39 One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding* him and saying, ‘Are you not the Messiah?* Save yourself and us!’ 40But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.’ 42Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into* your kingdom.’ 43He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’
44 It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land* until three in the afternoon, 45while the sun’s light failed;* and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.’ Having said this, he breathed his last. 47When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, ‘Certainly this man was innocent.’* 48And when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts. 49But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.
THE FOUNDATION OF ALL HOPE: GOOD FRIDAY
The contrasting responses of the two criminals crucified with Jesus could not be starker. One was contemptuous and hurled insults – ‘If you’re the Christ,’ he spat out, ‘then save yourself and us.’ He chose to die disdainful of anything religious. It’s tragic to witness this kind of death for it’s without peace and without hope. Yet every day men and women choose to die that way.
The second criminal was so different: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” This man didn’t pretend to be good: “We are justly deserving death,” he said. Yet in his last hours he seems to have been impressed by Jesus. He saw he was innocent: “This man has done nothing wrong.” Faced with his own impending death he feared God and recognized his need: “Jesus, remember me,” he said. His words were simple and sincere. It seems that in some vague way he understood that Jesus really is God’s special king and so he asked for a place in his kingdom.
His repentance was at the eleventh hour, yet Jesus responded, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” This man did not die without being forgiven or without hope: for him there would be new life forever.
The scene challenges us to ask what our response to Jesus will be in the last moments of our life – among the contemptuous who choose to die without Christ, or among the believing who choose to die with him? We can be sure of this, when we put our lives in the hands of Jesus as Lord and Savior, his promise rings true: “Today, you will be with me.”
During the last three hours of Jesus’ life an ominous darkness fell the scene. Being Passover, it could not have been an eclipse. Towards the end of this surreal darkness and quiet, there came a shout (23:46) as Jesus breathed his last.
Because crucifixion causes asphyxiation it would normally be impossible for the victim to shout. Luke’s record suggests that Jesus was not physically about to die. His words, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit,” tell us that death didn’t conquer him; rather he voluntarily surrendered his life. John’ Gospel indicates that Jesus’ shout was one of victory: “It is finished.” His work was done, his sacrifice complete, and the gate to God now open. The torn curtain in the temple (23:45) was testimony to that.
The Roman centurion’s comment is significant: “Certainly this man was innocent.” His words were so true: Jesus was righteous, without fault, the most righteous, the most godly man who has ever lived.
As Isaiah had prophesied: There was no deceit in his mouth (Isaiah 53:9). He didn’t retaliate, but put his life in the hands of the judge who judges justly. In his voluntary sacrifice, he bore our guilt in his body (Isaiah 53:6). He died the death we deserve: the punishment of our sin was laid on him. This is why Good Friday is so good – God in his love has provided the perfect solution to our human tragedy. It is because of Good Friday that there is hope for you and for me.
You might like to reflect:
- what it cost Jesus to die on the cross – he could have walked away;
- why it was he chose to die;
- what Jesus’ death really means for you.
Let me encourage you to pause and pray
Almighty Father, look graciously upon this your family, for which our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be betrayed and given up into the hands of wicked men, and to suffer death upon the cross; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (BCP, Good Friday)
© John G. Mason, Reason for Hope – 40 Days of Bible Readings and Reflections – 2016. All Rights Reserved.