Summary: The Cross was a God-forsaken death for a God-forsaken people. In our reading we see 3 aspects of the Cross of Christ: The Cross of Rejection, Reception, and Redemption.
Martin Luther declared: “No one understands the Bible unless they are acquainted with the Cross.”
The Cross was a God-forsaken death for a God-forsaken people. In our reading we observe 3 aspects of the Cross of Christ: It is a Cross of Rejection, Reception, and Redemption.
The skeptical thief indicates that if Jesus is really the Messiah, why isn’t he saving himself, and--by the way--his two companions? He joins the scoffers. He isn’t interested in Paradise; he only wants rescue from this terrible fate. This is the Cross of Rejection, and it is part of our Lord’s suffering.
The thief who rejected Jesus had no desire to know Who he was rejecting. “Most of the people who reject Christianity know almost nothing of what they are rejecting” (Sheldon Vanauken). There are people for whom no amount of evidence, no persuasion will have any effect. They have determined to deny the teachings of Scripture no matter what.
In the original Paradise, the Garden of Eden, The first sin was unbelief. Adam and Eve chose to doubt God’s interest and intentions. The serpent tempted them to resent what God has done for them. Sin began with thinking God was unjustly withholding something good from them. To be suspicious of God and His goodness is an insult to His character…and it is a choice. The first sin was unbelief, rejecting God’s loving provision. When we reject the truth, we can’s see things as they are. Here is where the Fall of humankind began--before the first bite!
At the cross we see God Himself opening His arms to embrace the bitterness of the world He has made. Jesus was rejected by his own people, but especially from the Father. There he cried, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” One the cross we see “God rejected by God.” Jesus descended into the hell of the absence of God. His abandonment is what saves us, for it is the punishment we deserve.
Regarding the cross, there is no neutrality. Indifference is rejection. Apathy is the sin that believes in nothing. To ignore God is to defy and deny Him.
The other thief feels remorse for his crimes and sympathy for the innocent Man in the middle. But more than sympathy, despite the vile, degrading method of execution, he somehow looks beyond all that and sees Jesus for Who He is. And he asks for pardon.
This is the Cross of Reception. John writes, “To all who received Him, to those who believed in His Name, He gave the right to become children of God” (1:12). Jesus says in Matthew 10:40, “Whoever receives Me receives Him who sent Me.” Believe + Receive = Become. God does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. He gives us new life, and life eternal. Romans 10:9, “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Like the believing thief, we lose all hope in ourselves and realize that Christ alone is our hope for eternity.
Conversion is about reception. We choose to leave our wrecked lives and take on a new allegiance. We turn to the cross and look to Jesus. We look, and live. And we are transformed. We move from death to life. Receiving Jesus means inviting a new Director into a bankrupt, broken life. On the cross Jesus paid our debt of sin, the price for our forgiveness, the Just for the unjust. Not only are we debt-free but rich beyond imagining.
Now we consider the Cross of Redemption. Jesus assures the believing thief that he will be promoted to Paradise. We have the same promise. “There are far better things ahead than anything we leave behind” (CSL).
Redemption is Christ’s saving work in purchasing and rescuing us from the slavery of sin at the cost of His life-blood. We were bought with a price.
“Jesus came to punish our sin but not punish us” (Hoofnagle). The Cross was our Judgment Day. Jesus died for us, because of us, and in place of us, a death that was really ours. How much of our penalty has been put on Christ? -ALL OF IT! Jesus is one with us in our God-forsaken condition, bearing everything that we are destined to bear (Vidu). It’s been said, “Christ died…that’s history. Christ died for me…that’s salvation!”
“Jesus was our obedience substitute during His life, our punishment substitute in His death, and our rebirth substitute in His resurrection” (Adrian Warnock).
• Application: So what does this mean for us?
Jesus died not because we were lovely, but to make us lovely (Tim Keller). The cross is our salvation, but it is also our new life. It is not mere “fire insurance” but an open door to a new reality. The cross is a paradigm-shift. By it we see the world with new eyes, and we understand history is “His story” under God’s direction, headed toward a glorious conclusion! We don’t trust in luck but in providence. We no longer live aimlessly, without purpose. We no longer live for ourselves, but for God. This takes humility, surrendering to Christ’s Lordship.