What If They Crucified Barabbas?

Pastor Kim Gilliland
Good Friday
SCRIPTURE: John 18:1 – 19:42


Good morning. My name is Kim Gilliland and I’d like to welcome you to our Good Friday worship. It’s odd to be here in the sanctuary of Cottam United Church on this morning. Normally, there would be people here to remember this day when Jesus died on the cross. It’s a pivotal day for the world, a day that changed everything. But before we get into that would you please join me in prayer…

Light candle.

Good Friday. People often asked why we call it Good Friday. Didn’t Jesus die on the cross that day? What’s so good about that? Shouldn’t we call it crummy Friday? Maybe we should but we don’t and, maybe by the time Sunday comes, we’ll understand why.

There are any number of movies out there that tell the story of Good Friday. Back in the 1960’s it was The Greatest Story Ever Told with Charlton Heston, Telly Savalas, and Max Von Sydow as Jesus.

In the 1980’s, The Last Temptation of Christ caused quite a stir and was even banned in some places because of the way it portrayed Jesus as someone who legitimately struggled with what he was supposed to do. He had to make a choice. Would he avoid the cross and go on to live a normal life or would he go to the cross?

And then there is Mel Gibson’s 2004 epic The Passion of Christ which held nothing back in depicting the gory and harsh realities of crucifiction. He too was criticized for being too harsh. But there is nothing pretty about the way Jesus died and we should understand that. There are other movies I could mention but that’s enough for now.

All of the movies, of course, follow the same basic theme. They all go back to the stories in the Bible. Jesus enters Jerusalem on Palm Sunday in great triumph. All the people wave their palm branches and shout Hosanna. That makes him unpopular amongst the Jewish authorities who are concerned that all of the fuss about Jesus will interrupt their Passover celebrations. I don’t think I need to tell you what happened next. Most of us have read the book. We know about the arrest in the garden of Gethsemane, the kangaroo courts that followed and Pilate’s final condemnation.

The odd thing for me is that every time I read this story or see a movie that depicts it, there is always a point where I wish it ended differently. Roman crucifiction is undoubtedly one of the harshest forms of execution ever devised by people. But the Romans were particularly good and finding nasty ways of doing things. A person is nailed to a cross and the only way he can breath is to pull himself up on the nails. But each time he does that, the nails grind against the flesh and bone causing more agony. If the person could, he would simply stop breathing but the autonomic nervous system won’t let him and so he keeps on breathing and the agony continues, just getting worse and worse. Death may come hours or even days later and only when the body no longer has the strength to lift itself up to breathe does the victim mercifully suffocate and die.

It is abhorrent to me that an innocent person would have to die in such a cruel and barbaric way. I wish Jesus had lived. I wish he had fled from the Garden of Gethsemane. I wish that he had defended himself against their accusations of the Jewish authorities. I wish his followers had done more to free him or that the angels had rescued him as well they could have. But none of that happened.

I guess more than anything else, I wish that the people had chosen Jesus over Barabbas. They had the chance. The Roman governor Pilate said that he would release on prisoner for the Passover. He gave them the choice between Jesus and Barabbas, a known rebel and murderer. When Pilate asked them who they wanted released, I wish they would have shouted, “Jesus! Jesus!” And when he asked them what he should do with Barabbas, I wish they would have shouted, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” That would have been just. And we would all feel a lot better about the story. That would have been a much better ending.


But there are two major problems with that ending. The first one is this; if Barabbas had been crucified, we would have never heard about it. He would have been just one more revolutionary and murderer who got what he deserved. Too bad, so sad, carry on.

The only reason we know about the crucifiction at all is because it was Jesus who died on the cross. Do you think that, if the people had chosen Jesus over Barabbas, that the events of Good Friday would have been recorded? Do you think that almost 2,000 years after the events that we would still be talking about it? Of all of the hundreds or perhaps thousands of people whom the Romans crucified during their powerful reign, one of the very few that we know about by name is Jesus. Virtually all of the others are nameless, faceless people who died a horrible but anonymous death. Barabbas would have been just one more.

That’s the first problem with Barabbas going to the cross; none of us would have ever heard of it. The second problem is that Barabbas’ death would not have solved the problem. The problem was not a crime, even if it was murder or treason. The problem was sin. Barabbas was not the solution for sin. That’s because he was sin personified. He was a sinner plain and simple. He was also a criminal, a murderer, a revolutionary. He deserved to die. And that’s why he could not die for our sins. Because he was just like us.

