Summary: One criminal mocks. The other asks for Jesus to remember Him. Two responses that are still the heart posture of much of humanity.
Good Friday 2021
Jesus died…for you!
Pastor Jefferson M. Williams
Chenoa Baptist Church
Behind me on the wall of our sanctuary, there are three crosses. These crosses are precious to our church because they are made out of the wood from the the old church building. But there’s another reason they are special. The middle cross represents the greatest act of love and sacrifice this world has ever known. But the two crosses on either side of that middle one represent two human responses to that sacrifice. One man mocked Jesus. The other asked Jesus for salvation. These are still the basic postures of heart toward Jesus in today’s culture.
But the question isn’t one that is theoretical. It’s deeply personal. You might believe that Jesus died on a cross for sins. But do you believe that He died on the cross for your sins? To save you?
Turn with me to Luke 23 and we will start in verse 32. Interestingly, only Dr. Luke provides us with these details.
Jesus has been arrested, been through several sham trials, mocked, spit on, beaten, and scourged nearly to death. He has been nailed to a wooden cross, naked, bleeding, not able to breathe, a crown of thorns pressing into his brain.
The final sacrifice of the sacrificial system in playing out at the exact time the Passover lambs were being slaughtered. Jesus, the Lamb of God which takes the sins of the world away, becomes the ultimate once-and-for-all sacrifice to deal with our sins. He’s dying in our place, to pay the penalty for our sins, to take God’s wrath against our sins and to give us His righteousness. Theologically, we call this penal substitutionary atonement.
The Old Testament prophets such as Isaiah had told the people this Messiah was coming and would be
“…pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:5-6)
But He wasn’t alone.
Two Other Men
“Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left.” (Luke 23:32-33)
There were two other men. Dr. Luke calls them criminals. This could mean many things. Perhaps they were thieves or bandits. Or they were members of the underworld, kind of like the mob. Or they were assassins or political revolutionaries. We don’t know their crimes. In fact, we know very little about them.
We don’t know their names or where they were from. We do know they were sentenced together, were being crucified together, gasping for air together. They were as close to death as you can be. By sundown, they both would be dead.
One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” (Luke 23:39)
Above Jesus’ head was a sign that read “King of the Jews.” One of the criminals summons what little breathe he has and hisses at Jesus - get me out of this mess! He simply wanted escape not rescue. He couldn’t have been more different than the other man on the other side of the dying Christ.
The Other One Gets It
“But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” (Luke 23:40-41)
Something extraordinary is happening in this criminals heart. He lifts himself up to take a deep breath and uses it to rebuke the other criminal. We are three are dying here. Don’t you get that?
And what he says reveals that God is at work in him.
Don’t you fear God? This was the first step in his journey to salvation.
The rulers sneered at Him. The soldiers mocked him and even gambled for His clothes. But this man, who should have been foggy from the shock his body was in, was having a moment of incredible clarity. He may not have feared God much in his life but that was changing as He witnessed Jesus on the cross.
We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve.
The second step was his understanding that he is guilty, not just before men, but before God. In light of the Righteous One on the cross next to him, his sin became crystal clear.
Without an understanding of our sin, we can never be saved.
But this man has done nothing wrong.