A reading from the Gospel of Luke chapter 23
32 Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. 33 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. 34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.
35 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.”
36 The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar 37 and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”
38 There was a written notice above him, which read: this is the king of the Jews.
39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”
40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Reflection on Jesus’ Words from the Cross
We see in our reading today Luke’s focus on the theme of forgiveness. In the midst of all the pain and desolation of the crucifixion, Jesus shows us His divine nature and calling in many ways but especially in his words: “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing”. The need to be forgiven for sin is a universal one. Only Jesus was free from sin throughout his life (though genuinely tempted as we are). Only He could stand in our place as our substitute to pay for the sins of all people through all time. He was the least deserving of punishment (indeed entirely undeserving) yet the anger and vitriol unleashed on him was out of all proportion for even a common criminal.
Jesus saw that the actions of his own people as well as the Roman occupying forces were indeed a kind of madness. As Jesus said, “they don’t know what they’re doing.” This kind of madness can overtake us all in large and small ways. In many ways, sin doesn’t actually make sense. We often don’t recognize the harm we are doing to ourselves and others. Yet living in a fallen world and being sinners by nature we can fall into sin so easily in large and small ways. To know that Jesus understands this and has mercy on us is a great relief.
This is not to condone sin but to recognize that we all need continual cleansing by His precious blood shed on the cross for us. By trusting in what Jesus has done on our behalf on the cross, we can be free from the crushing burden of guilt (including unacknowledged or supressed guilt as it was for me when I first put my faith in Jesus). Then we can move forward on Jesus’ path of new and eternal life beginning from the moment we open our hearts to him.
This is what we see with one of the thieves on the cross. Although Jesus asks God His Father to forgive everyone, only one of the two thieves benefits from this. One of them joins the crowd in hurling insults at Jesus. This shows us how sin and the madness of it can multiply in such situations. We can see this kind of crowd insanity today especially through the internet. Though life is very different in some ways today than in the first century, we see the underlying similarity in the way that sin can take over and multiply. Yet because of God’s common grace as well as the leavening influence and prayers of believers, God mitigates the effects of sin.
In spite of the pull of the crowd, individuals like the other thief can choose, by God’s grace, to turn from sin and turn with faith to Jesus. This thief rebuked the first thief and said: “Don’t you fear God since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly for we are getting what our deeds deserve but this man has done no wrong.” He acknowledged his sins and recognized the just punishment for them. He also recognized the injustice of punishing an entirely innocent man who was the very One who could and did open the way to God’s kingdom. He said: “Remember me when you come into your kingdom”. And then he and we hear Jesus’ reassuring words: “Truly, I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise”.
We in turn must turn away from a crowd mentality of skepticism, cynicism and hostility or of just indifference toward the reality of who Jesus is—the Messiah of Israel and the one and only Saviour for all people. Like the repentant thief we can recognize our need for God’s forgiveness through Jesus.
Today, we can know our sins are forgiven for His sake and that Jesus has opened to door to paradise for us. We can begin and continue on a journey to our true Homeland ruled over by the only perfectly righteous and just Ruler, Jesus Christ, God’s Son and our Lord. Today is the day of God’s forgiveness. Today is the day of salvation.
Prayer to receive forgiveness and assurance of eternal life follows on video.