DISCLAIMER — This story contains parts that may be too violent for young people to read. I would advise anyone under thirteen years old to ask an adult to review it before reading any further.
I threw a quick, hurried glance over my cloaked shoulder as my heart hammered against my chest. After nervously concluding no one was following my stealthy footsteps along the poor, dirty streets, I turned left into a dark alley under the cover of midnight.
With the white light of the moon, I spotted him instantly; a short man wearing a dark, ominous cloak just as I. In his tight hands, he clutched a small bag as he stood there waiting for me.
“Barabbas,” he muttered my name with expectancy as I slowly stepped closer to him. “Have you come to a decision?”
Everything inside of me began screaming no, but I nodded my head anyway. “I’ll do it,” I mumbled. I needed the money. I wanted the money.
A malicious, twisted grin spread across the man’s shadowed face. “Then here you go,” he whispered, his voice laced with loathing contempt for the person I was being hired to kill. He pressed the small bag into my hands as I looked into his hard dark eyes. “I expect him to be dead in two days,” he made his request clear. “Or you will be.”
I nodded my head in agreement. “I understand.”
The man smiled deviously once more before he walked past me and out of the valley. I turned and watched him disappear into the darkness of the still night, then glanced down in horror at the bag in my hand. Upon shaking it, I felt motivated by the small amount of silver jingling inside.
My pounding heart refused to stop despite the money I had tried nearly everything to obtain. And there it was, in my hands; my hands that would soon be stained with blood.
I forced myself to slip back to my shack of a home, knowing I needed to be ready for the task ahead. This was my last resort, and that’s what I told myself as I walked the dark streets of Jerusalem the next pitch-black night.
Melting into shadows and winding my way around houses, I soon found the location that the cloaked man had described to me before giving me the money. As I pressed myself against the back stucco wall of the home, I closed my eyes and fingered the razor-sharp dagger cleverly hidden in my belt. I had the brains of a thief and the silence of one, too, but I was going to use it for far worse ways.
Despite my writhing conscience, I forced myself to break through the uncovered window. Making it through without a noise, beads of perspiration began to bead on my forehead. My eyes glanced around the peasant room until I quickly spotted the man I was to murder in his sleep.
I felt like I was about to lose my last meal as I unsheathed the dagger from my belt and felt its weight in my quivering hand. Shaking my head and clenching my jaw in determination, I gripped the handle with both hands and held it above my head. Nervous sweat dripped down my face as I trembled in anticipation. I finally gritted my teeth and narrowed my eyes intently.
And I did what I had been paid to do.
That night was just the horrid beginning. As the weeks went on, I killed more and more people, and the little bags of money grew bigger and bigger. The more blood I spilled, the more my heart hardened, and the more seared my conscience became. The screams inside of me telling me no became less and less prominent until one day, killing people for money became no problem. Then it became second nature. And finally, I came to enjoy it.
It didn’t bother me in the least. I rather liked it.
Not months later, the news of my bloody skills traveled throughout the city. I soon became a man wanted dead-or-alive with the nasty name of murderer.
And it didn’t bother me in the least. I rather liked the title, even though it meant soldiers now roamed the streets of Jerusalem, looking to turn me in.
Still my skills prevailed. Known as a silent terror to everyone who uttered my name in secret, I remained the worst nightmare of many and the fear of almost everyone.
And it didn’t bother me in the least. I rather liked it.
Clutching just one of my many money bags bursting with money that I had received that week, I was slinking through the small, dark streets and back to my home with my reward. The next night, I was going to kill yet another person. Not a problem.
But I spotted two soldiers walking toward my direction, and that posed a very big problem.
Instantly, I flattened myself against another wall of a house and melted into the shadows of it. The soldiers, each with his own set of eyes darting around the streets, grew closer and closer.
I retreated further back into the shadows, pulling my cloak closer around my shoulders and the hood lower over my face. When I could no longer hear the soldier’s footsteps, I peeked my head out of the alley I had ducked into and searched around for any sign of them.
I was relieved to perceive that no one was there. I took off sprinting through the dark night, the only sounds piercing the silence being my sandals slapping the dirt streets and my dark cloak flapping behind as I ran.
My foolish decision caused the soldiers who had just turned a corner to hear my fleeing footsteps. I zig-zagged between buildings and houses when I heard them dart after me, wondering what would happen if I obeyed their threatening voices ringing through the night; “Stop in the name of the law!”
