Today we recognize Good Friday, the day of Jesus’ roman crucifixion. According to Luke’s gospel He was not crucified alone, Jesus was executed between two thieves; men who had committed robbery and murder. Chapter 23 is the passage that lays out this drama. It describes these two men with eternity at stake.
39 One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!” 40 But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” 43 And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”
This scene sets up a number of contrasting details for us to consider. Let’s look at them.
In verse 39, the first criminal – continuing in his rebellion – was not willing to come to grips with his sinfulness. But in verse 40, the second criminal embraced his hopelessness. He conceded that his sin was not measured against the standard of others, but against the perfect standard of a Holy God.
Luke’s second contrast between these two men involved Jesus’ identity. The first criminal did not understand who the man in the middle was – so he mocked Him. The second criminal rebuked the first because he recognized that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the Living God.
Thirdly, the first man (like a lot of people today) only wanted to be delivered from his present situation. “Save Yourself and us,” he said. Many people pray, “Lord, deliver me from my marriage problem.” Or “Lord, deliver me from my employment problem” – not understanding that Jesus wants to deliver us from our eternal problem. In sharp distinction, the second criminal appreciated that his problem transcended his earthly circumstances. He said, “remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” By faith, he acknowledged that there was something beyond his present trouble. Put another way, the first thief appealed to Jesus merely for time, the second thief accepted that Jesus was here for reasons of eternity.
Fourthly, the first convict did not believe in the resurrection. Compare that to the second convict’s burgeoning belief which causes him to implore Jesus, “remember me when you come into your kingdom.” His hope transformed death from a dead-end into a new beginning.
When the crowd began to mock and jeer Jesus, the first criminal joined the crowd. The second criminal, after hearing the crowd, went against the tide. He talked differently, and thought differently because he was concerned about where He was going to spend eternity. He operated based on spiritual assurance, not on consensus or popularity.
From the ground, looking up, these men appeared identical. They looked like two men who would die and be forgotten. But from Jesus perspective, they were polar opposites. One man received forgiveness and the other did not. Both were afforded the same opportunity, but one rejected it while the other accepted it.
There is a fork in the road for us all. You must choose which side you will take.
On that Good Friday, from the cross, the eternal God, having being satisfied by the death of His Son, offered everyone in this world a pardon.
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”
He has offered a pardon. But for the pardon to be effective, the pardon must be accepted.
You have two choices. Will you accept His provision, or will you try to make it on your own?
If you belong to Jesus Christ today, however bad your life is or however bad it will ever be – this will be the only hell you will ever experience. But if you are reading this and you do not know Christ, enjoy every moment you are alive, because this is the only heaven you will ever know.
Better to have the suffering of earth, than the suffering of eternity.
Luke painted a picture of contrasting destinies. He did so as a way of asking, “Which side of the cross are you on?”