The Cries of Christ From the Cross
2. Last-Second Salvation
Luke 23: 39 - 43
In the days leading up to Easter we’re focusing on the 7 shouts from the Savior as He hung on the cross. Last weekend we listened to these penetrating words of grace, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” We pointed out that the Savior’s first shout is a precise prophetic fulfillment of Isaiah 53: 12: “…For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” The second cry comes from Luke 23: 43: “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” When Jesus reaches out to this sinner, He fulfills another prophecy from this same verse in Isaiah: “And He was numbered with the transgressors, and He bore the sin of many.”
A Terrorist Finds Peace
Follow along as I retell the story through the eyes of the criminal’s father -
My son was convicted and crucified for his crime of treason. His claim to fame was that he was one of the thieves executed next to Jesus on the Cross. That description is actually quite generous because my son was a cold-blooded terrorist who had murdered many people. He was impossible to control even as a young boy. That’s why I started calling him ‘Mara,’ which means bitterness. He brought nothing but disgrace to me and my family.
Mara had thick skin and was numb to life. He had learned how to take care of himself and take advantage of others. I knew all about crucifixions. I had watched the procedure many times before…but this was my son. The soldiers seemed in a hurry that day. The guards grabbed my boy and threw a 40kg beam across his shoulders and shouted, “Carry it.” Mara staggered under the weight. His buddy was given a piece of timber as well. Together they stumbled. I looked into my son’s eyes but didn’t know what to say.
When we turned the corner we came upon a chanting crowd filled with wailing women and shouting soldiers. Everyone seemed to be fixated on the one bearing the cross at the front of the procession. Mara shouted out, “Who’s that?” A spear was pushed against his bruised back and a soldier gruffly replied, “They say He’s the king of the Jews. His name is Jesus.”
The parade now started moving faster until we reached the place of the skull. Jesus was thrown to the ground on top of his crossbeam; the nails and hammer were ready. Mara struggled and tried to get away but he was nailed to the cross with a brutal precision. He screamed and cursed every time the hammer struck the spikes. In between him and his bandit buddy was the one called Jesus. Unlike the two terrorists, Jesus uttered not a word of complaint.
My bitter boy then unleashed a stream of speech that made me blush. I moved away because I didn’t want anyone to turn against me. And yet, I wanted to take in everything that was happening. His fatal friend joined him as they both cursed and yelled at Jesus. The soldiers sneered. The people passed by and hurled insults.
Jesus then shouted something in a hoarse whisper that I will never forget. I couldn’t believe what I heard: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” I was stunned. Mara’s mouth fell open and just stared at the middle cross. I could tell something had jarred him. The criminal was now curious. I saw him look up to read the words posted above Jesus’ head, “This is the king of the Jews.”
Their eyes met. Mara saw something he had never seen before. Those eyes had no anger, no bitterness and yet, they shared his pain. Just then, his partner in crime broke the holy silence with a shout of sarcasm, “If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.”
I couldn’t believe what my boy did next! He turned to his buddy and rebuked him, “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.” My son had never talked like this before! He not only stood up to his friend, but he in essence told all the religious leaders and soldiers that they were executing an innocent man.
But he wasn’t finished. He pushed down on the spike in his feet so he could take a big breath and then turned toward those loving eyes and blurted out, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” This was the first time my son had ever expressed any faith. He seemed convinced that Jesus was a king and that He could help him. Jesus answered with a promise mingled with love: “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” My son, a sin-soaked criminal, was received by a bloodstained Saviour that day. I hope I’ll see him again.
Let’s go back now and take a closer look. Imagine that we had video footage of everything that happened. Let’s look now at four clips.
1. A condemned man
The first clip shows Mara and his buddy as condemned men. It’s very likely that they were in the terrorist cell of Barabbas, the notorious criminal, like Osama bin Laden, who was the leader of a band of murderers. Unbelievably, the people demanded that Barabbas Bin Laden be set free instead of Jesus and then we don’t hear about Barabbas again. 2 of his cohorts are not so fortunate and are destined to be publicly executed, next to the one who took their leader’s place.
Mara was a condemned man and he deserved to die for what he had done. He was an assassin who had killed for fun and for profit. He was probably on Jerusalem’s Most Wanted posters. It was quite a coup for the authorities to have him and his buddy strapped to crosses on execution hill.
As bad as this guy was, he represents each of us. We’ve all robbed God and live in rebellion. The criminal was condemned not just because he had broken the laws of the land, but because he had ignored God and broken His laws. He was self-centered, just like we are. While we might not be in a terrorist cell, we have all transgressed against God.
Romans 3: 23: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Because we have fallen short and missed the mark of God’s perfection, we are all condemned before God. Like the thief on the cross; God’s commands have broken us. No matter how hard we try, we cannot meet His standards or expectations. When we come to grips with our sinful condition, we become candidates for salvation. If we don’t recognize our own depravity, we’ll go to our graves shaking our fist at God, just like the other criminal on the cross did.
2. A caustic man
As we come to the next scene and hit “pause,” we see a caustic man. We know that both of the criminals started out the day hurling insults and blasphemies at Jesus.
It doesn’t seem right that these two would taunt and mock the one on the middle cross. Jesus was not responsible for what they were going through. And yet, we often do the same, don’t we?
When we allow bitterness to take root in our lives, we lash out at God, thinking that He’s to blame. I love the contrast in this picture. While the two terrorists lash out at the Lord, Jesus did not yell at them or scold them. He just took it.
Are you in pain right now? Do you feel like God doesn’t understand? Are you mad at Him? Do you find yourself being caustic with others? If so, tune into this clip from the cross. There is no loneliness, no anxiety, no rejection, no betrayal, no stress, no physical pain that you will ever go through that Jesus hasn’t already experienced. Hebrews 4: 15: “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.”
3. A changed man
This is my favorite part. The condemned and caustic criminal, who had committed crimes against a holy God, is changed! I love this about Christianity. Jesus changes lives.
To see someone take the steps to restore a marriage, to listen to a man reclaim his purity, to see someone freed from substance abuse, to observe a peaceful spirit where there was once anxiety and stress, to celebrate joy where there was despair, to see financial needs met in a miraculous way, to watch wandering kids come back to Christ, to see Christ-followers living on mission in their neighborhoods and workplace, to realize that there are many reading through the entire Bible this year, and to partner with people who look for ways to use their time, talents, and treasures.
You can’t beat it! I don’t know of anything other than a relationship with Jesus Christ that can cause such wholesale changes in heart, thought, character, words, and behaviour!
Let’s think about what this criminal saw in Christ: