Summary: Each cross on calvary carries a message: we see a cross of redemption, a cross of rejection, and a cross of repentance.
Picture in your mind one of the drawings or paintings that you have seen portraying Christ’s crucifixion. If the artist based his or her rendering of Calvary on the Bible’s account you probably saw three crosses in the picture. Although there were three crosses I am assuming one was probably more prominent than the others. Whether they were empty or occupied the cross of Christ was most likely in the center of the picture. The crosses on which the two thieves were crucified often appear smaller or off the in background.
This traditional way of picturing the Friday we call Good is understandable. Of the three
crosses the one in the middle is most important. On it God sacrificed his dear boy for the sins of the world. When Isaiah drew his picture of the crucifixion with words 700 years before it happened he made Christ’s cross most prominent. He described Jesus’ cross with many verses in careful detail and then simply stated that Jesus would be "numbered with the transgressors" at the end of one verse. (Isaiah 53:12) The two other crosses on which the thieves were crucified are naturally not given the same importance as Jesus’ cross.
These verses from Luke’s gospel tell the story behind the three crosses on Calvary. There is a message in each of them for us. The cross in the middle tells us what Christ did for us. The one on the right and the one on the left also have a message. One is a cross of rejection. One is a cross of repentance. In our time together let’s consider:
THE MESSAGES OF THE THREE CROSSES ON CALVARY
I. The cross of redemption
II. The cross of rejection
III. The cross of repentance
Background: These verses are well known to most of us. The words that our Savior spoke in his last hours hold deep significance for Christians. This is one part of the great spiritual battle that ended with the words, "It is finished."
Transition: In the centuries since Jesus’ suffering and death the cross has become a symbol for all that he accomplished. When we look at we see the payment for our sins. The full price of our redemption. Although all of Scripture is a witness to how Christ redeemed us these verses from Luke’s gospel give us the message precisely. Through the words of Jesus’ enemies, through the words of those crucified with Jesus, and through his own words we are reminded of the facts concerning the one who died on the cross in the middle.
It was not an infrequent thing for Jesus’ enemies to speak the truth about him in their efforts to discredit him. "The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, ‘He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.’" With hatred in their hearts and sarcasm on their lips the rulers of the people hurled those insulting words at Jesus. Although they questioned who he was Jesus had proven who he was many times. Yes, he was the "Christ of God, the Chosen One."
That fact, that Jesus was the Christ, the Chosen one, made his cross the cross of redemption. In eternity God chose his Son to bring salvation to mankind. God planned to let his anger at sin and all the consequences of sin fall on Jesus. In the Revelation that Jesus gave to John he saw that Jesus is the "Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world." (Revelation 13:8) Colossians 1:19-20 describes the cross of redemption in this way, "For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross." Jesus’ cross is a cross of redemption because God balanced the books of his justice on it. He accepted the blood of his Son in the place of the blood of sinners. Galatians 3:13 describes this, "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us." 1 Peter 2:24 adds this thought, "He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed."
As we stand at the foot of the three crosses message of the one in the middle quickly becomes obvious. It is a cross of redemption. The innocent Son of God is paying the price for the sins of the world. The thief on the cross of repentance recognized this. We are told, "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.’" Sometimes the truth comes from the most unlikely sources. A thief saw that Jesus was innocent. It was his innocence that enabled him to be the redeemer we needed. He lived under the Commandments of God and the laws of men in our place without ever sinning.