Ever since I was a little boy I sensed the irony of this. Samuel Crossman, in his beautiful hymn "My Song is Love Unknown," captured it with these words:
They rise and needs will have
My dear Lord made away;
A murderer they save,
The prince of life they slay.
Yet cheerful He
To suff’ring goes
That He His foes
From thence might free.
There is, however, more to the irony. The New International Version tells us that Barabbas' name was actually "Jesus Barabbas." A lot of translations leave out "Jesus" from Barabbas' name because there is a little debate about it in the ancient manuscripts.
More than twenty ancient manuscripts of Matthew have the words "Jesus Barabbas." But Origen, one of the greatest Bible scholars who ever lived, argued that this must have been a mistake. In his commentary he said, "“in the whole range of the scriptures we know that no one who is a sinner [is called] Jesus.”* But great Bible scholars aren't always right. Origen didn't want the name of "Jesus" sullied by allowing it to stand for a criminal. But I think that is exactly what God wanted.
If it is true that they both have the same first name, we can see all the more clearly how Jesus came to take our place on the cross. St. Peter said,
"For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit” (1 Peter 3.18).
"For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Corinthians 5.21).
Jesus did allow His name to be sullied. He allowed His entire being to be showered with our sin when He went convicted and condemned to the cross. When you feel guilty, worthless and weighed down by sin, remember who became a substitute for you.
Prayer: God of Grace, I give You my thanks and praise when I remember how Jesus stood in my place to be condemned. Help me to remember that, though undeserving, I have been set free from the condemnation of my sin. I am forgiven. I am free. In Jesus' name, Amen.
*Metzger, Bruce M. "A Textual Commentary On The Greek New Testament"