Day 28: The thief on the cross!
One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him,[c]saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” … Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!” Luke 23: 39-43, 46-47
You could say that the first two Christians--the first two people who really understood Jesus’ sacrifice--weren’t His disciples or followers. Jesus had told the twelve disciples that He was going to die, and yet they were confused and scared when Jesus died. None of them stayed with Jesus.
But we know from Scripture that at least two people who witnessed the crucifixion understood Jesus’ sacrifice.
First, there is one of the thieves who were crucified beside Jesus. One thief scoffed and asked Jesus to save them both. He did not understand what Jesus’ sacrifice meant and that Jesus died voluntarily. But the other thief knew that, although he had justly been convicted of a crime, Jesus was innocent, was the Messiah, and was establishing a heavenly kingdom. He understood that Jesus was not suffering for His own sins, but for the sins of others.
Second, a Roman centurion (a soldier) was overseeing the executions. The books of Matthew, Mark, and Luke all give an account of this centurion. Luke says he called Jesus a righteous man; Mark goes even further and says the centurion said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” When Jesus died, he not only proclaimed Jesus’ innocence, he also praised God. He did not praise God that Jesus was dead. Scripture implies that the centurion, like the thief, understood that Jesus had given up His life as an innocent sacrifice for the sins of others.
Even before the disciples understood what had happened, these two men knew that Jesus suffered on their behalf, and that they personally needed that sacrifice for their forgiveness.
Questions for reflection and discussion
- How do you think these two men “got it” when even Jesus’ closest friends were frightened and confused?
- The other thief also had been told Jesus was the Christ and wanted Jesus to save him physically. Why doesn’t Jesus promise him paradise, too?
Dear God, give us eyes to see and minds to understand Your ways, so that we can respond to You with faith and praise. In Jesus’ name, amen.