Summary: What was the differences in the three crosses on Golgatha?
Three Crosses at Calvary
The Gospel of Luke gives an eye-witness account of the scene at the cross.
(23:32,33). "Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with Jesus 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."
Calvary, the place of the three crosses.
To us, in the Christian era, nearly 2,000 years removed from that awful day, one cross stands out.
In most pictures the center cross is usually taller than the other two… like these.
But… there wasn’t just one but three crosses on that ugly skyline.
It was the Roman form of execution.
It was meant to be a public spectacle, to warn others of falling foul of the law. It was a horrible death, with the agonized bodies of the victims sagging on pierced hands and feet, the raging thirst that tortured them in the dust and heat, under the gaze of passers by.
Three men, three crosses, the same death for all three, but how different they were.
We might wonder what led the rulers to crucify Jesus with the thieves.
Was it just accidental, as some might say? Were there three men condemned at the same time, and the captain of the garrison thought? "Let’s get it out of the way; do all three of them together."
Or was crucifying Jesus with common criminals a final act of cruelty thought out by his enemies, calculated to heighten the shame and to humiliate Jesus further in front of the crowd. One can imagine them enjoying a sneer at the expense of Jesus - "Crucify him with thieves; yes, I like it!"
Well, we don’t know how it came about, but it’s clear that there were three crosses on the hill of Calvary.
The crosses were the same, and yet how vast a difference in those three crosses.
One was a cross of Rebellion. One was a cross of Repentance. The other was a cross of Redemption.
Let’s look at each of them in turn.
1. The Cross of Rebellion
This is the cross of the man who mocked Jesus in his hour of humiliation and shame.
The dying thief was a shameless criminal, coarsened and hardened in sin.
Even the solemnity of death couldn’t restrain the blasphemies from his lips.
He could see Jesus, and hear him pray for his murderers. You might expect that at the time of death, a man might think about spiritual things and getting his soul ready to meet his maker.
Not this man… this man had been a prisoner of hate and evil for so long, he could not change now.
You might think just human decency would cause this man to be quiet when the mother of this man was lying at his feet in tears. You would think any decent human being would have some respect.
You would be wrong. This man still had no remorse and continued to hurl insults at Jesus. "Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!" (39).
He was bitter, spurning the good even on the day of his dying, and cursing his way to hell in the most solemn hour of all history.
His was a cross of Rebellion-- because his was a heart of rebellion.
He had the chance even then of receiving forgiveness, but he threw it away.
I have stood by the bedside of dying octogenarians and tried to talk to them about their soul and getting right before they died. And I was shocked to hear them reject Christ at that time. But we should not be surprised by them or by the thief… they have lived a life without God, rejecting God and rejecting all things spiritual. They cannot just make a complete change, like turning on a light switch.
They have determined their course… and their end… and now they are unable to change.
High up in the Canadian Rockies there is a sign that says, "The Great Divide". It’s the source of two great river systems, one flowing west into the Pacific Ocean, and the other into the Atlantic. Two raindrops can fall side by side, but will flow in opposite directions, never to meet again.
That thief came to the great divide that day… there were two decisions he could make… accept Jesus and confess his sins… or reject Jesus and die in his sins… one choice led to eternal life… the other to eternal hell.
The thief made his last choice in life and its results would be forever. His was a cross of Rebellion.
But then there was a second cross - it was:
2. The Cross of Repentance
This is the cross of the penitent thief.