Barabbas, by Aimee Semple-McPherson

Aimee Semple-McPherson (October 9, 1890 – September 27, 1944), also known as Sister Aimee, was a Canadian-American Los Angeles based evangelist and media celebrity in the 1920s and 1930s. She founded the Foursquare Church, and was among the first to bring the relatively new Pentecostal movement to the forefront. She is considered to be one of the first “celebrity” pastors, and had a broad appeal among the social elite in Hollywood.

Today, she is a viewed by many as a divisive figure, even among Pentecostals. The fact that she was a woman is a problem for many, and her pair of divorces are even more problematic. However, God blessed her ministry in many ways, and the Foursquare Church continues to go into all the world and preach the Gospel.

Sister Aimee is one of the most intriguing ministers in modern church history. Love her or hate her, her effectiveness for the Kingdom of God cannot be disputed.

The following is from her book This is That! History tells us that Sister Aimee had quite the flair for the dramatic, and this sermon will surely give you a bit of insight into that.


“And they all cried out at once, saying, ‘Away with this man, and release unto us Barabbas.’ … Now Barabbas was a robber, who for certain sedition made in the city, and for murder, was cast into prison.” —Luke 23:8, 19; John 18:40.

Just these few vivid, gripping incidents—nothing more is told us of this man Barabbas. The thick shroud of mystery that envelops both the beginning and the ending of his life is undispelled by the light of the scriptures, but these few bright crimson drops, wrung from the very heart of his story, as it were, seem to cry aloud the tale of:

Innocence pursued by Temptation.

Temptation overtaken by Sin.

Sin pounced upon and condemned to die by The Law.

Stern Law conquered and its grip loosened by Jesus, the Substitute and Redeemer who died in the sinner’s place.

Such a striking type is Barabbas of the whole human race, and of ourselves individually, that, as we stand looking down upon the incomplete story of his life, it seems like some wondrous, fascinating, unfinished texture stretched upon the loom of life, its riotous colors bespeaking sunshine and shadow, joy and sorrow, tragedy and triumph, threads frayed and hanging from the ending, threads loose and dangling at the beginning, as though inviting the onlooker to pick them up and weave again the history of the whole human race, as embodied in the study of Barabbas.


About the spring time of every child we love to weave the white threads of innocency, a godly, praying Mother, and the picture of a little white-robed form learning to pray at mother’s knee. The home that has robbed its children of a praying mother has deprived them of one of the richest treasures that it is within its power to bestow, a memory which money could never buy, nor time destroy.

Whether Barabbas had a praying mother or not we do not know, but we long to think of her as instructing him in the old laws and the prophets, weeping and praying for him as he wandered into bad company and the paths of temptation. As he grew older we do not know whether or not he was married, but there may have been woven into the loom of his life with golden threads of love, a wife and a beautiful baby boy, but one thing we are certain of, and that is that he was led into sin, ever deeper and deeper, while God was speaking to him and the angels were warning him, saying,


Doubtless, Barabbas meant to call a halt some time in the near future. He never meant to go so far into sin as to be caught, cast into prison and condemned to die. Every dark cloud of warning that the Lord put into his way was doubtless tinted rosy with promising colors of golden wealth and remuneration by the devil, as he was led on and on from one sin to another, until at last we read that


In all probability his robbing started in some seemingly simple and trivial way, some tiny, childhood theft for which his conscience troubled and accused him. At the second theft, a little larger than the last, his conscience did not seem to trouble him quite so much, and unbelievably soon, his soul was hardened, until he became the leader of a band of robbers and started up insurrection in the city. He may have chuckled to himself and told his colleagues that they were clever enough to evade the law, and that they never would be caught, as many another sinner assures himself. But once more came the last and final warning:

“Repent; be sure your sin will find you out. Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. The soul that sinneth, it shall surely die.”

Oh, Barabbas! What a striking type you are of our foreparents who, in the Garden of Eden, when first tempted by this same sin, stole and ate the fruit from the forbidden tree. No doubt Satan, in the form of a serpent, whispered in your ear, as he did in the ear of Eve, saying:

“Eat thereof. Ye shall not surely die.” And then, guilty and sinful, you sought to hide yourself behind the trees of deception, and to assure yourself that neither God nor the Law would see nor punish you there.

But just as surely as Adam and Eve, shrinking guiltily behind their covering, heard the firm footfalls of Almighty God, walking through the garden to meet them, in the cool of the day, just as surely as God called out, saying:

“Adam, where art thou?” just as surely as He discovered, condemned, and punished their sin; just so surely did the footsteps of the law seek and overtake you, Oh Barabbas!

