And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us. But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise. (Luke 23:39-43)
God hides himself, and the glory of the Son of God is veiled in the true flesh and blood of Jesus Christ. Never was His glory more hidden from men, who look on the outward appearance, than when He was crucified in weakness. Yet to those with eyes to see, never did Jesus’ glory shine as brightly as it did during His holy Passion.
Jesus hangs upon the cross, supported only by the nails that tear His hands and His feet. All his bones are out of joint, and his muscles are in spasm. A cruel thirst torments Him, and He is mocked by the offer of some wine that has gone bad. Roman soldiers, beasts in human form, have stripped Him naked, and are gambling for the spoil, the only thing of value that He possesses, His linen tunic. His enemies, whose implacable malice is never satisfied, have so contrived that He should bear one more insult, being crucified between two common criminals, as if He were no better than one of them! Deprived of even the smallest comfort that mere humanity would have provided, He groans under the awful weight of God’s inexorable justice.
One of the wretched ones who suffer with him breaks silence. Sure to pass soon into that world from which no man returns, he might have been thinking serious thoughts about his eternal destiny. But no – he is enraged against God, and pours out mockery on the head of his hapless fellow-sufferer: “If thou be Christ, save thyself and us.” Perhaps he is exasperated at Jesus’ passive acceptance of his fate, since He was known to have made great claims for Himself. No matter. Jesus does not bother to rebuke him. He is only repeating the gibes of the crowd.
But then something unexpected happens! The other, in whom God’s Almighty Spirit has been secretly at work, instead of taking up the insult, rebukes his partner in crime, and then turns to Jesus with the sinner’s humble plea, “Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom!”
Who else but Jesus would even have thought to pay attention to the appeal of a criminal at such a time – even though he was a fellow-victim? After all, he was getting what he deserved. Yet He who is full of grace not only forgave, but spoke the words which would allow him to die in peace! “To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.”
What a balm to the dying thief! What were his thoughts? “To day… this very day! With me… in the blessed presence of my gracious Lord! In paradise… resting with my fathers, in Abraham’s bosom!”
And what a rebuke to the other, and to the taunting crowds; whose blind wickedness kept them from seeing who Jesus was, and what an opportunity was theirs! Look how the Son of man answers their challenge! Had He chosen, He could easily have saved Himself and both the malefactors from their tormentors; but instead he performs a greater and enduring act of divine power, and with a royal dignity and grandeur never seen in an earthly sovereign! He saves a filthy, bleeding, stinking, dying, worthless sinner from the terrors of Divine justice. He sets a human heart, seething with agony, at rest. He has come to seek and to save that which was lost, and He is so set on his work that, forgetting His own misery, He pursues His task to the last minute of his life!
Hallelujah! What a Savior!
Howard Douglas King