Observations About Criminals

Here I sit on Palm Sunday with Easter a week away and I was thinking more about the last blog post I wrote. I keep pondering the criminals that were crucified with Jesus and have a few observations I thought I would share.

Both criminals originally mocked Jesus.

‘The leading priests and teachers of religious law also mocked Jesus. “He saved others,” they scoffed, “but he can’t save himself! Let this Messiah, this King of Israel, come down from the cross so we can see it and believe him!” Even the men who were crucified with Jesus ridiculed him.‘     ~ Mark 15:31-32 (NLT)

Like many people, both criminals originally joined the crowd and mocked Jesus. Our natural sinful state is to reject Jesus. We want to do things our way in our time. We are naturally selfish. The criminals were the same way. They were no different that any of us.

The first criminal never seem to recognize Jesus for Who He was.

Even after hanging on the cross for a while, the first criminal was still only concerned with himself.

‘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!”’     ~ Luke 23:39 (NLT)

After all he witnessed, the one criminal still only cared about himself. He questioned that Jesus was Who He said He was. Although undeserving, he hoped Jesus would save him when and if He saved Himself. He completely misunderstood what Jesus was doing that day. Like many others, he thought Jesus was dying the same way he was. He totally missed the point.

The second criminal came to understand that there was something unique about Jesus.

‘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 23:40-41 (NLT)

I feel certain that the second criminal did not believe he deserved special favor from Jesus. His response to the first criminal showed that he understood that their next step would be standing before God as guilty criminals. He also expressed that he saw Jesus’ innocence. Although he recognized the guilt he and the other criminal carried, he also clearly realized that there was no guilt with Jesus.

Even as he was dying, the second criminal had the good sense to ask for Jesus’ forgiveness.

In addition to recognizing Jesus’ innocence, the second criminal also recognized that Jesus truly was the Messiah.

‘Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”’     ~ Luke 23:42 (NLT)

It is often said that we cannot do anything to gain salvation. However, I think that statement is slightly misleading. It is true that we cannot do anything to earn our salvation. Salvation does require us to do something. We must trust in Jesus in the faith that He has paid for our salvation when we were unable to pay that debt ourself.

The second criminal accepted the free gift Jesus was offering by His sacrifice.

As shown above, the second criminal saw the price that Jesus’ was paying for humanity’s sin and was willing to ask for forgiveness. This is forgiveness that Jesus freely offers us through His grace. We know that the second criminal accepted that gift based on Jesus’ reply to him.

‘And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.”’     ~ Luke 23:43 (NLT)

Think about how the two criminals dealt with their suffering after this exchange. The first criminal had no hope. He appeared to reject Jesus in his last moments. The second criminal suffered in the same way but he knew he was going to be with Jesus in Heaven that very day. All that was required was for Him to accept the gift Jesus offered. He did not earn his salvation but he did make the conscious choice to put his trust in Jesus.

Jesus had to die to pay the penalty for our sin.

I sometime hear people ask why Jesus had to die. God established a code for the Israelites back in the Old Testament. Sin is something that God takes seriously because it separates us from Him. He is perfectly holy. When we sin, we break the relationship we have with God and it can only be restored through the sacrificial process that God ordained. The thing that all sacrifices had in common was that the animal being sacrificed had to be without flaw or defect. Unfortunately, we become flawed when we sin. Therefore, we are not qualified to be a sacrifice for sin. Jesus, however, lived a sinless life and did meet the qualifications for being an acceptable sacrifice. The author of Hebrews explains it as follows:

‘In fact, according to the law of Moses, nearly everything was purified with blood. For without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness.’     ~ Hebrews 9:22 (NLT)

You see, it required the shedding of blood from a pure sacrifice to forgive our sin. Jesus is the only one that met the requirements and that is why He had to die.

The people mistakenly thought they killed Jesus.

Although this point does not specifically relate to the criminals that were crucified with Jesus, it is a point that I think is important to make. Pontius Pilate and the Jewish religious leaders may have thought they killed Jesus, but that is a belief rooted in their own ego.

Before His death, Jesus tells us that He is going to voluntarily lay down His life for us because that is what God required.

‘“The Father loves me because I sacrifice my life so I may take it back again. No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded.”’     ~ John 10:17-18 (NLT)

Jesus could have stopped the proceedings at any point along the way. He allowed the process to run its course because He loved us enough to be that sacrifice for us.

Some others also realized that Jesus was Who He said He was.

There were a lot of people observing Jesus’ crucifixion. We know His mother was there with John. We know that the religious leaders were there. We know that some soldiers were at the foot of the cross gambling for his clothing. Obviously, there were countless others watching the spectacle that was a public execution. One prominent person that saw everything firsthand made the following declaration when he saw what transpired:

‘When the Roman officer who stood facing him saw how he had died, he exclaimed, “This man truly was the Son of God!”’     ~ Mark 15:39 (NLT)

I have to believe that the Roman officer had seen countless executions. I feel certain he had seen just about everything you could imagine. However, what he witnessed when Jesus died led him to only one conclusion — Jesus is the Son of God.

It will be much better to come to this conclusion while you still have time for it to make a difference in your life. Please do not wait until it is too late. We will all make this declaration one day whether we want to admit it now or not. The important thing is to do it now and put your faith in Jesus as the Savior that paid for our sin.

‘Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.’     ~ Philippians 2:6-11 (NLT)

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