“When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing. And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if hi is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!”The soldiers also mocked him, coming up with and offering him sour wine, and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”
“One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? 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 have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
“It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last. When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, “Certainly this man was innocent.” And when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts. But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.” (Luke 23:33-49)
Luke’s account of the crucifixion emphasizes the compassionate forgiveness Jesus offered to his persecutors and to the criminal who was crucified with him. As Jesus hung on the cross, he prayed, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” Jesus, who had urged his followers to love their enemies, now demonstrates this courageous virtue in his most extreme moment. That forgiveness is not limited to his executioners, but most surely extend to all those involved in his passion, Jews and Romans, leaders and crowds, then and now alike.
Those who watched the execution of Jesus mocked his ability to save people. The rulers said, “He saved others, let him save himself.” The soldiers jeered, “Save yourself”. The unrepentant criminal said, “Save yourself and us.” The irony of their mocking is that the whole life of Jesus had been spent saving people, and his final moment on the cross would be the ultimate act of salvation in all its fullness for the world.
The two criminals crucified on each side of Jesus demonstrate quite different responses to him. One criminal continues the taunts of the crowd; the other acknowledges his wrong and puts his trust in Jesus: “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” This repentant criminal is the first person to experience the full extent of salvation Jesus offers through his death on the cross. Jesus looked at him with compassion and said, “Tod you will be with me in Paradise.” Jesus had spent his life among the outcasts; now his final act of mercy is the forgiveness of this criminal.
Trust, repentance, and forgiveness, this is the way through which the criminal on the cross came to experience the saving mercy of Jesus. Because he was with Jesus at his cross, he would be with Jesus in eternity. This process of trust, repentance, and forgiveness is the same way through which every person in the world can come to receive Jesus’ compassionate kindness. When we look to his cross, we are moved to repentance and we hear his merciful words as he reaches out to save us. The sight of Jesus with us in our pain is the promise of our healing; the sight of Jesus sharing our death is the promise of our life.
In what way does the experience of the criminal become you own, as you look to the cross of Jesus?
Compassionate Savior, remember me as I look upon your cross. As I receive the forgiveness that you so generously offer to me, help me to forgive anyone who needs my forgiveness today.