Jesus and the thieves on the Cross

This mosaic crucifixion is found on a wall outside a church in Pegaia Cyprus. Photo by Paul Judson.

7th April,  Good Friday

Luke’s account of the crucifixion (Luke 23:32-43) emphasises the mocking of the crowd, ‘If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself’ (35,37,39). In their view a Messiah does not hang on a cross and suffer. In considering the two men who were crucified with Jesus, we are also confronted with the issue of how Jesus secures salvation for us.

The words of one of those crucified with Jesus reflected the crowd’s taunts: ‘Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us.’ He highlights the question of Jesus’ identity: how can He save others, when He cannot save Himself from death? He failed to see that the cross itself was the means of salvation.

So – what kind of Messiah was Jesus?

The other criminal’s response in his last moments is a moving expression of faith. When challenging the other man, he spoke of the utter injustice of the crucifixion: ‘this man has done nothing wrong.’ He perceived the truth that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. In a wonderful picture of grace, ‘remember me when You come into Your kingdom’, the second thief confessed his guilt and secured Jesus’ forgiveness and mercy. 

In reply, Jesus promised the man life from the moment of death; ‘Today you will be with Me in paradise.’ Jesus used the picture of a walled garden to help the man understand His promise of protection and security in God’s love and acceptance eternally. 

Each one of us has to choose how we react to Jesus on the cross. Do we want Him to ‘remember’ us when He comes into His kingdom, or not? If you were to die tonight, how confident would you be of going to be with Jesus? ‘For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God’ (1 Peter 3:18).

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