I only dashed through the night faster as I turned another corner. I stopped abruptly when I realized it was an alleyway.
Swiftly turning around, I saw the two guards standing at the edge of the alley, illuminated in what moonlight there was to see with. They took threatening steps closer toward me, unsheathing their swords slowly.
“Drop your weapons, Barabbas,” the first one ordered with unwavering grit. “Drop them slowly.”
I lowered my gaze as I reached to my belt, pulling out my small dagger. I glanced back up at the soldier who had spoken first, and he nodded. “That’s it. Now drop it on the ground. The moment you try anything is the moment you end.”
Swallowing, I dropped the dagger, knowing what this could mean.
“Good,” the first soldier spoke. He nodded to the other one, and that soldier took a step toward me with his sword.
In a flash, I pulled out my second, much sharper dagger and stabbed the man where I wanted to. He dropped to the ground as he lost his life and I looked up at the other soldier.
His face was aflame with fear as he shook his head, backing away from me in sheer dread. I relentlessly lunged after him, too, and mercilessly took care of business.
I stepped out of the moonlight, glancing back at the two lifeless bodies on the floor in the alleyway, snorting to myself. No one was to beat me.
I turned to face the street and stopped dead cold. The blood drained from my face as my heart stopped in horror, my eyes noticing the twenty other soldiers surrounding me.
The last year had been full of ending the lives of many, and now it was my own life’s turn to end.
Avoiding the eyes of the soldiers who held swords to my throat and wearing an angry, defeated look, I weakly lifted my hands in surrender. One soldier ripped the daggers from my belt while another seized my hands and wrenched them behind my back. I was shoved to my knees as the leader of the group of soldiers began to stride toward me.
He knelt to look me in the eyes, but I avoided his steely gaze. Finally, I forced myself to look him in the eyes. He daggered his glare into mine with a smirk. “Ever wondered how it feels to have someone end your life, Barabbas?”
I didn’t answer as I swallowed hard, continuing to stare at his hard eyes.
“Well, you’re about to find out,” he finished, standing up. “Let’s bring him to Pilate, men.”
Before I knew it, I had been clubbed across my head from behind. I fell face-first to the dirt road, blacking out unconscious.
I woke up in prison, staring at the dripping ceiling and noticing the dry taste in my mouth. I sat up in misery, realizing at last that this was what rock bottom felt like. I buried my face in my hands in despair, having never remembered a time in my life when I felt so desperate. I no longer felt ruthless and unstoppable. There I sat, about to have taken away from me what I no longer deserved; my life. I wondered just when I was going to be executed for my many horrendous crimes.
At the sound of someone else at the other end of the cell moving around, I looked up in surprise. I hadn’t noticed the other young man huddled in the corner of the prison cell we seemed to share. He looked up at me, too.
For a moment, we didn’t say anything; we just stared at each other, each feeling the weight of our crimes, the dread of our punishments, and the curiosity of what the other one had done to get there.
The other young man spoke first. “First time in prison?”
I stared at him for another moment before slowly nodding my head. “That seems to be the case.”
The man nodded back. “This is my second. And this time I’m not getting out.”
“Thief?” I assumed.
“Thief,” he confirmed.
“Murderer,” I said back.
The man raised an eyebrow. “Would you know Barabbas?”
I chuckled. “I am Barabbas.”
The thief seemed amused. “I never thought I’d share a cell with the most wanted murderer in all of Jerusalem. That’s pretty steep for a thief like me.” Then he nodded. “I’m Naeam.”
Breaking eye contact, I looked to the bars of the cell and stared at them long and hard. It was Naeam who interrupted my thoughts once more.
“Are you thinking about breaking out?”
I looked back at him. Slowly at first and then with more confidence, I shook my head. “No. If anyone deserves to die, it’s me.”
Naeam didn’t seem to know what to say. Just then, two guards came trooping down the dark, damp hall to where our cell was.
“You,” one of them gruffly pointed to Naeam. “You’re coming with us.”
Naeam stood up, reaching up to the back of his neck uncomfortably as he walked to where the guards were unlocking the cell bars. The other guard kept a sharp, piercing eye on me though he seemed afraid, but I didn’t plan on escaping or killing him.
I returned my gaze to my hands with my elbows on my knees, feeling once again the heavy burden of my defeat and the dread of my coming death.
