“Two criminals were led away with Jesus, and all three were to be executed together. When they came to the place that is known as The Skull, the guards crucified Jesus, nailing him on the center cross between the two criminals. While they were nailing Jesus to the cross, he prayed over and over, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.” – Luke 23:32-34 (TPT).
His name is known only to God. But we know his character—and apparently he was quite a character. We know very little about his past, other than he is described as a criminal. When we are introduced, his story is in the final pages of its final chapter. We find this man – sentenced to death – hanging on a cross within earshot of Jesus. Luke describes the scene in chapter 23.
Luke 23:35 says: “A great crowd gathered to watch what was happening. The religious leaders sneered at Jesus and mocked him, saying, “Look at this man! What kind of ‘chosen Messiah’ is this? He pretended to save others, but he can’t even save himself!” The soldiers mocked, “Hey! If you’re the king of Jews, why don’t you save yourself?” (v. 37). Eventually, one of the men crucified beside Jesus joined in as well, “What kind of Messiah are you? Save yourself and save us from this death!” (v. 39).
There was only one person who came to Jesus’ defense. The other criminal. In vs. 40-41 he says, “Don’t you fear God? You’re about to die! We deserve to be condemned, for we’re just being repaid for what we’ve done. But this man—he’s done nothing wrong!” It was clear that this man had a correct view of reality and a correct view of himself. He saw himself as a criminal who was rightly condemned for the deeds he had committed. He correctly realized that he deserved death. Further, he had a correct view of Jesus. He had made too many bad choices, succumbed to too many temptations, done too many bad things. His only hope hung on the cross next to him. So in an act of desperation, he cried out, “I beg of you, my Lord Jesus, show me grace and take me with you into your everlasting kingdom!” (v. 42). While he was on his way to receiving exactly what he deserved. Jesus responded… (v. 43)
Think about that for a second. Every word Jesus spoke from the cross cost him physically. Every breath caused unimaginable pain as he pushed and pulled on nail-pierced extremities to exhale. But Jesus answered him anyway: “I promise you—this very day you will enter paradise with me.” (Luke 23:43).” Jesus, God in a body, promised a man who was as opposite Him as opposite could be, “Where I’m going, you’re going.” That is grace.
While we will be tempted and yes, we do not know what the future here on earth holds, we do have the assurance of spending eternity with a Savior who died that we might have life.
- What comes to mind when you think of the criminal on the cross?
- What can we learn from this story and more importantly how can we put it to use this week?