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A Lenten Meditation

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Luke chapter 23:32-43

 Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with Him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified Him there, along with the criminals—one on His right, the other on His left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up His clothes by casting lots.

The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at Him. They said, “He saved others; let Him save Himself if He is God’s Messiah, 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 Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

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, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Throughout the Spring of this year, and on into Summer, this story has kept coming to mind. Jesus has been nailed to a cross after having been paraded through the town, carrying the spar of His own execution. As He is suffering through the last moments of His life, He is surrounded by jeering voices…

They were the voices of people standing to watch, rulers sneering, soldiers mocking…and even a criminal hanging on a cross alongside Him.

Except this one man – this other criminal. Instead of joining in the sneering, he says the strangest thing…

He confesses to his crime, noting that he and the other criminal there were reaping what they had sown: “We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve.”

But then he confesses that Jesus was different, noting that He was being treated unjustly: “But this man has done nothing wrong.”

There is no record of this criminal meeting Jesus before this time, but he knew enough of Jesus to know that He was blameless, and that He did not belong there alongside of them. And it seems that he had heard, or at least had heard about, the things that Jesus was teaching.

Jesus had taught a great deal about the Kingdom…He had said that the Kingdom is near, and described how life in the Kingdom is different than what people experienced in their current state of Roman rule. He taught about what is required of those who would like to be a part of the Kingdom, and the traits of those who would be left out.*

Now at this point all that talk seemed to be empty words – Jesus was dying, and everything that had been said about Him being a King was literally turned into a joke by almost every person who was there.

Yet this guy – this guilty criminal – looks at the same thing that everyone else who was there saw as a defeat, as the end of Jesus and all the promises of a Messiah – and he sees it differently.

“Jesus, remember me when You come into Your Kingdom.”

What? What a crazy thing to say! What Kingdom? Did Jesus look like He was about to come into the headship of a new Kingdom? The criminal saying this was right there, peering across his own outstretched arm at Jesus, who was bleeding from having been whipped and having a crown of thorns placed on His head. He knew pretty much exactly how Jesus felt, at least physically, while he was dying at the same time, in the same way.

“Jesus, remember me when You come into Your Kingdom.”

This man has a faith that astounds me. He somehow looks beyond the dying body struggling for breath next to him and finds hope in the perfect, guiltless character of Christ. He believes the sign posted above the head of Jesus is true – that this is the King of the Jews, and decides to put all of his chips in, betting his eternal soul on the man who is about to meet His end. He believes that even there, even then, Jesus has the power to save him, beyond death.

Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

We, of course, know the end of the story. We know now that Jesus’ death on the cross was not the end. We know that Jesus did not belong there, but He willingly sacrificed Himself for all those who were mocking and jeering in the crowd on the day of his crucifixion, and for all of us who have lived since that day. We know that we are on the mind of Jesus as He has come into His Kingdom, and we who believe in Him are called to be a part of bringing His Kingdom to reign in the hearts of all who will also follow Jesus.

But the faith of this dying criminal startles me. How could he look at the same scene – being in the very midst of what was going on, yet see it so differently? It is a faith that inspires me, and I’m thankful that we can read this story. We have been given so much more to go on, we know the bigger picture, and we have all the more reason to entrust our very lives to Him.

 

* https://sswh.wordpress.com/kingdom-scriptures/

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