This coming Friday we pause and remember Jesus' death, His atonement, the price He paid on our behalf so we would not have to "take the fall" for our own sin/disobedience to God. As Jesus hung on the cross, He spoke seven different times. Four times to His Father, one time to a Roman soldier, one time to one of disciples, and another time to someone else who was being crucified next to Him.
This week, I want to explore the conversation that took place between Jesus and thief condemned to die.
When they came to the place called The Skull, there they crucified Him and the criminals, one on the right and the other on the left ... One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, "Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!" (Luke 23:33,39 NASB)
Two criminals - robbers, according to the gospel of Matthew - one on the left of Jesus, the other on the right of Jesus. Both condemned to die with Jesus - the sacrificial lamb. I think it is noteworthy to look at the one sided dialogue from the first criminal. Historians both secular and religious note how horribly tormenting and painful the crucifixion was. To use oxygen to speak was anguish. The reason people have used torture through out the ages? Pain can cause the strongest and most willful person to "repent". Torture will cause a person to do and say things out of character - or perhaps expose true character. And there hanging next to Jesus we find that the first criminal was cynical, filled with anger, bitterness and even selfishness as he hung there - no repentance in sight. The Bible says he hurled insults at Jesus ... It also says Jesus did not reply to this thief. As I look at the words of this criminal two other incidents came to mind. The devil speaking with Jesus in the wilderness and the conversation Jesus had with the Pharisees just days earlier.
When the devil tempted Jesus in the wilderness he said to Him, "...If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down from here;" (Luke 4:9 NASB). Sounds close to the words of the thief doesn't it? Both instances challenged Jesus to do something to show or prove that He was the Son of God. If Jesus did so in either instance, and He had every right to do so, He would have manifested His glory prematurely. We, as a result, would not have a chance of our sins being forgiven and heirs of eternal life (1 John 5:11).
When Jesus went into the temple on Tuesday after Palm Sunday, the religious leaders challenged Jesus and asked Him under what authority did he "do" the things He had done, namely He messed up their flow of income by chasing out the money changers and merchants out of the temple. If you read the passage, which can be found in Mark 11, Jesus ultimately refuses to answer their question based upon their unbelief. In the same way, He chose not to answer the thief.
In all instances Jesus' identity was in question. Who was/is He? Are His claims and miracles true? It is the same trick the devil has been using since the beginning of mankind. "Did God really say..." He asked Eve in the garden. The enemy is always going to question God's words and authority and so we can expect him to question ours as well.
Do you really belong to God?
Can you really expect to receive His promises?
Did He really say you can resist me if you just submit to Him?
Will He really rescue you from the pit of sin?
The answers are: Yes, yes, yes, and emphatically Yes!
God will do all of that and much, much more!
But the other answered, and rebuking him said, "Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong." And he was saying, "Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!" And He said to him, "Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise." (Luke 23: 40-43 NASB)
The shift that immediately takes place makes me smile. The second thief rebukes the first one. Perhaps the two thieves knew each other. I think that may be the case because the second thief said they were both guilty of the crimes they committed. Unless you were a part of a crime, even with evidence you cannot purport to KNOW a person's guilt. Maybe they used to plot and plan robberies together. One used a weapon and the other took the valuables. Even if he did not know the other robber, he chose not to join in the taunting and disrespectful speech from the first criminal, soldiers and others passing by. He speaks with repentance, hope, and with faith. The second thief had a conviction from deep within that caused him to speak up. That conviction secured his place in eternity.
It is this simple faith that causes Jesus, burdened with the sins of the entire world of the past and present; enduring the pain from a night and morning filled with beating and torture; and dying from the cruelty of the crucifixion; to respond.
Jesus responded to an unworthy, bottom of the barrel nobody while on the cross. Here is the thing - whether Jesus responded or not, the thief's repentance and confession secured his eternal soul. It was the very reason Jesus was dying next to him. But Jesus chose to respond and allow the man to die in peace knowing He would one day be with Jesus in paradise ...
That should be good news to us all. Jesus responds to us to comfort us regardless of the circumstance. Even in the midst of our short falls, even when our actions condemn us, when we call on the creator of the universe in faith, He will comfort.
He will respond.
Wherever you may find yourself today, whatever the circumstance, confess your faith in God over the situation and look with expectation for His response.
He wants to respond to each of us even in our last hours no matter how uncertain they may appear to be.
Just Around the Corner,