Were you there—when they crucified my Lord?
6. Criminal Converted
Luke 23:32-44 (NIV)
Also – Matthew 27:38,44 Mark 15:27,32, John 19:18
Luke 23:32 There were also two others, criminals, led with Him to be put to death. 33 And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left.
34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” And they divided His garments and cast lots. 35 And the people stood looking on. But even the rulers with them sneered, saying, “He saved others; let Him save Himself if He is the Christ, the chosen of God.” 36 The soldiers also mocked Him, coming and offering Him sour wine, 37 and saying, “If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself.” 38 And an inscription also was written over Him in letters of Greek, Latin, and Hebrew: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS
39 Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, “If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.” 40 But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? 41 “And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.”
42 Then he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” 43 And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”
Matthew 27:38 Two robbers were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left… 44 In the same way the robbers who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him.
Mark 15:27 They crucified two robbers with him, one on his right and one on his left… 32… Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.
John 19:18 Here they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle.
Two hard ‘lifers’
We have ‘met’ a number of people who, for different reasons, meet or are near the Lord Jesus Christ as he is about to be crucified in the centre of three crosses at Calvary’s hill called ‘Place of the Skull.’ (It is called that because it looks like a man’s skull.) The people we now ‘meet’ there still seem to keenly interest people today, whether inside or outside prison. Why? Two hard ‘lifers’ are dying on crosses. Jesus is dying between them. We will see the equivalent of a deathbed conversion for one prisoner. How about the other prisoner? He seems very hard-hearted as his life ebbs away. His opportunity to make sure he goes to Heaven after he dies is passing away fast. Whether he realises it or not, Hell awaits him if he does not turn from sin and trust Jesus Christ.
Take that urgent opportunity
Make sure that you take that urgent opportunity to receive Christ. Jesus died on the cross for you, to bear all your sin and take its punishment for you. Sinless Jesus had no sin of His own to pay for. At Calvary He sacrifices Himself for sinners like you and me. He dies as the pure and innocent sacrifice to suffer the eternal wrath of God which we all deserve for our sins against God and others. Only those who repent and trust wholly in Him are forgiven and saved: those who do not, remain unforgiven and will be subject to that wrath. (John 3:16, 36).
Jesus flanked by members of Barabbas’ gang
We met Barabbas early on in this series. This notoriously cruel, hard, and dishonest man was guilty of murder, robbery, theft, and promoting serious and violent public order offences. He escaped dying on the centre cross when the ungodly religious leaders manipulated the mob to pressurise Pilate, Israel’s Roman Governor, to release Barabbas and crucify Jesus instead. So, Jesus now must die on that centre cross, flanked by the two condemned members of Barabbas’ gang. They, and Jesus, face a cruel, painful, and often lingering death. Jesus is innocent. They are guilty. They provide the watching crowd with free and sick ‘entertainment.’
‘Father forgive them’: forgive who?
The two guilty men now hear Jesus pray, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’ Who is He praying for? His executioners, the Romans? Or the ignorant and lost crowd? Or perhaps the crooked religious leaders who spur the crowd on in their hatred for Jesus? There is another possible answer. Jesus may refer to forgiving these two condemned prisoners, who will die with Him. Christ loves prisoners. He saves many. He wants to save people like them. He also wants to save even more people who are prisoners of their own sins. Their guilty consciences are imprisoned in their sinful hearts, unless and until Jesus sets them free. Christ looks forward to sharing Heaven with them. So, no doubt, Jesus has in mind, also, that all those around His cross need God’s forgiveness. So does anyone today who has never come to Christ.
The two criminals hear the religious leaders’ shout their insulting sneer at Jesus, ‘He saved others; let Him save Himself if He is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.’ The soldiers steal their punchline and throw the same kind of jibe at Jesus. This time they make fun of the notice Pilate put on Christ’s cross, ‘THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.’
Now the criminals also get involved in insulting Jesus. Mark’s account adds that they both insult Him, at first. But then something unexpected happens. God is at work in the heart of one of those condemned cronies of Barabbas dying there on a cross next to Jesus. Has the ‘penny dropped’ now for him? Is the Holy Spirit showing this dying man who Jesus is, and what He is doing by dying right now to save sinners? Maybe God shows him Jesus’ love and compassion by the way the Son of God responds in love and grace in the face of such unwarranted cruelty?
‘Don’t you fear God?’
Now he speaks to his fellow gang member on the third cross, who hurls ‘insults’ at Christ. He asks, ‘Don’t you fear God?’ He reminds him that they both are receiving the same deserved death sentence. (It seems their offences could well have been similar to what Barabbas had done.) He then realises that he is sinful, but Jesus is sinless and perfect. He volunteers, ‘We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this Man has done nothing wrong.’
The Holy Spirit is working within him
When someone comes to Christ for forgiveness, God shows him that he is a guilty sinner needing mercy and forgiveness. This dying criminal has now seen for himself that this is true. The Holy Spirit is working within him. Do you see your need to confess your sins to Jesus and ask Him to forgive you and take over in your life? That is all so important. It does not just ‘happen.’
‘Jesus remember me’
But then he prays a vital prayer for himself. He wants to turn from his sin and ask Jesus to become his Saviour and Lord. He prays to the Lord Jesus Christ this crucial and simple prayer from his heart: ‘Jesus remember me when You come in Your kingdom.’
That is his prayer. It is heartfelt, direct and humble. Does he expect an encouraging reply from Jesus? He is neither a churchgoer, nor a good-living person, nor probably religious. But he is a guilty sinner who asks the Friend and Saviour of sinners to save him. That is why Jesus is on that cross: to pay the price of His own blood to save anyone who would ask Him humbly to do so. Remember too: Jesus died in your place and bore your sins and your punishment, so He can offer you forgiveness and eternal life.
Jesus’ immediate response—to him and to you!
Jesus responds to him immediately and clearly: ‘I tell you the truth,’ [He always does!] ‘today you will be with Me in Paradise.’
This is Jesus’ instant answer to a ‘bad’ sinner’s sincere and heartfelt prayer. Your sins may or may not be like his: but you, like us all, have committed many sins of your own. If you turn to the Lord like this convict does, immediately the Lord Jesus Christ becomes your Saviour. A new life of living for Him, learning from Him and His word, the Bible, and enjoying having fellowship with, and meeting with, your new Christian family and friends begins! There are many dangers, temptations and problems to—but Jesus is always with you to help and guide you, right from the start.
Is Jesus your Saviour yet? If not, why not ask Him? He is only a prayer away. Come to Him now, if you have not yet done so.
John 1:12—to all who received Him, [the Lord Jesus Christ] to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God