Cunningly the devil led him on and on until one day he found himself the ringleader of an insurrection made in the city streets. Then, blinded with demoniacal rage, his blood surging in tumultuous riot through his veins, his reason overstepped her bounds, and quick as a flash a heavy blow was struck; the limp body of his victim fell with a sickening thud to the ground; a deep-dyed thread of crimson was shot through the texture upon the loom of life, and


Swiftly the heavy, relentless hand of the law fell upon the shoulder of the guilty wretch, staging with horror upon the work of his hands. Escape was impossible. Mercy was out of the question. The Law must take its course. Doubtless the trial that followed was fair and square in every respect. Barabbas was G-U-I-L-T-Y. And there were many witnesses to prove his guilt, both as a robber and as a murderer. No power could avert the penalty of the law, nor hinder it from descending upon him.

[bctt tweet=”Barabbas was GUILTY. No power could avert the penalty of the law, nor hinder it from descending upon him. #SisterAimee” username=”JawboneDigital”]

To and fro, back and forth flew the shuttle of time across the loom of life, now weaving threads that were dark—sombre—mournful. Was it with bated breath and blanching cheeks, or was it with a thin veneer of bravado that he heard the awful sentence pronounced upon him:
“Barabbas, you, with your two thieves, who conspired to work under your leadership, are condemned to die, and shall be hanged upon three crosses of wood on Calvary’s hill till you are dead.”

And when, plunged into the blackness of the dark dungeons beneath Pilate’s judgment hall, chains clanking upon the damp flagstones as he writhed in the anguished throes of remorse, did he cry aloud?

“Oh, bitter thongs of the law! Oh, bands and chains of justice! Is there no escape from thee, e’en though I see my awful error and now repent?” And did the voice of firm, relentless law, with face like flint, echo from the haunting memory of mother’s teaching, “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth; the Murderer shall surely be put to death.” Sitting there in the darkness of sin, unable to help himself, beyond the help of mortal man, the chains of approaching retribution already biting into the flesh of his body, condemned to die without hope, nothing to look forward to but death, what a picture is Barabbas of the whole human race.


By Adam sin entered. The first sin recorded was that of theft; (Genesis 3:6). The second sin to be recorded was murder (Genesis 4:8). God, in His infinite holiness, could not look upon sin with the least degree of allowance; the soul that sinneth, it must die. Death and eternal despair followed in the wake of sin. A great gulf had been fixed between man and God, the strong arm of the law fell heavily upon the human race, and after a fair trial the verdict, G-U-I-L-T-Y, was brought in. The sentence of “death” was passed, and man was plunged into the dark prison of captivity beneath the judgment hall waiting the hour when judgment should be executed upon him.

Oh! that someone would come to open the prison doors of those who were bound. Oh! for an arm to save, one who would bear the griefs and carry the sorrows of a sin-stricken race, one who would be wounded for the sinner’s transgression and pay the sinner’s debt!

Who knows the thoughts that throbbed through the aching brain of Barabbas during the days that followed, the stabbings of remorse, memories of other days, and thoughts of what might have been, the sleepless nights, the hopeless days, not one ray of light to pierce the gloom! Did that awful voice that had pronounced the sentence in the judgment hall keep ringing in his ears:

“Thou shalt be hanged upon a cross of wood on Calvary’s hill, thou and thy two thieves, till thou art dead”? Did he lose all track of time, till his ears were ever straining to hear his name called and the great door to be swung wide, the hour when the dark silence would be broken, and midst the roaring of the voices of the rabble, and the piercing light of day, he would be led forth to die that shameful and ignominious death? In the  silent darkness of his cell, with no other sound than the drip, drip of the sweat drops which came from the ceiling and fell like tears upon the flagstones at his feet, did the vision of the cross, his cross, rise before him, ever drawing nearer and nearer as the hour of his crucifixion approached?

Steadily on and on the shuttle flies across the loom in sombre and desolate colorings.

Oh! what is this! The threads of wild terror and panic are being shot across the loom! Barabbas, sitting stock upright, rigid as though turned to stone, listens with every nerve tense. Hear it? There it is again; it is his name they are crying:

“Barabbas! Barabbas! Release unto us Barabbas. Bring forth Barabbas! Barabbas! B-A-R-A-B-B-A-S!”

