Summary: Jesus was crucified with two criminals. Three crosses, three very different individuals. One died in sin, one died to sin and one died for sin. Let's see what we can take away from this situation and what we can learn from what each person was focused on.
Jesus was crucified with two criminals. Three crosses, three very different individuals. One person died in sin, one died to sin and one died for sin. Let's see what we can take away from this situation and find out what we can learn from what each person was focused on.
1) The cross of rejection.
Luke 23:32-33, "Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left."
We learn from Matthew and Mark's gospels that they were robbers. But probably not in the sense as we know it since we might conclude that crucifixion for robbery seems a harsh and unjust punishment. It's understood that along with that they were revolting against the Roman hierarchy which compounded everything and brought about their current fate. The People's NT commentary states they had committed treason and rebellion. It also cites that Barabbas was probably their leader.
But there was a lot of mocking going on at Golgotha this day-all directed toward Jesus.
Luke 23:35-39, "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. The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself. There was a written notice above him which read: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS. One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!”
It says that the religious leaders sneered at him. According to Adam Clarke's commentary this carries the meaning that they 'treated him with the utmost contempt'. The soldiers mocked Jesus, the religious leaders mocked him and one of the criminals mocked him.
And in Mark's gospel, it says that those who passed by threw in their insults as well. They and the religious leaders were challenging him to come down from the cross and they would believe in him. That's a whole lotta mocking going on.
As if being beaten to within an inch of your life and having nails driven into your wrists and feet and hanging naked on a cross in the midday blazing sun wasn't suffering enough, now let's add insults to Jesus' injuries. How much can one man endure?
We see the first criminal hurling his insult at Jesus in combination with the others. "Aren't you the Savior? Well then, save yourself, and us." Even though he says, 'save yourself, I believe he really only cared about himself. It's just that he knew that in order for him to be rescued Jesus had to first rescue himself. I don't think he really cared about Jesus' freedom, he only cared about his own. Selfishness will keep us far from Christ.
While it's noteworthy that he believed Jesus was able to save himself and them; the only salvation he was looking for was physical. He may have called Jesus the Christ but he wasn't looking for spiritual deliverance; merely a situational deliverance. Unfortunately, he wasn't concerned about his spiritual death sentence.
People are like that today. They want Jesus to get them out of their physical predicaments but they don't look to him to be freed from their spiritual predicament. That's probably because they don't think they're in one. They either don't think about their life from a spiritual standpoint or if they do they think because they're "good" people there's nothing to worry about. Sadly, this criminal, who only cared about his physical problem, would soon have to face his spiritual problem when he died.
John 8:24, "If you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins." If we don't believe Jesus is Savior and Lord, if we ignore his salvation, if we don't submit to his control over our lives, we will likewise die in our sin. This criminal died on the cross of rejection.
2) The cross of reception.
Luke 23:40-43, "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.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’” Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Interestingly, in Mark and Matthew's gospel, it states that both criminals were hurling insults at Jesus. This would obviously mean that this criminal had come to the point of conviction, realizing that he was wrong and that Jesus was suffering unjustly. We don't know what if any exposure this man had to Jesus before this point, but I'm sure he was knowledgeable of the reputation of Jesus.