On this cool spring morning, the Friday of Passover, something is different. A crowd is gathering outside. A crowd of your people!
“At last, they have come in my defense,” you think to yourself. You can see the chief priests moving to the front of the crowd to address the governor sitting in the judgment seat. You can’t quite see the platform where they are conversing, but you have seen it before, many times.
After many uneasy minutes, the crowd stirs and shouts as if in one voice. They are shouting your name! Over and over they shout as your name echoes through the dark, dank cavern of your captivity.
“BARABBAS!” The square reverberates with the cry of your name. You are suddenly filled with hope and joy as the echoes subside.
You think to yourself, “With this many here for me, how can the governor refuse their plea?”
Then, just as quickly as the echoes fade, a new cry erupts. It is a bone chilling cry, crushing even the faintest hope in your soul.
With the same fervor as the first, the shout of “CRUCIFY HIM!” echoes again and again through the halls.
“No! Not that!” You think, “Crucifixion is the most horrific of all methods of execution. How could my people turn on me like that? The Romans had done thousands of crucifixions and they were quite good at it. I really don’t want to die, but to die of suffocation, on a cross, was not what I was expecting.”
The echoes of those damning words fade and are replaced by the heavy footsteps of Roman guards, marching toward your cell. In a matter of moments, you are chained between two of the biggest soldiers you have ever seen in your life, walking quickly toward the judgment seat you were straining to see just a few moments ago.
As you approach, you recognize the governor and his wife, and the chief priests, but who is that man with the red face on the platform with them? He is unrecognizable as a man, but you can’t take your eyes off of him. Most of the hair of his beard has been plucked out at the roots, leaving open sores of raw skin. His face is purple and swollen from a very recent beating.
Your eyes catch his for an instant. He blinks, and the chains that once held you, fall, crashing to the stone floor. The guards that had watched your every move step quickly away. As the governor washes his hands, other hands grab your shoulders and pull you into the crowd, past the priests and away from the judgment seat.
“What happened?” you ask, moving through the crowd.
“You are free,” someone answers. “He will die in your place!”
As the crowd inches its way along stone streets in the cool morning air of Jerusalem, you spot the man with the bloody face, carrying a large wooden beam. On his head is a crown made of thorn branches. The sharp thorns have broken the skin and blood is streaming down his neck and into his eyes. The skin of his back is so beaten and bruised, shredded by the Roman whips, it’s as if he is wearing a purple robe of royalty.
“Who is this man who bears the cross?” you ask.
“Some say he is the Messiah,” someone in the crowd replies.
Your eyes meet again for a brief moment. He blinks and tears well up in your eyes.
“This man is innocent!” you cry out, “I am the one…” You lose focus, tears streaming down your neck, leaving stripes in the grime left over from your prison stay.
You look up and realize you are standing on a hilltop looking at a man hanging on a Roman cross, silhouetted against a darkening sky. His blood is streaming down into the dirt at your feet.
In a brief moment of silence, you hear the man on the cross speak.
“Father, forgive them.”
Your eyes meet once last time. He blinks, gasps, and is gone.
With his last breath, the ground begins to shake and everyone collapses to their knees. As you lay in the dirt with your face to the ground, you hear the Roman centurion guard cry out, “Truly this was the Son of God.”
Pastor Jay Merritt