Read Luke 23:32-33, 39-43 (Click to read passage)
Jesus’ crucifixion was not meant to be a noble one. The cross was meant to be humiliating. For people in the Roman world, to be associated with someone crucified was shameful. In line with this shame, Jesus was crucified in between two criminals. We’re not told what their crime was, but Rome reserved crucifixion for the most serious offenses. Jesus was put there to show what kind of person Rome considered Jesus to be: a criminal deserving of death. Jesus was mocked by those who saw him. Luke tells us that even one of the criminals next to Jesus spoke disdainfully mocked and yelled at Jesus. “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us! (39)”.
But the other criminal rebuked his fellow criminal. “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” This criminal recognized his own misdeeds and how he had wasted his life in sin. But as this criminal approached death, he recognized that his standing before God was not good. He had heard of Jesus and that Jesus was merciful to sinners. All this man could do was to fall on the mercy of Jesus. Then this criminal acted in great faith by asking, “Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Instead of Jesus saying, “Sorry I can’t help you,” or, “let’s trust in God”, Jesus said to the man, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” There are several things we can observe from Jesus’ statement:
First, even though Jesus himself is dying on the cross, he is still insisting that he has the power to promise eternal life. When Jesus says “Truly, I say to you”, this is not a statement of uncertainty or wavering. Jesus was bold and audacious in life. He claimed this ability while he had popular support from the people. But now that his support was gone and he was dying on the cross, Jesus still held onto this claim. He also says, “I say to you”. This is a promise based on his own authority. He didn’t need to consult with someone, Jesus claimed that authority
Second, Jesus’ claim was a strong promise of assurance. “You will be with me in paradise”. Jesus made this claim with boldness. He didn’t say, “I hope you’ll be with me.” He didn’t pray to the Father that the man would be with him in paradise. Jesus declared what would happen.
Third, Jesus pointed to the hope of eternity after death for those who trust in him. Jesus said, “Today, you will be with me in paradise”. Jesus was talking about the place of comfort and blessing for righteous people. Jesus will also be there.
How is this statement Good News for you today? First, it tells us who Jesus is. Jesus was not just a religious teacher who taught people morals and “how to love each other.” Jesus claimed even to the point of death that he was the one upon which eternal life depended. If a person trusted Jesus, he could give eternal life. He was consistent with his testimony even while on the cross. These are not the claims of a nice teacher- these are the claims of a Messiah. You can call him a liar, crazy, mistaken or true. But you cannot just call him a nice moral teacher. This means that you should genuinely evaluate Jesus’ claims.
Second, it shows that there is mercy those who may be the vilest of sinners. The criminal came with no sense of entitlement. Nor with a sense that he deserved mercy. All he could do was depend on the mercy of Jesus. And in simple faith he asked Jesus to remember him when Jesus came into his kingdom. And Jesus freely gave him grace. This criminal truly had nothing to boast about- only in Jesus’ kindness.
Lastly, there is hope even in death. In our circumstances today when unseen viruses stop huge economies and death can come suddenly, let us remember Christ’s promise. Even on our deathbeds, let us trust in Christ- the one who can guarantee eternal life.
Questions for Meditation:
- In what ways do you relate to the criminal on the cross?
- Examine your thoughts and the actions of your life. Do you sometimes feel as if you are too far into sin that you cannot receive God’s grace? Do you sometimes feel as if you are entitled to God’s blessings?
- How does Jesus’ promise to the criminal give you comfort?