathaniel explained it to me.”
“Nathaniel is one of the disciples who has been with Jesus for the past three years. Nathaniel explained it all to me this morning while the Romans were busy nailing him on that cross. Don’t you understand? Jesus is the atonement for our sins. He predicted that he would be slain, just like a sacrificial lamb. He is dying in our place.”
“How did you know I was released in his place?” asked Barabbas.
“What are you talking about?” asked the woman in confusion.
“Never mind. We were talking about Jesus. You say he’s our atonement, but the high priest makes atonement every year for us using the blood of a spotless lamb.”
“Do you remember John, the son of the priest , Zachariah.”
Barabbas scratched his head. “Yes, he made quite a stir about three years ago calling the Pharisees, vipers.”
“He’s the one. He was a prophet. He called Jesus, the lamb of Yeweh.”
“Jesus is our sacrificial lamb, a spotless lamb. Right now, he is being sacrificed for us. His blood will atone for us forever. That’s why Nathaniel and I know he’s the Messiah.”
Barabbas shook his head. “No one has ever survived the cross. What good will it do to have a dead Messiah.”
The woman took Barabbas’s free hand in hers and looked into his eyes. “He promised he will rise again in three days.”
“Woman, you talk nonsense.”
“No, that’s what Jesus promised, and because he’s Emanuel, he will rise as our Messiah.”
Barabbas took patted her hand with his other hand. “I don’t understand completely, but you have my sympathy. It is terrible to see a friend die. It is worse to see your friend crucified.”
“No, you don’t understand. My tears, they aren’t what you think. Sure, I wish he didn’t have to suffer, but I am not crying because he is dying or even because of the pain he is suffering. I cry because I could have—I should have–done more for him while he lived. He is my Lord. I was trying to reach his cross confess my sin. I wanted him to specifically forgive me for the last time he visited our home. I was too busy in the kitchen to give him the attention he deserved.”
“But the soldier carried you away.”
“Yes. I wish he had let me talk with Jesus, but of course. . . . Well, Thank you for letting me explain the Messiah to you. Jesus wants us to tell the world about him. I feel better having told you. He wants you to know. He wants you to believe.” She squeezed his hand.
A man had been scanning the crowds from on top of a large rock. He scrambled down.
“Martha, there you are. I’ve been looking for you since that soldier carried you away.”
“Lazarus. This gentleman has been ah—protecting me.” Martha dropped Barabbas’ hand and ran into Lazarus’ arms.
“I am Lazarus of Bethany. I thank you for keeping my sister safe. These are such turbulent times.”
“My pleasure to be of service,” said Barabbas. “Now that she is returned to you, I must be on my way.”
Still taking care not to attract attention to himself, Barabbas quickly walked back into the city. He collected the clothes and weapons from Jana. By the dusk, he was hidden in a cluster of rocks overlooking the road to Emmaus. Jana would tell his men to look for him there.
It might be as long as a week before his men came looking for him, so other than a few short forays to get food and water, Barabbas stayed in his hiding place, thinking.
He put together the accounts he had heard before leaving Jerusalem. Previously, he had not paid much attention to Jesus, but Barabbas knew that Jesus had preached about the Kingdom of God. The best sources of information in Jerusalem said that Jesus had been arrested at night and railroaded before the Sanhedrin. Certainly he could have protested this travesty of justice, but like a sheep before the shearers he was dumb.
He realized that “Like a seep before the shearers is dumb,” were the words of Isaiah, but if Jesus were the Messiah, he would have, or could have, called on angels to protect him. There was no doubt he had let the Romans kill him. That made no sense. Certainly a live leader would be of more value than a martyr.
Three days later, he heard voices on the road. He moved to where he could see the road, but remain hidden. Three men approached, deep in a discussion. They were not his men. Barabbas wiggled to where he could see better. The The face of the man in the middle had healed from the beating, but small red wounds stood out on his forehead, obviously marks where the crown of thorns had been pushed down on his head. Most alarming were raw wounds on the man’s hands and feet. There was no doubt in Barabbas’ mind. The man was Jesus, the one Barabbas had seen crucified. Jesus’ companions, however, did not seem to notice the wounds. In fact, they were talking to him as though he were a complete stranger who did not know about Jesus and the crucifixion. They were telling how Jesus’ body was missing and some followers had seen him alive.
Barabbas crept out of the rocks and followed the men. He kept within hearing distance, but at the same time, stayed out of sight. Jesus was telling his companions how the prophets had foretold that the Son of Man must suffer, die and rise again. His companions seemed not to recognize Jesus was referring to himself.
One companion asked, “Why is it necessary for the Son of Man to die?”
“The shedding of blood is required for the remission of sin. His blood atones for sins,” replied Jesus.
The other companion said, “The blood of a lamb only provides atonement for a year. Certainly Yeweh can not send a Messiah to die every year.”
Jesus said, “No, there is only one Messiah, but the Son of Man, your Messiah, is a man without sin. When the high priest sacrifices a lamb, it is a gift from a sinful man, but the Son of Man is a man without sin. Thus he is a sinless priest offering the perfect sacrifice. No further sacrifice is required. His atonement will last forever.”
“So is everyone forgiven?” asked the first companion.
“Of course not,” Jesus said, “The entire purpose of forgiveness is to make a man fit to have fellowship with Yeweh. The forgiveness is for those who believe, for those who are willing to accept Yeweh as a personal God and the Messiah as their personal Lord. Such believers are fit to have fellowship with Yeweh.”
Barabbas fell on his knees right there on the road. Quickly throwing his prayer shawl over his head he prayed, “Yeweh, be merciful on me a sinner. I have been killing Romans in your name. I have been fighting to prepare Israel for the Messiah, but now I find this man of peace is the Messiah, and he is one with you. That means I not only have seen God, but God has taken my place on the cross. Woe is me. I am undone.” His tears fell onto the dust of the road. “Who can see God and live? How can I escape your wrath? I deserved to have hung on that cross. Forgive me, and help me to find ways to advance your kingdom through Jesus rather than through revolution.” Barabbas fell on his face sobbing.
Strong hands lifted Barabbas to his feet. “My son, he who believes that I am the Messiah and sincerely repents of his sins is forgiven.”
“Jesus. I– I am not worthy of forgiveness.
“You are not forgiven because of your righteousness. You believe. Thus you are forgiven because of grace.”
“How is it that you stand before me? I saw you on the cross. It should have been my cross.”
“Yes, I died for you and for all who believe and all who will believe. Then this morning, I rose from the grave.”
“Martha said that would happen, but why?”
Jesus sat on a large rock. “I rose to prove to the skeptics that I am more than simply a rabbi or a prophet. Only Yeweh can conquer the grave.”
Barabbas knelt at Jesus’ feet. “My Lord and my Savior. I presume you do not want me to kill Romans any more.”
Jesus laughed. “In your zeal, you misunderstood the will of Yeweh. I wanted you to restore the nation’s faith in Yeweh, not kill Romans. Even Romans who believe in me will be in my kingdom. As I died, the centurion proclaimed my deity?”
Barabbas looked into the dust of the road. “Then how should I serve you?”
“Return to the city. Seek out Peter, John and the others. Serve them. Do the everyday tasks for them so that they are free to preach and pray. Then, someday when you meet another zealot like you were, witness to him. Tell him what I have done for you, and what I can do for him. Encourage him to believe in me, to repent and accept my grace on the basis of faith. Now, go in peace. I am with you always.”
When Barabbas looked up, Jesus was gone.