‘Tis the voice of a multitudinous rabble, ever growing and swelling in volume. But how could he hear it away in this dungeon? The doors must be open. Yes, footsteps are echoing along the stone corridors that lead to his cell, nearer and nearer they sound, swords singing, keys jangling on their rings, and ever as a background, comes the imperative roar of the mob in the judgment hall above, a roar that is now settling into a steady chant brooking no denial.

“Barabbas! Barabbas! Release unto us BARABBAS!!!!”

Louder and plainer comes the tread of the soldiers, until, at the sharp word of command, they halt before the cell. The rattle of the ponderous key in the door, the grating of the lock, the creaking of the heavy door, and then the expected words:

“Come forth, Barabbas, another is to die in your place today. You are a free man.”

Tell me, O weaver at the loom, did a faint ray of hope dawn in his heart, or did he shrink back and cry, from the anguish of his soul?

“Oh!! Do not laugh at my calamity, and mock when my fear cometh. I know that I have had a fair and square trial. I know that I have been proved guilty and am worthy of death. I will go to my death upon the cross, but Oh! don’t, don’t mock at my calamity and jeer at my hour of sorrow.” And did the keeper reply:

“‘Tis neither jest nor mocking, Barabbas. ‘Tis true, thou art a free man. For one named Jesus is to be stretched upon your cross on Calvary’s hill, ‘twixt the two thieves today. With mine own eyes have I seen Him tied to the whipping-post in the court without, His back bared to the smiters, the blows of the cruel lash raining upon His shoulders. They are now leading Him up the hill to be crucified. Come forth! Barabbas! Come forth! You are free! He shall be bruised for your iniquity, and the chastisement of your peace is to be upon Him. He will die in your stead.


Free? FREE?? F-R-E-E??? Surely his ears could not hear aright! Surely this must be some horrible dream rising up to torment him.

“Make haste, Barabbas, come forth!”

Ah! the chains were loose at his feet. His hands were free. The biting iron that had long lacerated his flesh was gone. One trembling step—two—three—and he was almost to the door, but no restraining hand had fallen upon him, no voice had jeered:

“Ah, Barabbas, come forth and pay the price. Thy sin hath found thee out.” Four—five—six—he had gained and passed the door. Seven—eight—nine steps. He was groping his way along the corridor, stumbling blindly toward yon distant ray of light. True, the soldiers were marching behind him, but they were making no effort to seize him. What did it all mean? Surely they would seize upon him at the last moment. But, no, they are turning off in another direction and he is left alone, walking into the ever-growing light that pierces his unaccustomed eyes.

When at last, reaching the yawning doorway, clinging to its portals with one trembling hand, and shading his eyes with the other, what were his thoughts as he gazed once more upon the sunlight, and once more heard the singing of the birds, and the voices of children round about him? Were the golden threads of hope and new resolution already being woven into the texture, even amidst his bewilderment?

Oh these dangling threads that hang loose from the end of the texture, tell me, just how was the story finished? Did Barabbas catch sight of the throng wending their way to Calvary’s hill? Did he hear the hissings and the jeerings of the multitude, and see yon lovely Man, in robes of white, fall beneath the burden of the cross? Did he run, perhaps, to the old cottage home, and clasping his amazed wife and little boy by the hand, cry:

“Oh, come with me, and let us go and see the man that is dying in my place. Today was the day set for my execution. Today I was to be hanged upon the cross and die a felon’s death, but another man, an innocent man, is dying, dying for me. Oh, come and let us go and look upon His face that we may fathom the mystery of such love.”


And did they push their way together through the throng and up the hill, ne’er stopping till they reached the foot of the cross, where sobbing women mourned the grief of Him who bore our sorrows? And as Barabbas gazed into that face most fair, and saw the nails, and the blood drops streaming down from brow and hands and feet, as he looked into those eyes of deep, unutterable love, and heard the words:

“Father, forgive,” falling from those anguished lips, did he cry:

“Oh, Jesus, thy love has won my heart! Yonder are the two thieves, one on the right, one on the left, but there is the middle cross, the cross upon which I should have died.” And stooping down, did he take his little son up in his arms, and pointing to the cross did he sob in his ear:

“Oh, Sonny, look, that is the cross your Papa should have died upon; that is the place where I should have hung, the death I should have died, but yon lovely Man, whom they call Jesus, is dying in Papa’s place. Oh, wife and son and Oh, my heart, let us ever love and live and work for this Jesus who gave Himself for me”?

