March 31, 2021
In any story—whether in modern movies or classic literature—we celebrate the hero and despise the villain. We cheer for the prince as he slays dragons and monsters to rescue the princess, and we shout at the wicked witch as she carries out her evil schemes to entrap and endanger the heroes.
The Lenten narrative is much like these stories. In this tragic love story that took place more than 2,000 years ago, there were villains who conspired against Jesus, contributed to His demise, and killed Him, the ultimate hero of the story. Yet, at the height of their villainy, these villains witnessed and experienced His grace. These villains represent us.
This story is the second installment of a three-part series called “Villains of Lent.” May this story lead you to a deeper appreciation of Jesus—how He died for sinners like you and me and how the Hero died even for the villains.
One Friday morning, more than 2,000 years ago, a criminal on death row was stopped by a man who came to take his place. The criminal’s name was Barabbas.
I am who I am: a man whose sins run wild and free. No lawyer can save me, because what I’ve done is far too great to defend.
The guards—they bring me out into the open. The light pains my eyes from the days I’ve spent inside my dark prison. I try to see what is around. There is a crowd, Pilate, and a man who stands in chains beside me.
Pilate presents us to the people, asking them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you: Barabbas, or this Jesus who is called Christ?”
Jesus? I’ve heard that name before.
I turn to the man standing next to me, and I almost don’t recognize him. It’s Jesus, the one they call Son of God, Savior, healer, teacher, friend. If he is the so-called Son of God, what brings him here all broken and beaten, chained beside a criminal like me? The man could save himself if he wanted to. And yet he stands here, still and without a word. This has got to be a joke.
“Barabbas!” the crowd shouts, “We want Barabbas!”
You have got to be kidding me. And so, the plot thickens!
Pilate asks the people, “Then, what shall we do with the ‘King of the Jews’?” “Crucify!” they shout.
I look over to this bleeding Jesus, who is still and without a word.
And so Pilate asks again, “Why, what evil has he done?”
“JUST CRUCIFY HIM!” they shout even louder.
Then a man from the crowd looks at me with a smile on his face, saying:
“We want Barabbas. Kill Jesus.”
And it was so.
Without clear reason, before I could even say something, Pilate grants their request and immediately sends the guards to set me free.
How could this be?
Watching them carelessly unlock my chains, hearing the crowd recklessly yell my name, I look up and see Jesus, who is still and without a word.
What are you doing here?
He sees my eyes, and I find no anger in his sight.
Aren’t you mad? Do you not realize what they have done to you?
He keeps his gaze on mine, and I find no fear in him being here.
Won’t you save yourself?!
He looks away, and the last key turns in synchrony to release me. My chains fall to the ground, and I see that it is Jesus who set me free.
How could He free someone like me, whose sins run wild and free?
In the countless moments of my regret, they cried, “Barabbas!” next.
In my hope lost in darkness and found nowhere that my hands could reach,
He was right where I was supposed to be.
Jesus, I could not bear to see You there,
A man of no sin in chains beside me.
Yet You did not fear to see me here.
You came to say, “You are set free.”
“Let it be me.”
“Let it be me.”
and looked me in the eyes
and You did not fight for Your life
but for mine.
And as I watch them unlock my chains,
as I hear the crowd yell my name,
I look up to see Your face
and find no anger in Your gaze.
Aren’t you mad You took my place?
Because I would understand that more than grace.
“. . . but God showed his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Art by: Alexis Gabrielle Fodra