“During the feast, it was the tradition of the governor to release one prisoner to the crowd which they desired.”
“During the feast, he would release to them one prisoner for whom they asked. And there was one called Barabbas with the rebels in prison who had committed murder in the rebellion.”
There is record of a Roman custom of releasing a captive to the people on certain festival days. It does not seem to be something that was widely practiced, but there are certainly documented cases of this taking place in other parts of the Roman empire. Reasonably, it ought not be too surprising that in Judah, Pilate would have practiced this as a way of placating the people. In this case, Mark and Luke both refer to an insurrection that had taken place in the city of Jerusalem in which Barabbas was a participant (and likely a leader). In the chaos that comes along with such a rebellion, Barabbas had murdered a man and was in prison for that action.
As we introduce this man, it is important to note that there is an irony found in names — another sign of God’s providential superintendence of these events. In Aramaic, Barabbas means, “Son of the Father.” Jesus was the true Son of the Father — the divine Father — yet the people will choose one whose father is a fallen man, not one whose Father is God himself — embracing the world and not God.
And how often we choose to do the same. We embrace the things that this world offers us and tempts us with, but when it comes to God’s call on our lives we struggle. The world says, “hold a grudge;” Jesus says, “forgive others.” Which do you do? The world says that money exists and blessings are there so that you can live comfortably. Jesus says that these good things ought to turn your heart toward the Father’s grace and then be used by you to turn the hearts of others toward the Father as well — blessed to be a blessing. Which characterizes your life?
Oh, beloved, God offers us salvation by his mighty and abundant grace and by grace alone — no works of ours can merit this gift. But as children who have received this gift, shall we not live thankfully? It is the spoiled child, miserable to be around, that is not grateful for the gifts he receives — may we not be like that child in the Master’s house, but be thankful people who have been ushered in by grace and who communicate that grace to all who we encounter.