Imagine for a moment, as painful as it might seem, that you’ve been jailed inside a maximum security prison. Even after several months of unimaginable incarceration, you remain an unrepentant convict. You’re considered by your peers a completely ruthless and lawless individual. And, indeed, you are.

You hid yourself along well-traveled, lightly guarded avenues. With a gang of pitiless marauders, you sprang upon innocent people, beat them senseless, stole their stuff, and left them for dead. The long arm of the law finally caught up to you and when the judge sentenced you to die with your co-conspirators, you spit in his direction.

Picture yourself inside those prison walls. Feel the cold, steel bars on your fingertips. Smell the putrid air wafting from cell-mates unbathed. It is the morning of your execution.

Down at the end of the hall you hear keys jangling, muffled voices discussing, creaking locks opening. It’s time, you assume, to pay the ultimate price. You stand to face the warden — you intend to show him you’re not afraid to die, but your tear-streaked cheeks betray the irretrievable loss felt inside.

The warden approaches your cell, removes a key from his pocket, unlatches the lock, and says to you, “Barabbas, you’re free to go.”

You sit, of course, in stunned silence. In fact, as moments become minutes, you grow belligerent. It must be a trap! They already have you for murder, insurrection, and crimes against the state. Now they want to catch you red-handed attempting to escape. But you’re much too smart for that; you refuse to take the bait and you tell the warden as much.

“No, really.” the warden mutters, as his foot paws shamefully at the ground. Still refusing any eye-contact with you, he says somewhat more loudly: “Son, you must go. Please go. We’ve got other criminals to execute.”

“What official has my father bribed? And what did that cost him?” you inquire as you fold your arms defiantly.

“No, son. There’s not enough money in all the Roman empire to secure your pardon.”

Naturally, your very next question is the most incisive: “What happened?”

“Jesus of Nazareth has taken your place. You’re free to go.”

We should all identify with Barabbas. Not only was he the first person to experience Jesus’s very real substitutionary ministry, but he must have been tempted to think, “This is too good to be true.”

As a preacher of God’s glorious gospel, I can absolutely identify with that sort of incredulity. I have no problem standing Sunday after Sunday proclaiming that God is rich in mercy, that God will abundantly pardon, that the ways of the LORD are steadfast love and plentiful redemption. But when I turn inward and consider my own depravity, I’m tempted to draw back. I think we all hesitate to personalize Romans 8:31, “If God is for us, who can be against us.” Or Romans 8:32, “He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?”

Why is it so hard to take hold of such precious gospel promise? Because it simply seems too good to be true. Surely, the saving God of the universe can’t possibly commit Himself in that way to … me.

But there it stands: God has made promises. And God’s promises are always yes and Amen.

Do you see the evil now in disbelieving even a part of God’s word? If given the smallest opportunity, our adversary will tear the guts from the gospel: Has God actually said? Take hold of God’s good Word. Make it the very air you breathe. And rest in God’s almost unbelievable, completely unexpected, and all-triumphing gospel.