But you say, “What do you mean he was just like us? I’m no murderer. I’ve never betrayed my country or caused dissent.” That might be true but you still sin. We all do. And that’s how you and I are like Barabbas. Here’s the challenging part of God’s word. There are no degrees of sin. There is only sin. Any sin, every sin, separates us from God whether it be murder or stealing or lying of even cheating on your peronal income tax return. Every sin separates us from God. From that standpoint, we are no better or worse than Barabbas or anyone else in Jerusalem that day. The wages of sin is death and that is what all of us deserve.

Sin was the problem. It still is. The only remedy that God would accept for our sin was the sacrifice of a perfect, sinless person. Enter Jesus. Only he was sinless. Only he never fell to temptation. Only he could provide the perfect sinless sacrifice that God would accept as the remedy for sin and the solution to the problem.

That might not seem right from our very narrow perspective but it fits perfectly into God’s over-arching plan and purpose. Jesus had to go to the cross. There was no other choice. If he had not, then we would still be lost in our sin and there would be no hope for us.

God’s perfect plan of salvation was fulfilled in Jesus Christ. From that standpoint, unbeknown to them, the Jewish authorities made the right choice. They chose Jesus because they were supposed to. They had to because there was no other way to bridge the gap that separated us from our God who loves us and cares for us and will do anything to bring us back to him again.

That’s why Jesus had to die on the cross. And I want you to understand this; that if you were the only person on the face of the earth, Jesus would have gone to the cross just for you. That is how much he loves us. That’s how much he loves you.

That’s why I’m glad that they movies that are made about Jesus’ life, death and resurrection tell the story a they do. I’m glad that it followed the biblical story of the passion and did not try to cover or hide it in some Hollywood niceties. An innocent, perfect, sinless man had to die to pay the price of our sin. That’s why Jesus went to the cross. That’s why he had to die. That’s why the story had to end as it did.

Would you pray with me please?

Prayers of the People.

The events of Good Friday and not pretty. They are not nice. They are cruel and bitter and unsavory. We’d like to avoid them but we can’t. Just remember this. The story is not over.

Do not despair. Friday might be here but Sunday’s coming. Please join us for the rest of the story which will be available on Sunday morning. If you’d like to ensure that you get it, please subscribe to this channel.

Extinguish candle.  https://youtu.be/MMnyYBWaF4Y


We come, O God, on this black and bleak morning. It is a morning that changed the world. It is a morning that forever transformed your relationship with us. Jesus, your righteous and innocent Son was nailed to a cross and stripped of his dignity and humanity in order that the lustful and greedy desires of evil men and angels would be fulfilled.

We stare at his broken body as he hangs limp in our minds and we are struck by the injustice of it all. We admit that it makes no sense to us. Our minds are too feeble and our hearts to hard to truly comprehend what you did for us in Jesus. Why anyone would die for the sins of the entire world is too much for us to fathom.

And yet, we forget that it was not only your Son who went to the cross, it was you who died there in agony. It was you who chose to experience life as we do as mortal beings. You did not shirk your responsibilities as we often do. What you began in Bethlehem you finished on Calvary. You gave yourself for us when we could do nothing to save ourselves.

How can we thank you enough? We can’t.

As we reflect upon the meaning of this day, in the corner of our memories, help us to remember that the story is not done. Easter is two days away and we will see a different side of the cross. But for now, we mourn and we remember. Amen.


April 10, 2020 / Good Friday


Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Psalm 22; Hebrews 10:16-25; John 18:1-19:42


A black day is upon us; a day of trouble and sorrow;

a sad and mournful day; a day of grief and pain.

Come to us, Lord, in our loneliness and despair.

Rescue us from our suffering, O God most Holy.


The day of darkness is here, O God. We look from afar at the cross of Calvary, afraid to venture near for fear that we might see our own sins in the face of Jesus. His death represents the despair and pain of the world. Yet, he was without stain or blemish. He was innocent of all crimes and free from all evil. Our faces hang low as we realize the tragedy of his bitter crucifiction. We wonder, despite all of our sins, why you still love us.


We search for something good on this day. We seek a sign of hope but there is none. We look within our own hearts and wonder how many layers of sin we will have to peal away before we will find the good that you have placed within us. Is it possible, O God, that we have wallowed so long in our sin that every morsel of goodness has vanished? Hear of prayers of confession. We haven’t the time to confess them all but neither do we have the will to remember. We offer to you our reasons for Jesus’ death.


How can I offer you that which does not exist on this day? There is no forgiveness. There is no reconciliation. There is no hope for an innocent man has died today.


There will be no offering today. Nothing we could bring would be worthy of Jesus’ sacrifice.


Go, blessed by the great love of God

embraced by the sacrificial love of Jesus Christ

sustained by the empowering love of the Holy Spirit.

People leave in quietness to think about what Jesus’ death means for them.

More Sermons

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *