Summary: The Perfect Lamb of God can and will make you into a new creation by the power of His blood and He will do this because He wants to be with you in your heart and in your life in the here and now … and He wants you to be with Him in Paradise forever.
The three men struggle as they carry their cross beams through the Jerusalem streets. Two of them wear signs around their necks that say “kakourgos” (kaw-coor-gos). The third prisoner lags behind … beaten and broken and so badly torn up that someone has to help Him carry His cross beam. His sign says: “Jesus of Nazarth: King of the Jews” in three different languages … Aramaic, Latin, and Greek.
Rocks and rotten vegetables and insults rain down on them. The agony … the heat … the twisted faces of the taunting, jeering crowd line the streets. It seems like it will go on forever … but it doesn’t. Eventually they reach their dreadful destination … Golgotha … The Place of the Skull.
All three crosses are laid on the ground. The two “kakourgai” are tied to their crosses … their crosses lifted up and dropped into the holes that had been dug that morning by other Roman prisoners. But the third prisoner … Jesus of Nazareth … the King of the Jews … received special treatment. His hands and feet were nailed to His cross beam and ropes were tied around His wrists to keep the nails from tearing through His flesh from the weight of His body. When the cross beam was in place, they nailed His feet to the upright and tied them with ropes to, again, keep the nails from tearing through His flesh from the weight of His body. When they were finished, Jesus hung suspended on a cross between two “kakourgai.”
“Kakourgos” is usually translated as “robber,” “highwayman,” or “bandit.” “Kakourgai” is the plural of “kakourgos.” “Kakourgai” were much, much worse than your garden variety pickpocket or shoplifter or burglar. “Kakourgai” ambushed defenseless travelers … beating them, stripping them of their possessions, and leaving them for dead … much like the poor victim in Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10. Kakourgai were often convicted and crucified outside the city gates by the Romans as a way of sending a very clear and very graphic message to any would-be highwaymen in the hopes of discouraging them from following the example of kokourgai like these two criminals suspended on either side of Jesus.
We don’t know much about these two “kakourgai,” so, to make it easier for us to identify which “kukourgos” … or highwayman … I’m talking about this morning, I’ll call them “Demas” and “Festus.”
As these three men hung there, a crowd gathered to watch and to stare. As much as the people hated kakourgai, their attention … and their anger … was focused on the man hanging in the middle. “He saved others, let Him save Himself if He is the Messiah, the Chosen One,” one man jeered (Luke 23:35). “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:40). Another shouted from the back of the crowd. “If His is the King of Israel, let Him come down from the cross and we’ll believe Him” (Matthew 27:42).
Even the Roman soldiers get in on the fun, offering Him sour wine and echoing the taunts of the crowd. “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself” (Luke 23:36-37). And then Festus shouts out: “Are You the Messiah? Save Yourself … and save us!” (Luke 23:39).
“Save Yourself … and save us!” (Luke 23:39). The commentary writers and scholars all say that Festus was being crass and sarcastic. Again … it’s one of those things that doesn’t make sense to me .. and it makes no sense to the scholars either. As one commentator put it: “… faced with one’s death, you would think even if one had hope in his heart there was a real God, he would cry out in the hunger of his heart for mercy and grace” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary, Vol. V, p. 827. McLean, VA: Macdonald Publishing Co.). And so, the centuries-long attempt to reconcile this criminal’s sarcasm with his impending demise.
I think that Festus was dead serious for all the reasons we just heard. He was hanging on a cross. He was facing a long, slow, agonizing death. His shame and his death were on display for all the world to see … and he’s desperate … he’s clutching at air … grasping for anything … and I think what he shouts out is a desperate foxhole prayer: “Please … please … if there’s any chance that what they’re saying is true … if there’s any chance that the sign over your head is true … if there’s even the slightest chance that you’re the messiah … for God’s sakes, save yourself and save us!”
If you listened to the crowd and didn’t know anything that was going on, you might get the impression that this Jesus of Nazareth was a great man … or had claimed to be. You hear about Him saving others. If He could save others, why couldn’t He save Himself … save me? They chided Him to come down off the cross … where was that coming from? What did that mean? Did He really have the power, the ability, to do something like that? If He could tear down Temple and rebuild it in three days as he appears to have claimed … if He had that kind of power … well … help a fellow criminal out, right?