What Kind of Criminal Are You?

I have been pondering something since last Easter. I don’t know why this just hit me after all of these years, but something caught my attention for the first time after reading about Jesus’ crucifixion. The thing I have always just glossed over as part of the story is that Jesus was crucified between two criminals. For me, it had just been a minor detail in the story.

‘Two others, both criminals, were led out to be executed with him. When they came to a place called The Skull, they nailed him to the cross. And the criminals were also crucified—one on his right and one on his left.’
Luke 23:32-33 (NLT)to make sense to me.

As the passage tells us, there were two criminals with very different responses to the situation in which they found themselves. Crucifixion was an incredibly cruel way to execute someone. The method of execution involved tying or nailing someone to a large wooden beam and letting them hang, perhaps for several days. Death would occur through a combination of constrained blood circulation, organ failure and asphyxiation. Death could be accelerated by shattering the legs with an iron club to prevent the person being crucified from supporting the body’s weight and made inhaling much more difficult, which hastened both asphyxiation and shock. Often the condemned man had been whipped or scourged leading up to his crucifixion such that he was already in a dramatically weakened state.

I do not know that I could adequately put into words the suffering that the condemned person experienced during a crucifixion. However, I did want to lay a foundation for this setting in an attempt to explain how Jesus, along with the two criminals were suffering during this experience so that the reaction of both criminals might make more sense to us.

There are a couple of different passages that describe how the criminals reacted to their execution in the midst of their suffering. All four Gospels tell us that two criminals were crucified with Jesus.

‘Two revolutionaries were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left.’
Matthew 27:38 (NLT)

‘Two revolutionaries were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left.’
Mark 15:27 (NLT)

‘There they nailed him to the cross. Two others were crucified with him, one on either side, with Jesus between them. ‘
John 19:18 (NLT)

Since all four Gospels mention this, it must be significant. Right? I think so. It made me think about why it was noted in each account of Jesus’ crucifixion. Maybe it was because of their role in the story.

‘The leading priests, the teachers of religious law, and the elders also mocked Jesus. “He saved others,” they scoffed, “but he can’t save himself! So he is the King of Israel, is he? Let him come down from the cross right now, and we will believe in him! He trusted God, so let God rescue him now if he wants him! For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” Even the revolutionaries who were crucified with him ridiculed him in the same way.’
Matthew 27:41-44 (NLT)

Matthew tells us how both criminals joined in with the crowd to hurl insults at Jesus. They were just like the religious leaders and other spectators. In the midst of their suffering, the still took time to mock Jesus. However, Luke tells us how one of the criminals changed his tone.

‘Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” And the soldiers gambled for his clothes by throwing dice. The crowd watched and the leaders scoffed. “He saved others,” they said, “let him save himself if he is really God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.” The soldiers mocked him, too, by offering him a drink of sour wine. They called out to him, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” A sign was fastened above him with these words: “This is the King of the Jews.” One of the criminals hanging beside him scoffed, “So you’re the Messiah, are you? Prove it by saving yourself—and us, too, while you’re at it!” But the other criminal protested, “Don’t you fear God even when you have been sentenced to die? We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong.” ‘
Luke 23:34-41 (NLT)

I believe one of the criminals heard Jesus showing forgiveness to those that were involved in His execution. Even in his suffering, the criminal realized there was something different about Jesus and he wanted it.

Although both criminals initially taunted Jesus, one had a change of heart after experiencing Jesus’ presence first hand. When the first criminal continued mocking Jesus, the second criminal could no longer respond to Jesus that way. First, he rebuked the first criminal for how he was responding. Second, he asked Jesus to remember him when it is all over. He recognized his need for a Savior and made the conscious decision to ask for salvation, which Jesus quickly assured him would be his.

The second criminal did not have a chance to do anything to “earn” salvation but Jesus freely gave it to him anyway. People often think they have to do something to receive forgiveness and salvation. The Bible is very clear that there is nothing we can do other than accept the gift of grace that Jesus offers each of us. We are not able to do anything to earn it. Fortunately for us, Jesus did the work on our behalf. All we can do is choose to accept the gift or reject the gift. There really is not another option. We can be like the first criminal and reject the gift Jesus offers us or we can be like the second criminal and accept it.

Going back to the title of this blog post… What kind of criminal are you? Whether we realize it or not, each of us is represented by one of the two criminals. Are you like the first criminal who rejects the gift of salvation that Jesus paid a hefty price for us. Or are you like the second criminal that accepts Jesus’ gift and gets to experience a personal relationship with Him. The choice is yours. All of us make this choice. Your response has eternal implications. Make no mistake about it, you are making the choice. Do not follow the example of the first criminal. Make the same decision the second criminal made. I encourage you to look into what Jesus is offering, especially as we approach Easter. I promise you will not regret choosing Jesus.

When I think about this, I am reminded of the song “Too Small a Price” by Don Francisco. I think this song illustrates the choices made by the criminals so well. This version shows the brutality of crucifixion to give an idea of the circumstances the criminals were experiencing when they made their choices.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s