The Songs We Sing: Who Wants to Save a Criminal?


“Pilate released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, for whom they asked, but he delivered Jesus over to their will.” (Luke 23:25)

I have heard it said that the heart of the Gospel of Jesus can be summed up in just one simple word: substitution.  Jesus trades places with the offender (you and me) and receives their justly deserved punishment, while the offender trades places with Jesus and receives His fullness of life and perfect righteousness.

“For our sake [God] made [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  (2 Corinthians 5:21)

I have not seen this picture drawn quite as clearly anywhere else as it is in the account of Jesus and Barabbas in the gospels.  Barabbas was a man who deserved judgment.  He was publicly known to be an insurrectionist and a murderer.  Jesus, on the other hand, had done nothing wrong.  In response to the crowd’s demands to crucify Jesus, Pilate himself said, “Why, what evil has he done?  I have found in him no guilt deserving death” (Luke 23:22).  Nevertheless, the voice of the crowd prevailed, and Jesus was delivered over to be crucified, while Barabbas was released, just as the people wanted.

Why would the people choose Barabbas over Jesus?  Who knows?  Perhaps, the Jews who were zealous for their nation and tired of Roman rule saw this insurrectionist as some sort of hero, a man who was willing to break some rules in order to start a movement and “get things done.”  I wonder if we don’t fall into this same sort of mentality today of supporting the way of Barabbas over the way of Jesus in our lives.

But, we know that it wasn’t really the people or even Pilate who ultimately sent Jesus to the cross.  At the end of the day, it was Jesus himself who laid his life down as a ransom for many (see John 10:17-18).  So, what had Barabbas done to merit his own release?  What had he done to earn his freedom and pardon?  Absolutely nothing.  Even more scandalous, we don’t know from any Biblical record if Barabbas ever turned his life around AFTER his release.  The exchange of Jesus and Barabbas was completely one-sided.  Jesus took the whip, the nails, the cross, and the scorn.  Barabbas got freedom and pardon.

Simply put, the story of Barabbas is the story of you and me, friends.  And we will be singing our story this coming Sunday in the song “What Mercy Flows” by Resonate Church.  The second verse of the song reads:

     What gift is this that took my place

     That Jesus Christ would die to show His grace

     That for the foes of God He bore the cross

     And withheld death from me

     The wage of sin appeased

What if in the next week you tried using the word substitution to share this simple definition of the Gospel with a friend, co-worker, family member, or neighbor?  How might God use that to draw people to Himself?

     What wondrous love is this

     That makes the sinner His

     What joy, what perfect bliss

     for we are found in Him

     Yes, we are found in Him!



Mark Leavitt

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