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.” 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.”
Luke 23v32-35, 39-43 (NIV)
Execution by Crucifixion. It was a cruel form of torture designed to inflict a slow, agonising and painful death. No cries of bitterness, rage or revenge, just a simple prayer: 'Father, forgive them.' Jesus is offering forgiveness to those who are mocking him and killing him, and Jesus is offering forgiveness to you. But the taunting goes on: 'He saved others; let him save himself if he is God's Messiah, the Chosen One.' Jesus has a choice to make. Does he save himself or does he save you? He can’t save both. He must choose. If Jesus chooses to save himself then you die. If Jesus chooses to save you, then he will die. Jesus hangs in silent submission and surrender. Jesus chooses to save you by dying for you, taking the suffering that you deserve for your sin, so that you can be forgiven.
Two criminals are executed with Jesus. Both respond differently. How do you see Jesus?
First, Jesus the one who gives what I demand. The first criminal; 'hurled insults at him: 'Aren't you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!' To him, the only value Jesus might have is to save him from his tortuous death. Of course Jesus could save him. He could send an army of angels. But Jesus wants him to see that he has come to save him from something far more serious - God’s Judgement. It’s not that Jesus doesn’t care about his physical pain - Jesus wants him to know eternal life. Jesus is not a magic genie who grants everything we wish for. Jesus is not there to meet our physical and material desires on demand. He comes to give us something greater - forgiveness of sins and eternal life.
Second, Jesus the saviour who forgives my sin. The second criminal sees something different: 'We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.' He knows Jesus is innocent and he knows he’s guilty. He has heard Jesus' offer of forgiveness and he knows he needs forgiven. Knowing that Jesus is the only one who can deal with his sin he cries out: 'Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom.' He has nothing to offer, nothing to bring except a morally broken life. Jesus’ response is filled with grace: 'Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.' To be in Paradise is to be with God in his perfect sin-less, joyful Kingdom forever.
To many God is little more than a Divine Butler who serves us, or a Cosmic Therapist who comforts us.* But why settle for less. God is Full of Grace rescuing sinners, filling them with his Goodness and Love and securing their Eternal Destiny with him. What matters most in life isn't anything that you have done or can do. It's what God has already done for you through Jesus. (*Soul searching)
Father God, forgive me for the times I have treated you as nothing more than a 'Divine Butler' or a 'Cosmic Therapist'. Thank you that you have come to give me more than I could ever ask or imagine; the forgiveness of all my sin, free and overflowing grace and the future joy of paradise.