April 19, 2011

Three Crosses, Two Criminals, One Christ

One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!” 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.” Luke 23:39-41 (NASB)

The Four Gospels of the New Testament never cease to amaze me. They are four accounts of the life of Christ, written by four different authors, from four different perspectives. I must admit sometimes, I wish they’d come out with a gospel that meshed all four together, in-sync, so to speak.

Now before I proceed on, I admit I have written this text before; however with Easter right at our doorstep, I felt this repeat publishing to be appropriate. I’ve reworded just a bit, but the message is the same.

Resurrection Sunday dawns this weekend. We celebrate it every year. I fear amidst the commercialism and “it’s the next holiday” on the calendar, we loose the significance of the day. I fear we mundanely move past the reverence due this holy Memorial Day for the believer. If we partake of the Lord’s Supper and do “this” in remembrance of Him, how much more should we remember the cross and of course, the following resurrection.

Today, let’s focus on the cross. Join me in ancient Jerusalem on that fateful day. Look toward the top of Mount Calvary. Gaze toward the silhouette of three crosses. There upon those three crosses hang two criminals and one Christ. Here is where our Four Gospels teach us some valuable information. All four mention Christ and his two companions. Matthew and Mark record both criminals hurling insults at Christ. John only mentions them in passing.

Ah, but Luke tell us the rest of the story! In the midst of angry men and violent actions, one criminal rises to defend the Messiah, confessing his own sin and acceptance of punishment. Do you understand the monumental significance of this passage? Can you grasp the question that looms in the air, waiting to be asked? What happened between the gospels of Matthew and Mark, and then Luke?

I had to wonder what occurred to make an insult-spewing criminal one minute, beg to be remembered in Paradise the next? Was it the look in Christ’s eyes? Was it the way Jesus pleaded with His Father to forgive those around Him? Why did one criminal recognize what the other refused to see?

There is only one answer. They both encountered Christ at the cross, but only one of them took the meeting to heart. Only one recognized his sin and bowed his head willingly before a crucified King. Only one placed his fate in the other’s nail-scarred hands. Only one.

I cannot explain the awesomeness I feel reading this turn of events. It tells me so much about a man and a Messiah. However, since time is short there is only one point I’ll leave with you. I offer you this, that each one of us is represented by one of those criminals, one of those thieves. We are either the thief on His right or the thief on His left.

We have placed our sinful life in the shadow of the cross and acknowledged the Lord of Lords or we have refused to see the truth that hangs before us.

On our best day, we are sinners, deserving of any punishment God cares to send our way. On His worst day, Jesus begged for our forgiveness and took our punishment on Himself. On that hill, one chose to believe, the other chose to belittle.

I cannot emphasize enough that Jesus offered Paradise on that very day to the one who chose wisely. But the other criminal suffered a different fate. The entire purpose of Calvary is for us to encounter Christ and realize we are loved, forgiven and desired by a Holy God. You may accept the love or not, the choice is yours.

So from one thief to another – which one are you?

Love, Barbara

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