29. A Last-minute Man
|And an inscription also was written over Him in letters of Greek, Latin, and Hebrew: |
THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.
39 Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, "If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us."
40 But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, "Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong." 42 Then he said to Jesus, "Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom."
43 And Jesus said to him, "Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise." (Luke23:38-42)
There is something fittingly appropriate that Jesus, who had shared in a baptism of sinners, had lived among sinners, should die between sinners.
Isaiah prophesised that He would be numbered with the transgressors (Is 53:12) and the measure of His Love and His identification with us in our sin is this: that He died with the flotsam and jetsam of the world. The hypocritical religious leaders, not content with engineering His crucifixion, in their hatred, maliciously taunted and tormented Jesus, aggravating His pain. "He saved others, let Him save Himself". "If You are the King of the Jews, come down from the Cross." Jesus' reaction to this calculated insult and injury, was "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do".
It was then that one of the criminals felt himself smitten in conscience by the example of Jesus. The condemned criminal was convinced by the bearing and behaviour of Jesus that He was innocent, and he felt convicted by Jesus' goodness and by his own guilt. This criminal on the cross became aware that he was in the presence of a goodness that was as regal as it was divine. Turning to his companion-in-crime and punishment, he reminded him of the imminence of death and the certainty of judgement to come. "Do you not fear God, even though you are justifiably under the same condemnation?"
There is hope for a person who begins to understand that it is God with whom we have to do. This criminal on the cross was such, and his new understanding was immediately reflected in an intense and anxious concern for the welfare of his companion – this is GRACE in action – God's love already working in this convicted criminal as he responded to Jesus' prayer "Father, forgive them ….." then after expressing his concern for his companion he turns to Jesus: "Lord, remember me when you come into Your Kingdom. This is what happens when we make contact with the CROSS. When we lose contact with the CROSS our Christian life becomes flabby and frothy.
Jesus said: "If anyone would follow me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me".
When we renew contact with the Cross, like the criminal, we see ourselves as we really are; our concern for others grows and the Hope that is within us flourishes so that we reach out to others in their need. The Cross becomes the Empty Cross – the Cross of Victory and Resurrection.
It is never too late.
Glen Craig is a retired UPCSA Minister, still active and living at Kenton-on-Sea. Jeanette is his wife and they have 4 surviving children and 10 grandchildren.