On a lonely God-forsaken hill outside of Jerusalem, the king of creation hung dying. The death of this king was not accompanied by tender whispers of love and devotion but rather lauded by a barrage of malicious sneers and insults. The king’s title was derided, his sovereignty mocked, his agony relished. Jesus, the king, was dying.
To the one side of Jesus hung a desperate criminal whose heart overflowed with anger, bitterness, and rage. “Are you not the Christ?” He demanded for he had heard the fantastic stories that rippled through Jerusalem. Stories that this Jesus of Nazareth was the promised Messiah; the Christ. People claimed he restored sight to the blind, caused the lame to rise and walk, made lepers whole, and opened the ears of the deaf. Even more incredible were stories that by a simple word or the mere touch of his hand the dead were raised to life. This king who preached the good news of the Kingdom of God to the poor now hung beside him, stricken, smitten, and afflicted. This king was humiliated, weak, and hanging naked on a criminal’s cross. Where was his power now? Where were the king’s faithful to defend him? Where was that penetrating voice that chided the self-righteousness and perplexed the indecisive? “Save yourself and us!” He cried in desperation. This criminal felt the pain of his hopeless estate and at this point Jesus was his only ticket out. Yet Jesus just hung there. With every labored breath, every pity filled glance towards his executioners, and every prayer of forgiveness to the Father, the criminal grew more angry, more hostile, and more blasphemous. Jesus was not giving him what he demanded. Jesus, the king, was dying.
To the other side of Jesus hung a second criminal. A guilty, hopeless, wretched criminal. This criminal joined in the chorus of derision hurled at the suffering king as well. Yet as he watched Jesus die, his lips began to fall silent. With every hateful scream the blood-thirsty bystanders threw, arrows of grace began to pierce his wicked heart. He began to see Jesus not as a fraud who needed to prove himself or as some type of supernatural deliverer but as the righteous King of glory who was about to enter his eternal kingdom. He began to see Jesus as King of Kings and Lord of Lords whose condemnation was unjust and whose innocence genuine. As the picture of Christ’s infinite righteousness grew so did the weight of the conviction for his own sin. This criminal cried out to rebuke the other, “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 had done nothing wrong.” They deserved this death. Not Jesus. They deserved the words of ridicule. Not Jesus. They deserved the agony of crucifixion. Not Jesus. In the midst of his death sentence the criminal looked at Jesus and uttered the simple plea, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He knew the king who hung beside him was about to enter his kingdom and only by his mercy and grace would be remembered. He could do no acts of righteousness, charity, or faith. He could only confess Christ’s worth and his unworthiness. The criminal’s faith was simple yet profound. Jesus was the Christ. Jesus was the King. Jesus was returning to his eternal throne. Jesus was his only hope for him as he was dying.
Between two criminals the King of Glory hung. His sacred head wounded, his shoulders weighed down by the grief and shame of the sin of the world. Anguish, abuse, and scorn were heaped upon him as his earthly life ebbed away. Yet with eyes full of love he turned toward the criminal and uttered the promise, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” This is grace. Amazing Grace. The Almighty King who laid down his life as an atonement for sin extends his grace to an unworthy criminal. The love of Christ plucks an unworthy sinner from the flames of eternity and ushers him into the eternal fellowship of the Godhead. The perfect unity of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and the people who are called by His grace. His grace was greater than even the most wretched of sinners.
Brothers and sisters, as our hearts consider the words of the crucified Lord, the promise of the gospel remains today. Look to the cross, see the crucified Lord who was pierced for your transgressions and crushed for our iniquities. The crucified Lord whose chastisements brings us peace and by whose wounds we are healed. He is sovereign. He is exalted. He conquered death with death. He is our only hope in life and death. Turn to Him in faith. Many voices today still scream blasphemies at the crucified King, for his death is foolishness to them. They require He perform signs and wonders. They expect Jesus to answer to their beck and call. Yet when he fails to indulge their demands their blasphemies intensify. However, those who see Christ’s holiness and their own sinfulness and turn to Christ in faith are those who have received the grace of God. May our hearts each day turn away from our sin and turn to Christ by faith that we may be with Christ in paradise.
This meditation will be given as a part of the Good Friday "Last Words of Jesus" at the Beaches Museum Chapel led by David Ball of Church of Our Savior, Allen Cagle of Sunrise Community Church, and Chris Partyka of Ocean Park Baptist Church. The service will begin on Good Friday, (March 25, 2016) at 12:00 p.m. at 505 Beach Blvd. All are welcome!
Soli Deo Gloria