Once Naeam was gone, I curled my fist and let my forehead rest on it in restless anger. Tight with tension, I swallowed hard as I wondered just when my execution would be and if Naeam was off to his.
When Naeam didn’t return that night, I concluded he was dead. And when I didn’t hear any mention of my execution for weeks, I concluded there must be some hold-up. And when Naeam was surprisingly shoved back into our prison cell three months later, I found out exactly what it was.
“Naeam,” I exclaimed in surprise. “I thought you were going to be executed.”
“So did I,” Naeam muttered as he sank to the floor with a wince. “But I was let go.”
“But you stole something else?”
“What did you expect?” Naeam grimaced as he reached his hand up to his back where he had obviously gotten scourged. “That’s what I do.”
I looked away again, the curiosity becoming stronger as I continued to sit there heavily on the wooden plank. Finally, I asked, “What’s the hold-up with my execution?”
“Hold-up?” Naeam sputtered. “You must be the only one in Israel who doesn’t know.”
“Doesn’t know what?” I demanded.
“Abut the rebel rouser,” he replied.
“Rebel rouser?” I repeated. Rebels were rare. And interesting. “What about him is so special?”
“This rebel is just – different from the others,” Naeam shrugged.
“He – oh, I don’t know,” he shrugged again. “As much trouble as he is causing, so many people love him. Crowds of the thousands flock to just listen to him.”
“Thousands?” I couldn’t believe it. “What does he do?”
“Some say he’s demon-posessed – he heals the blind, sick, maimed, you name it. He’s even raised people from the dead.”
“Raised people from the dead?” I repeated, this time quieter. Could this supposedly demon-posessed rebel rouser whom everyone seemed to love possibly have raised to life some of the very people I myself had killed?
Naeam nodded as he turned to look at me. “And he’s just so different. He has so much genuine love for people – the worst of sinners. He genuinely cares about them, which boggles peoples’ minds.”
“Genuine love for the worst of sinners?” The words sounded so fake and unbelievable yet felt so good in my mouth. Yearning to know more, I questioned, “How is that even possible?”
“He’s different,” Naeam told me again. “People call him a prophet, a teacher, and even the Son of God.”
I drew a blank at the last statement, but it didn’t seem to matter. Just at the very mention of those words, the air became thicker as if a blanket had settled atop us.
“He even looked at me,” Naeam’s voice grew thick, too, with emotion. “Before I was sent to be scourged. He didn’t glare at me like the rest did when seeing I was a thief. He just smiled at me with the purest eyes of indescribable love.”
I swallowed the rising lump in my throat. That man sounded like everything in my world of hopelessness. “What’s his name?” I dared to ask through my choked voice.
Naeam looked at me with wet eyes. “His name is Jesus.”
At the very mentioned of that Name, the air became even thicker as if a presence had entered into our cell. Jesus sounded like the most amazing Man I could ever hope to meet. If He truly loved the worst of sinners, would He love me, too?
“I wish I could’ve seen Him,” I murmured as I hung my head.
Naeam didn’t say anything more. We relapsed into silence, our minds captivated with the thought of Jesus.
“Which one is it this time?” Naeam questioned two weeks later as the prison guards came storming up to our cell yet again, jabbing their finger at Naeam and motioning for him to come. “Am I going to be executed or set free?”
The first guard snorted as the other one unlocked the cell. Naeam reluctantly stepped out of the bars and swallowed as each guard clamped a iron-hard grip on his arms and escorted him down the hall.
I watched my friend go. He had been a hope and comfort to me the past two weeks, telling me all he had seen or heard about Jesus. Was he going to be set free yet again or executed at last? Figuring time would tell, I began to ponder more and more on Jesus and if He was truly the Son of God. If He was, could He forgive sins? Could He forgive mine?
No, I quickly refuted the thought. No. I’ve done too much. I’ve killed too many people. I’ve spilled too much blood. Jesus would never even look at a murderer like me. Clenching my jaw in misery, I then forced myself to face the fact. And sooner or later, I’m going to have to die because of what I am.
With a gasp, I shot up from my sleeping position before the blade could cut my throat. Soaked with sweat and trembling under the weight of the dread of my doom, I panted as I realized it was only a nightmare. I shook my head, burying my dirty face in my hand once more. The nightmare of my execution could only mean one thing; that it was closer.
