Today is Good Friday, a dark day in history when Jesus was condemned and crucified. So why is it called “Good”? If we look at that day from the perspective of Barabbas, it was indeed a good day, an unexpectedly good day.
Barabbas was a criminal condemned to die, a terrorist or some other sort of violent criminal. Roman prisons were harsh places, and death sentences were carried out cruelly. Barabbas could have been dragged from his prison cell at any time to be flogged to the point of being horribly flayed, after which he would be crucified—an especially slow and torturous form of execution. He probably wasn’t having any good days and could only have been anticipating worse.
Then, unexpectedly and seemingly inexplicably, Barabbas was released, set free and given a new chance to live. Why? There was a custom that at the time of the Passover, the Roman governor would release one condemned prisoner of the crowd’s choosing. Pilate had offered to release Jesus, whom he knew was innocent of any crime, but the mob, stirred up by jealous religious leaders, had demanded that Jesus be crucified and Barabbas be released instead. So Barabbas was set free from the death sentence he deserved, while Jesus, who had harmed no one and had preached love and forgiveness, was crucified, condemned with the death sentence Barabbas had earned.
It was truly a good day for Barabbas, and it was for us for the same reason. We, too, deserve death, because every one of us has broken God’s law. When Jesus was asked what the two greatest commandments were, he replied, “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”(Matthew 22:36-40)
None of us has followed either of those commandments perfectly, and since all the Law hangs on them, we are guilty of breaking God’s law. The result is separation from God, and eternal separation from God is death. But that dark Friday was good for us, because Jesus died in our place. I suppose Barabbas could have chosen to stay where he was, but I’m guessing he went out of that prison marveling and rejoicing that he was free. We can stay where we are in darkness and under a death sentence, or we can acknowledge and turn from the prison of our sin, accept Jesus’ death for us, and walk free into life. Like Barabbas, I am marveling and rejoicing, even while I am soberly pondering the darkness of this Good Friday.