Bible Study

The Unexpected Witness

Sometimes our outlook on life needs a radical reorientation toward God’s goodness. by Captain Catherine Fitzgerald

The day was cloudy, and I was in a sour mood. I was feeling a lot of self-pity as life hadn’t been going how I wanted it to recently. My husband had been sick with an unknown illness for months. My pre-adolescent kids were unsympathetic and unhelpful as we navigated how to help my husband get better. Pressure to get everything done was piling up at work. I was just leaving the grocery store and about to turn right to head home. The light turned green and I started to pull out into the road when I decided to stop and look to the left just in case. Out of nowhere, despite his red light, a large work truck came barreling through the intersection and missed hitting my minivan by what seemed like only inches.  I stopped there stunned, unmoving despite the green light. I should have been in the middle of turning when that truck went by. It would have been his fault but being in the driver’s seat, I would have paid the price. As time stood still for a moment, I realized that despite my problems, I had so much to be thankful for. I thanked God for His gentle nudge that caused me to hesitate at the green light and check for traffic. I thanked God for my husband and my children and for meaningful work that, on most days, I love. In an instant, my perspective on life was radically refocused on God’s goodness rather than my problems.

Few people in the Bible have a closer brush with death than Barabbas. On the eve of Passover, Barabbas woke up in a dark and dank prison. He had probably been badly beaten and his wounds were left to inevitable infection. He had known this was a possibility when he led an uprising. Whether he was a freedom fighter for the Jewish people or a violent, selfish man intent on creating disorder for the purpose of plundering businesses for personal gain, Barabbas was guilty. According to Roman law, he deserved to die. He was probably starving, as prisoners were often only provided food when friends or family could provide it. He was likely suffering severely, perhaps even seeing his upcoming death as a relief from his hellish existence in a Roman prison.  

That made what happened next more surprising. Still early in the morning, a Roman guard came to take him out. But instead of leading him to his own cross, the guards took him to the forum where a crowd had gathered and Pilate himself allowed him to go free. He had done absolutely nothing to deserve being free. He must have thought he was dreaming. Not until his relatives came and took him home to wash his wounds would he have believed this was all real. I wonder how he felt once he was washed up, clothed with new garments and fed good food.

Did he see the crucifixion that happened later in the day? Golgotha was likely located just outside the walls of the city and along a busy thoroughfare, a prominent place where many would see the punishment for criminals. Were the criminals on Jesus’ right and left friends of Barabbas? Had they been his followers as he led them in insurrection and criminality? Matthew and John refer to both the thieves and Barabbas as “plunderers.” Could they have been partners in crime, two of them getting their just due while Barabbas went free? How would it have felt for Barabbas to look upon Jesus on the cross and know that it had been originally assigned for him? Did he feel guilt, relief or thankfulness? 

Of course, we don’t know if Barabbas witnessed the crucifixion, but by being in Jerusalem at the time, he certainly would have heard about it. I wonder if he felt a personal connection with Jesus though they never actually met. How did he feel when the rumors of Jesus’ resurrection began? Jesus’ followers began whispering that He was alive. The Romans could have easily squashed the rumors by producing the body, but His body was never found. The Romans seemed to have no answer for this miraculous news. And His followers seemed like transformed people. No longer did they hide and cower in fear.  Instead, they began to preach boldly and openly, claiming Jesus’ resurrection as their source of salvation and power. Did Barabbas use his second chance at life to live differently? Did he embrace the truth of Jesus’ resurrection? Did he experience relief, forgiveness and a new purpose in life? Did he become a follower of Jesus instead of living in rebellion toward the law?  

Barabbas had a profound and personal connection to Jesus after Jesus took his place on the cross. And yet, Scripture tells us that we all have this connection. We all deserve death for our sins (Romans 6:23). We all deserve separation from a holy God because of our unholy living. And yet, God, in His goodness, provides another way for us. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, we can find forgiveness and new life. We can accept that though we deserve the punishment, Jesus took our punishment on Himself as the only person who ever lived that didn’t deserve it. He took our place.  Because of Him, we can have not only a second chance of life on earth following Him, but also an eternal life with God in heaven. This is profoundly good news!

We might be facing difficult circumstances in life. We might have a scary diagnosis or a deteriorating relationship with someone we love. But when we remember and embrace the reality that Jesus has taken the worst on our behalf, we can be refreshed and rejoice that Jesus has offered us life. We have done nothing to deserve it, and yet He offers it to us freely. Sometimes our outlook on life needs a radical reorientation toward God’s goodness. Reflecting on Jesus’ gift to us on the cross is one of the ways we can do that today.  

Questions to consider

  • Have you had a brush-with-death experience?
  • How did it change your perspective on your circumstances?
  • How do you think you would have reacted if you were Barabbas?
  • Are you living out the freedom you have in Christ?
  • How does accepting His death and resurrection change the way you live?

Photo courtesty of Getty

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