He knew what lay waiting beyond the blood-stained walls of his cell. The sentence passed, it was just a matter of time. In a way, he conceded justice was finally being served as retribution for the violence and treachery he committed in his life. After all, he was nothing more than a thief and a murderer, and deep inside he knew his life served little purpose. But he understood full well the nature of his demise, and fear gripped him like the jaws of a great beast.
He lay curled in the corner of the room, His mind drifting in and out of consciousness. Hunger gnawed at him, and his throat felt raw and parched. Amid the stench of urine and feces that blanketed the air around him, rats crept along the walls, oblivious to his motionless body.
Suddenly the metal clang of iron doors, then heavy footsteps. They were coming for him.
The cell door creaked open, and two soldiers lifted him from the floor. He screamed as the chains that bound him cut deeply into flesh and bone, then hands quickly removed the manacles. They dragged him down a darkened hallway. At the end of the corridor, someone pushed a door open and tossed him into an alley beneath a pewter-stained sky.
The man squinted up through one swollen eye, and he saw the sandaled feet of the soldiers standing next to him. The one nearest stepped forward and kicked him in the side then spat on him.
“You are free to go now,” he commanded.
The prisoner shook his head, trying to process the words. His cracked and bleeding lips moved slowly.
“I don’t understand … ”
The soldier glared down with disgust.
“Another has taken your place.”
Then they turned and disappeared through the doorway.
The prisoner pushed himself up from the wet, cobbled stone and peered into the heavens.
“Why?” he muttered. “I am not worthy of any man’s sacrifice.”
Then the one known as Barabbas fell to the dirt and wept.
Jesus could have spared Himself from a horrific death. In the first century, the Romans perfected the “art” of crucifixion. A slow, agonizing ordeal, they intended to strip away all human dignity and send a macabre message of obedience or death to all who might oppose them.
As God, Jesus understood the horror waiting for Him on the cross. And as man, He knew the depth of the unspeakable pain He would suffer.
Why didn’t He save Himself?
He could have lifted His body from the nails that bound Him and established Himself as the ruler of the world. He may have commanded a dazzling light to streak through the clouds and lightning to split the horizon with a tremendous roar, leaving those around Him trembling. The people of Israel waited for centuries for the arrival of their Messiah. He could have stepped down from the cross and taken the crown awaiting Him.
But instead, He sacrificed His life for our freedom. He suffered the cross so He could rise again after three days, and we would know everything spoken of by the prophets, and all He professed during His ministry was true. With His death, Jesus offered each of us hope beyond this flawed world.
Barabbas likely never understood Christ’s sacrifice. But we know Jesus gave up His life simply because of His infinite love for us. It’s a love so selfless, it’s incomprehensible to our human minds.
God’s Thirst for Us
Saint Augustine wrote, “God thirsts, that we might thirst for him.”
Thirst. A term describing a longing or ardent desire. King David poetically wrote of his personal love and desire for the Lord.
“As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God” (Psalm 42:1).
Each of us has longed for God during moments in our lives when challenges seemed insurmountable, when suffering strangled us or when we lost hope. But to think God the Father thirsts for us is an amazing, if not humbling, concept.
Have you ever thought your transgressions so egregious you couldn’t turn to God and seek His will in your life? Have you huddled in the darkness believing you, like Barabbas, sat unworthy of His love?
In my own life, during times when I strayed furthest from the path God planned for me, I felt undeserving of His forgiveness.
But over 2000 years ago, Jesus took our place. Though none of us yet existed, He did so willingly because He thirsts for us, and He loves us. He has great plans for each of us.
Truly, none of us will ever live worthy of a relationship with Jesus. We stand flawed and broken, but He loves us unconditionally despite our flaws. God thirsts that we may thirst for Him. And it’s never too late to seek Him.