The two criminals who hanged on either side of Jesus on that Friday afternoon on Calvary accurately represented the entire human race in our response to His crucifixion.
Their crucifixion of course was different from Jesus’ in that they were both convicted criminals who were rightly condemned for their actions and behaviour according to the law of the land at that time.
And as they hanged on their respective crosses, awaiting the slow and excruciating death of crucifixion, a conversation begins to gradually take shape. An unusual time and place to have a conversation but nonetheless one developed, albeit an awkward one.
One of the convicted criminals starts it by joining the chorus of crowds of people on the ground – including the soldiers who nailed Jesus to the cross – who were mocking and ridiculing Him for having claimed to be the Saviour and healed hundreds and thousands of their diseases and conditions. Why couldn’t He save Himself now? Luke 23:39 – Then one of the criminals hanging there began to yell insults at Him: “Aren’t You the Messiah? Save Yourself and us!”
In effect, he said, “C’mon man! If you say who you are, if you are the Messiah, that is the Saviour of the world, save yourself and us!”
This guy clearly was not penitent nor sorry for the crimes he committed for which he hanged on the cross. And he seemed to take out his anger and frustration at being caught out on an innocent man who knew no sin – let alone crime for which he could be hanged – who happened to be in a similar situation like him. For a reason though – 2 Corinthians 5:21 For our sake He made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Listening in on the conversation, the second criminal on the other side of Christ interjects with his take on the matter everyone seems to have an opinion on but with a diametrically opposing view.
He understood that he and the the other criminal were receiving their just dues and had come to the sober judgment that he had done wrong, he had lived wrong, he deserved the death penalty for what he’d done in his life. So he castigated the other criminal for digging into Jesus and instead does a most noble and remarkable thing. Hanging there on the cross this vile criminal who’d now realised how wrong he was in life grabs hold of this last chance offered to him and makes a U turn, he repents and seeks mercy from Jesus Christ. Luke 23:42
And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
He not only knew he’d done wrong but He firmly believed that the only way out of the one way road to hell he was heading for was this innocent man who hanged on a cross beside him and for him (John 14:6). I simply love how Jesus answered him – Luke 23:43 And He said to him, “ I assure you: Today you will be with Me in paradise.”
You see the first criminal railed at Christ healing abuse on Him demonstrating scepticism, unbelief and disrespect toward Him. But the second one came in with faith, contrition and respect. Somehow he understood that this was no mere man and knew He was not guilty of any crime but was innocent and chose to put his faith and trust in Him. He asked for forgiveness and Jesus there and then granted it to him promising him that he’ll be in paradise with him that very night. What a promise!
One act of contrition and repentance executed in total faith in Christ secured this former criminal’s place in paradise. As the curtain closed on his horrendous life of crime, one act of faith and repentance brought him into eternal life and security that he did not deserve.
And the other criminal? He remained unrepentant and unbelieving, thereby choosing to stay condemned securing his place in hell. Sad, very sad.
Jesus came to call all sinners to repentance – Luke 5:32 “…I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” He still echoes that call through us. Let’s make sure it is not muted but heard loud and clear in our generation and in our time.