As Barabbas gazed steadfast into the eyes of Jesus, did the face of the Lord turn toward him? Did their eyes meet, and was there a look of understanding exchanged between the two that broke Barabbas’ heart and held him captive by the chains of love forever? Did he fall upon his knees, crying: “Jesus, how can I ever thank you?

“Drops of grief could ne’er repay
The debt of love I owe;
Here, Lord, I give myself to Thee,
‘Tis all that I can do.”

Was he there when the mangled body of Jesus was lowered from the cross and laid within the tomb? Was he there upon the morning when Jesus appeared to His people and ascended up in the clouds unto His Father’s throne? Was he among the hundred and twenty on the Day of Pentecost who received the gift of the Holy Ghost and went forth proclaiming the message of Jesus and His power to save?

We know not of a certainty, but one thing we do know, and that is, that when this whole world of ours was wrapped in darkness and imprisoned by sin and death, the Spirit of the Lord was upon Jesus, anointing Him to preach the gospel to the poor, to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, and to preach the acceptable year of the Lord. We do know that Barabbas was no greater sinner, nor more devoid of hope than this whole world of lost sinners, and that Jesus came and was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we were healed; that when we like sheep had gone astray, and had turned every one to our own ways, the Lord laid upon Him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment. He was cut off from the land of the living. For the transgression of the people was He stricken. He made His grave with the wicked and with the rich in His death, yet He had done no violence, neither was there any deceit in His mouth. He was numbered with the transgressors, and He bare the sin of many and made intercession for the transgressors.

[bctt tweet=”Barabbas was no greater sinner, nor more devoid of hope than this whole world of lost sinners. #SisterAimee” username=”JawboneDigital”]


By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for all have sinned (Romans 5:12).

What a hopeless, miserable dungeon, man had placed himself in by his sin, and disobedience to God. No matter how he might search, there was no way out. The great, massive DOOR OF MERCY was the only hope. The Law, stern jailer that he was, refused to open that. Because of one man’s sin Death reigned supreme upon his throne from Adam to Moses (Romans 5:14).

Sitting there within the prison cell of despair, there came the day when the people which sat in darkness saw a great light, and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death, light sprang up (Matthew 4:16).

The footfalls of Deliverance were heard coming along the corridors of time, Grace (heaven-sent turnkey) bore the key of divine, sacrificial love that turned the lock of condemnation and swung wide the ponderous door of mercy.

Mercy and Love (inseparable pair) stepped within the prison cell, and, loosening the bands of Despair, and breaking the power of Sin’s strong chains, called to all mankind:


“You are free men; another has died in your place, one named Jesus has borne your cross and paid the price of your redemption. Come forth, come forth. Oh! trembling souls, why sit longer in the valley and in the shadow of death? Can you not understand? The door is open, the chains are broken. Barabbas, BARABBAS, COME forth!” What would you have thought of Barabbas, had he refused to leave the dungeon, choosing chains and darkness rather than liberty and light? What opinion would you have had of Barabbas had he been such an ingrate, so void of appreciation and gratitude that he did not even take the trouble to climb blest Calvary’s hill to see and thank this Jesus who died for him?

Jesus died for you; your prison door stands WIDE, the Spirit calls: “Come forth, the sunlight of God’s love and mercy awaits you, pardon and peace are yours for the taking. Will you turn just now to Calvary, wend your way to the cross and gaze into the face of your Saviour, that face which was more marred than the face of any other man ?”

There are your two old companions, Sin and Death, hanging upon the two crosses beside your Lord; for the first thief, sin, there can be no allowance, no excuse—sin must die to you and you to sin. For how can we that are dead to sin live any longer therein?

As for the second thief, at the eleventh hour his pardon came, when death was swallowed up in victory. For the sting of death is sin, and when our old companion, sin, is dead, then it is that the sting is taken out of death, and the ransomed soul can cry: “Oh! death, where is thy sting?” Whether the body sleeps or wakes matters not. To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. Verily, I say unto you, this day shalt thou be in Paradise with Me.

Yes, dear sinner, Jesus paid it all, all to Him you owe. Turn to Him just now. Thank Him for His great love and for the shedding of His precious blood, and as you gaze upon Him your heart will be melted, the tears will fall from your eyes, and you will break forth into singing:

“My Jesus, I love thee, I know Thou art mine:
For Thee all the follies of sin I resign;
My gracious Redeemer, my Saviour art Thou;
If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.”

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