The blood drained from my face as I turned to look at the footsteps pounding full-speed toward my cell. But relief flooded me as I discovered they were escorting Naeam back.
The minute Naeam was thrown to the floor of the cell, he spoke. “Barabbas, it’s Jesus,” he panted as he sat up despite his bloody back. We both locked eyes as he shook his head in misery. “He’s on trial.”
“On trial?” I exclaimed in shock, my expression saddening. “What? Why? What crime has He committed?”
“That’s what Pilate is trying to figure out right now,” Naeam wheezed as he struggled to sit up. “I saw it all on my way to be scourged. But the leaders of religious law want Him crucified.”
My heart sank to my stomach as I discovered I could hardly breathe. The amazing Man who had done so many amazing things; He was going to be crucified?
Naeam nodded in despair. “It’s not fair,” he mumbled. “Jesus was so forgiving and amazing.”
My heavy heart felt panged with grief, and even Naeam’s next words, though they beared good news, didn’t lighten it. “The good thing is that it’s Passover week. One prisoner of the peoples’ choice is going to be released, and they’re debating on whether they are going to release Jesus or not right now. If they don’t choose Him, though, we have a chance of getting out of here.”
“Surely they’re going to choose Jesus,” I told him with a half-smile despite my sadness. “He’s so kind and loving.”
Naeam nodded his head in agreement. I hung my head in despair, feeling at the end of the road. After Jesus was chosen to be freed, what lay ahead for me? I was surely going to go to the guillotine for manslaughter. Heaven knows, I deserved it. Jesus was going to be released, whereas I was going to be crucified for my murderous crimes.
But what Naeam and I heard next shocked us both.
“Give us Barabbas! We want Barabbas!”
We strained our ears to listen in confusion. “Are they chanting your name?” Naeam asked in disbelief.
“Barabbas! Barabbas!” The faint noise of a large crowd chanting my name sounded again.
My eyes widened. No. It can’t be… are they asking for my release?
Naeam and I immediately turned our attention to the two prison guards rushing down the hall once more.
“Barabbas!” One guard barked.
Naeam and I exchanged glances. I weakly stood to my feet as they hurriedly unlocked the door. The minute I was out, the two guards clamped my arms and dragged me down the hall and up a long, winding staircase.
When we came to the end of it and through another door, a blast of warm wind hit my face.
I was standing before a massive throng of people, all chanting my name and cheering at the sight of me. The reverberating sound of their screams still echo in my ear to this day.
I looked over to my right – there was Pontius Pilate, standing before the people just like I with his arms crossed.
And then beyond him, I saw another Person. My eyes widened as I finally saw the Man that Raeam had raved about. No one had to tell me it was Jesus; I just knew. Though He wore a mocking purple robe and a crown of thorns causing His temple to profusely bleed down His face, He carried such a loving, forgiving air that made me want to break down and weep.
“Shall I release to you Jesus, King of the Jews?” Pilate’s loud voice rang out through the crowd, silencing their chants momentarily. Then he gestured to me. “Or should I release to you Barabbas?”
“Give us Barabbas!” The crowd relentlessly cried. “We want Barabbas!”
Pilate shook his head in regret. He turned to a nearby servant and washed his hands. “I am innocent of the blood of this Man.”
With that, I began to weep. Jesus turned to me at the sound of my sobs, and as I looked into His eyes, my heart melted. For the first time in my bloody years of ending lives, tears rolled down my cheeks.
Jesus looked at me with so much unspeakable love in His eyes. He didn’t say anything. He only smiled at me with so much indescribable love and grace. Jesus, perfect Jesus, giving up His life so I could have mine, was smiling at me; a murderer. A sinner. An evil, dirty man whose hands were stained with blood.
But everything wrong I had ever done didn’t seem to matter as Jesus looked at me – with a loving, forgiving smile. Jesus, in the robe soldiers had put on Him to mock Him; Jesus, getting the death sentence I deserved. Jesus had just willingly gave up His life for mine.
I continued to weep, overcome with emotion. This Man loved me. He forgave me. And He was willingly giving His life to give me mine.
For the first time in my entire life, I felt everything wrong I had ever done being completely erased as I voiced the words, “Lord, I believe.”
Remember what Jesus did for you today. There is nothing wrong you’ve ever done that could separate His love from you. If you haven’t asked Him into your heart, He’s just waiting with open arms for you. Don’t wait. ♥