John 18:38-40

John 18:38-19:16, Jesus and Barabbas

Line: God gives freedom by the penalty passed over us onto Jesus…

Ill: on parole

Imagine that you’re a criminal out of parole. You have been couped up in a cell for months or years. Now you see the sunlight, and the freedom of normal life again. You can eat when you want, sleep when you want, do what you want. But slowly your newfound freedom gets out of hand, and you stumble back into your old lifestyle. You are back into what led to your initial incarceration.

Often you think, “I’m free to do what I want…” But the reality is, you are not free. Your still in bondage. You’re not in bondage to man, but you’re in bondage to sin. Your sin puts the cuffs on your wrists. Also, you ignore the fact that eventually you will have to report back to the court about your parole. The day is coming closer and closer to report back in. You miss your court date and they come looking for you…

When they find you they arrest you and your parole officer asks, “Why did you go back to your old lifestyle?” You’d say, “Because I am free! It’s a free country, I can do what I want!”

The officer would respond, “You are not free. You think your free because you’re out on the street, but you’re responsible to the court still. No there is no time left to stop your crimes. You’re going to jail for good!”

>>>So often we think this way about our relationship to God. We want freedom from God to be our own bosses! Christians think, “I am free in Jesus, I can do what I want.” You may convince yourself that you need to be free from the Bible’s moral obligations. For example, the larger culture’s sexual “liberation” , or drug liberation movements sought freedom from moral duties of traditional age gone by. These are all symptoms of the more basic sickness— we are in bondage to sin.

It is like you’re on parole, and the laws of nature and the morals in the Bible are our parole officers. They’re checking in on you, poking and prodding, asking, “Are you aware of your court date? Are you going to turn this thing around?” The date is set– when you die you’ll stand before the judge. He will decide your case. The tormentor will punish you forever. Today, you are on parole. You’re waiting for that judge to preside over your case.

Point: Today is the day to turn it around! Today is the day to seek real freedom.  Not just the fake kind where you think your “free from all moral obligation” —seek real freedom in the cross of Jesus

Real freedom is from sin’s power over you….  from guilt… from everlasting punishment.

Rhet Q: Where do we find real freedom but in Jesus Christ crucified for us?

Thesis: God gives freedom by the penalty passed over us and onto Jesus!

Why do we need to turn to Jesus today?

1) We are all criminals who need freedom!

Jesus is on trial because he was accused of revolting against Rome. He was found not guilty, yet the people want him dead anyway. Another important point is— the trial is on the Eve of Passover.  Notice 18:28, 39, 19:14.

You have to remember back to Exodus 14-16, when the people of Israel came out of Egypt under Moses’ lead. Their forefathers sinned against God, and were exiled into Egypt. Egypt symbolized prison to them because they were slaves, caused to pay high taxes, etc. It was also a place of great bondage to sin. A place of many temptations.

The goal was freedom. They were trying to get back into the promised-land. God intervened by sending the death angel to kill the firstborn of every family. This was to show that all are responsible to God, and that they will all be judged one day for their sins.

However, the Lord told Moses, “kill a lamb and place it’s blood on the door”—they would each kill their lamb and paint the door with the blood. When the death angel came walking through the city he would leave their child alone. But any house that did not have the blood on the door, he would come in, and kill the firstborn.

It is called the “Passover” because the Lord would “pass over” the children who were covered by the blood of the Lamb!  It is because their sins were symbolically placed upon that lamb, and so God did not punish them!

The result was that Pharaoh let the people of Israel go. His own son, the crown prince, would have died at the hands of the death angel! So Pharaoh set Israel free.

So, freedom was bought at a price! The Lamb had to die!

In John 18:39 the Roman Governor, Pilate, told about a tradition —that He would let a prisoner go free at the Passover. This symbolized to the Jews that freedom from the bonds of Egypt.

Pilate thought the People would choose Jesus—but, instead they chose a criminal named Barabbas.

This passage is about that prisoner exchange.  The point is that we are all Barabbas! We are all criminals like Barabbas who need freedom!

App: In order to understand your need for freedom, you need to understand your bondage! You are arrested for sin, but on parole. All who don’t rest and trust in Jesus are criminals before God. He sits in his court in heaven and judges every thought of your heart, intention, action, secret and public.

That is why you need to listen to your conscience. It tells you, “Hey, you’re guilty, God is going to punish your crimes.” You need to listen to the Gospel in God’s word because Jesus promises forgiveness, and absolution for all who call on him!

Segue: Q Why do we need to turn to Jesus from our sins?

