Across the cross
Racked with pain he looked at the man next to him. It took all his strength just to turn his head, the pain in his lungs was unbearable; he knew he was in the last moments of his life.
A voice, derisive, echoed around the valley. He tried to ignore it. In these last moments he reflected upon his life. It had not been good, most of it had been spent in crime, but he’d had to survive, he knew no other way.
The voice echoed around the valley again. It was heartbreaking to listen to its derisive comments. It mocked the man next to him who was suffering as he was. “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” the voice jeered. The crowd laughed and joined in. They had nailed a sign above the head of the man next to him which read, ‘King of the Jews’ — a direct indictment of his political activities they thought. The soldiers also mocked him, saying, “If you are really the King of the Jews then save yourself.” The crowd scornfully replied, “He saved others; let him save himself, come down off the cross if you can.” The man said nothing.
This man, as far as he could understand, had done nothing wrong. Maybe he had been a political activist, and upset much of the ruling synagogue, and perhaps, as some say, he was a religious fanatic that had gone just too far, but surely these things did not demand the death penalty. Yet the people had rejected him in favour of another criminal like himself, in fact much worse than he had ever been. They had chosen a man called Barabbus who was a murderer, and ironically, also a political activist. He could not understand all this; it didn’t make sense.
About a year ago, the man reflected, he had been sitting on a hillside listening to this man. He had surely been a great teacher, a good man. What he had said made so much sense. He looked at him now, torn, humiliated, bloody, dying, and nailed to a cross; not the powerful teacher he had once been. Why had they done this to him? His heart was moved. He did not deserve to die a criminal’s death.
He had found it difficult to understand this man. It was incredible what he had said; about believing in him and being saved. “I and God are one,” he had said. It had all seemed such rubbish, so impossible, so removed from the real world in which he lived each day. Yet there seemed some truth in it all. He had rejected it; it just did not fit into real life. He had no room for idealistic teaching in his life. He needed to survive and enjoy himself not think about another life that was to come after death. Although he had never mocked this man’s teaching, he had never accepted it. He had rejected this man as just another prophet ‘living in the clouds’, out of touch with the real world. Yet he knew deep down that what he had spoken was good, but not for him.
His pain increased. He could not breath. The weight on his lungs was squeezing the air out. It was impossible to draw in a deep breath and he knew that he was slowly suffocating. It would not be long now. He felt no resentment, he deserved his punishment and he waited. Again he looked at the man.
Jesus turned to look at him. He saw his eyes open. Surprisingly, there was no fear in them, no resentment, no anger, only a softness.
In that moment he knew that this man was the truth. He knew who Jesus really was. He knew he had made a mistake in rejecting him and ignoring his words. He had made the wrong choice by following the world he lived in and not by what this man had been teaching. He realised his mistake; he needed his forgiveness and turning to him he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Maybe, he thought, it was too late. His life had been too bad. Was it was a forlorn request? Did he need to do more? He was surprised by Jesus’ reply. Jesus said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you shall be with me in paradise.” He sensed a mighty wave of love and forgiveness wash over him. He knew that all the bad things he had ever done had been forgiven. In a moment he would die, and he also knew that he would be in paradise with Jesus for eternity. Suddenly the fear of death no longer held any power over him and he did not fear it.
Seconds later Jesus gasped; He was dying. He spoke his last words, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” And having said this, He died, and so did the thief.
We don’t need to be well educated to know Jesus. When Jesus died on the cross He had a two criminals on each side of Him. In a moment of reflection one of the criminals thought about Jesus and in a moment of revelation turned to Jesus and believed in Him. That was all that is needed to become a Christian. That is all it needs to be saved by God’s grace. That man’s crimes [sins] were forgiven through the grace of God, and all because he confessed his belief in who Jesus was. How do we know this? Because Jesus then turned to him and said, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in paradise” (Luke 23:42).
Can it be so simple, that as soon as we confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in our heart who He is, we are saved? Jesus confirms this in John 6:40, “For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son, and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.”
Jesus came to earth at Christmas to call everyone, no matter who we are, we are all barred from God’s kingdom because of our sin (John 3:36), no matter how good a life we live. We all fall short of God’s holiness, (Rom.3:23). None of us can be good enough to go to heaven, only a decision to believe in Jesus and accept Him, to follow and obey Him, as your Saviour will allow that.
God loves us all, and we all need to believe in Jesus, as that man did. In contrast, the man on the other cross refused to accept Jesus, and instead continued to reject Him and mock Him as a man of no consequence and irrelevant. He too could have been received into Jesus’ kingdom had he asked him!