Lenten Reader -- Day 37
Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals -- one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.”
The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”
There was a written notice above him, which read: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.
One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”
But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:32-43)
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:1-4)
What kind of man uses his dying breath to spew venom and hatred at a complete stranger? The kind of man the Romans saw fit to crucify. He could not even be trusted as a slave any more. They felt the only recourse for such a man was public execution in the most tortuous manner they could conceive.
Meet the thief on the cross -- not the one we normally talk about -- the other one -- the one writhing in agony and still joining with the crowd in heaping insults on an innocent man.
Only after surveying this character should we allow our gaze to drift to the other -- the one on Jesus’ other side -- the one who knows he has brought this all on himself. The one who is not raging any longer but feels the sting of shame and humiliation this punishment is intended to evoke.
Now think of the courage it takes for him to take one last shot, make one last attempt at redemption. He uses his last bit of strength to come to the defense of an obviously innocent man. And then, because he knows his end is near, he makes one last request -- not for deliverance from his impending death but for something positive on the other side of it.
And now allow your eyes to move to the One in the middle and realize this: knowing full well that this thief to his side could never do a single positive thing in return, Jesus Christ promises him salvation.
Jesus, lover of my soul, you have gone to unimaginable lengths to display your love and grace and mercy to me, disobedient and rebellious as I have been. It is impossible for my finite mind to grasp the breadth and length and height and depth of your love. It passes all understanding. If you gave me justice, I would have no hope. I would be alienated and estranged from you and suffer the consequences of your holy judgment. But you would not leave me in that state, choosing to offer me a grace I do not deserve. You met the righteous requirement of justice through your redemptive sacrifice on the cross. You set me free from the consequences and threw my offenses into the deepest sea. For this I can never repay you. I can only praise you and offer my life as a living sacrifice for your glory. Amen.