2.  Jesus Appeased God in Substitution for our Crimes

Notice that Barabbas’ sins were exactly the same as what Jesus was accused. Luke 23:13-14 tells us that Jesus was on trial as a political enemy. But that is exactly why Barabbas was in prison (19). The exact sin Barabbas committed, was punished on Jesus! This is not just Irony, it was symbolic of how we need Jesus because he is a substitute for us! The Father condemned Jesus as a substitute the exact sins of all who believe in Him!

Imagine Barabbas. He is sitting in his cell. It is a dirty old cell in a brick building. It is not a clean cell like they have today. It is a dark hole with no windows. He is chained to the wall. No sunlight comes in. The only sounds he hears are the Roman guards beating other prisoners. Day after day Barabbas waits for his execution. He had committed crimes. He knew it. He was afraid of the consequences. They were about to come down for him. The death angel is coming for him.

Suddenly, after days in total darkness, the door swings open and the a Roman soldier appears. He barks out, “Barabbas!” You are hereby pardoned of all your crimes. You are free to go. So Barabbas walks out marveling because he cannot believe that this could happen! He was ready to meet his maker and bear the penalty and punishment of his sins forever!

As he was walking out, he asks, “Why am I set free?” The Roman Soldier would say, Because the people chose you over that man over there. Barabbas would look over and see Jesus, beaten, bloody, and headed to the cross. They condemned Jesus and set you free.

There is nothing we can to appease God on our own. Like those people in Egypt, they could not bargain with the death angel. They could not stop him. He was looking for justice upon sinners. We need the Passover lamb to cover us!

We need the substitute. We need Jesus to stand in our place!

Segue Q: Why else do we need to turn to Jesus?

3) Jesus Pardons all Those who Trust Him!

At some point in the line of Barabbas’ release, the governor had to pardon him. Pilate had to pronounce, “Not guilty” over Barabbas.  Similarly, we need Jesus to pronounce “Not guilty over us!”

Jesus pronounces, “Not guilty” to us! Rom 8:1, “here is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”


So often we think that we are free, when we are really in bondage to sin! Outside of Christ we’d be on parole until the day we die and stand before God almighty for judgment!

We need that pardon!

Is Jesus your Passover lamb? Is Jesus your substitute before the Father? Aren’t you Barabbas in need of Jesus?

The result is real freedom! Imagine Barabbas walking around the city, seeing the sunlight, seeing his old friends. He goes back home to his family, and they flip out with joy. “Barabbas! You’re free!” They would yell! His wife would just cry and cry from joy! And Barabbas would just marvel at what he received.

Maybe, just maybe Barabbas would understand—That man, Jesus of Nazareth, he was my Passover Lamb! He was my substitute. Because he stood in my place condemned, I walk free!

Jesus’ mercy is so great that it almost seems unbelievable! Imagine Barabbas. It must have been surreal! I am free. I hear the birds! I see my family! I’m not going to die! That’s how we should be! We just marvel at the mercy of Jesus!

Jesus’ mercy is so great that it is even able to cover the sins of those who killed him! In Acts 3:14 Peter was preaching to the very crowd of Priests and leaders in the temple who killed Jesus! He says to them, “But you denied the Holy and Righteous One and demanded that a man–a murderer–be granted to you.” Nevertheless, Peter said,

Act 3:15  And you [the Priests and Pharisees] killed the originator of life, whom God raised from the dead, of which we are witnesses!

Act 3:16  And on the basis of faith in his name, his name has made this man strong, whom you see and know, and the faith that is through him has given him this perfect health in the presence of you all.

Act 3:17  And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, just as your rulers did also.

Act 3:18  But the things which God foretold through the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he has fulfilled in this way.

Act 3:19  Therefore repent and turn back, so that your sins may be blotted out,

Act 3:20  so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and he may send the Christ appointed for you–Jesus,

Act 3:21  whom heaven must receive until the times of the restoration of all things,

How marvelous is Jesus’ mercy?! He is the substitute for the sins of all who believe in him, even those who killed him!

Is Jesus your Passover lamb? Is Jesus your substitute for sin? Aren’t we sinners who need Jesus?

Let me put this into perspective: When you die you will either stand before God condemned or pardoned. You will either be covered in the blood of the Passover lamb, or caught red-handed  for all your sins!

The point of this passage is that you’d seek that pardon, that freedom which Jesus gives in his cross! He stood in the place condemned for all those who trust in him! Trust in him!

You may object, “I am too bad! Jesus could not cover my sins!” Even Christians who have been in the faith a long time struggle and wrestle with the guilt of our sin, because we continue to sin until we die! Christians often get weighed down with guilt because of sin. Guilt is good if it drives you to Christ, but bad if it drives you to despair and frustration!

This passage says to you— Jesus pardons you by his substitutionary death! It does not rest on how good you are, but on the Jesus who took all your sins!!