Matthew 27:37–44 (ESV) And over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” Then two robbers were crucified with him, one on the right and one on the left. And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’ ” And the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way.
Luke 23:32–43 (ESV) Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up 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 railed at him, 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.”
The Gospel accounts of Matt. 27 & Luke 23 are clear that Jesus was not the only one crucified by the Romans that day.
2 others were also put to death. Both of them were thieves – common robbers.
All condemned to die.
3 very different deaths.
And in the end, 3 very different resurrections.
Except in rare cases, crucifixion was reserved for those who were not Romans citizens, and most typically for slaves and thieves.
Thus here is Jesus, between these 2.
All disowned, abused, mocked and treated with the utmost contempt.
But something happens which we might not have expected.
It is the exchange between these 3.
An odd exchange since we have no hint they knew each other at all before the tragic events that were their mutual deaths.
But God’s providence rules the events of our lives – those who belong to Christ, and those who do not.
And certainly the steps of the Son of God – seeing that He came to be God’s lamb of atonement for human sin – had been leading up to the Cross since the day He was miraculously conceived.
Matt. 27:44 notes that both of the thieves began to hurl insults at Jesus, even as the crowd around them did.
Maybe they thought joining in would buy them some relief by those who seemed so incensed at Jesus.
These were just common thieves. No one was there to make a big deal out of their crucifixions.
No one posted a charge above their heads like the one above Jesus’ head: “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.”
His humiliation was far greater than theirs.
Priests and Pharisees and Scribes and Sadducees had gathered around to mock and shame this Jesus.
It is often the case with those who are in dire straits, they lash out at others. And in this case, these 2 join in the jeering and mocking of the very Son of God.
Then at some point, the jeering escalates.
We aren’t told why, but one of the thieves takes up the same theme as the Rulers and the Soldiers: If you are the Christ – save yourself! And more – save us too!
And then, again, unexplained, one of the 2 thieves suddenly reverses course and rebukes the one who is excoriating Jesus the worst.
Three condemned men.
But how infinitely different from one another.
Let us note the cross of Jesus 1st – which we might call “The Cross of Redemption.”
We come to Him first because He was the first to die out of the 3, and because the deaths of the other 2 need to be understood in light of His.
This man Jesus, had no sin of His own
He had no guilt of His own
In fact, this man knew He could offer forgiveness to others
And this man proffered that forgiveness
At one point He gasps: “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
Oh, they knew well enough they were murdering an innocent man in His case.
The soldiers knew they were being unmercifully cruel.
The Jewish leaders knew they had Him crucified out of envy – and that He was not guilty of what they had accused Him.
Pilate knew he had condemned an innocent man in order to appease the Jewish leadership and keep from being pitted against Caesar.
These things they all knew full well.
What none of them knew – at least not yet, was that it was the sinless, spotless, holy Son of the Living God they were murdering that day.
They did not know that at that very moment, the one who was giving and sustaining their lives was the One whose life they were taking.
They did not know they were killing the very One they would one day stand before as their Judge and the Judge of all human kind – in the tribunal of perfect holiness.
They did not know how this man looked to His loving Father – even while enduring the wrath of God for the sins of the others (Into your hands, I commend my spirit)
They did not know, the Father’s plan, was to bruise Him for our iniquities
To lay upon His shoulders, the chastisement of our peace
They did not know He was making an atonement for sin, so that guilty sinners might be reconciled to the God who made them in His own image, and whose rule and righteousness they had spurned since birth.
They did not know He was the Savior of the world.
And that He alone could forgive their sins and cleanse them away in the very blood they were spilling.
Jesus’ cross, was indeed, THE CROSS OF REDEMPTION
On one side of the Cross of redemption tho, stood “The Cross of Refusal” – The Cross of the Unrepentant Thief.
This man didn’t care about his own sin – even when confronted with it by his fellow thief: “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.”
Like so many even today, this man didn’t worry about his own guilt
This man didn’t worry about the need for forgiveness
He focused upon another to keep his mind from going there
This man, therefore, didn’t seek forgiveness
This man berated Christ
He remained blind to his desperate need for redemption as he neared his last breath
More – he refused to believe what he heard and saw
And the text would indicate there was no change in him – that he perished in that state
This, was THE CROSS OF REFUSAL
But then, on the other side of Jesus, there is the 3rd cross – we’ll call it – THE CROSS OF REPENTANCE
The Cross of the Repentant Thief.
This man started by berating Christ with the other thief – but turned, repented, and instead of condemning Jesus, now blessed, defended and turned to Him as his needed Savior.
This man knew his sin
This man knew his guilt
This man knew he needed forgiveness
This man sought forgiveness
And he looked to Christ for it
This man got the forgiveness and grace he sought, because of Christ.
This man heard the eternal Son of God promise him: “Truly, I say to you, today, you will be with me in paradise.”
And by God’s grace I can say today this is My cross.
And for all who look to Christ that we might not be judged –
I pray it is your cross too.
But just as there were 3 crosses, and 3 different deaths, so too Scriptures notes there are 3 resurrections. And this being Easter Sunday – Resurrection Day, it is fitting we see the wonder of this spectacle as well as the other.
And so in the same order, we look first at the resurrection of Jesus.
It was only 3 days later.
As we heard in the account read for us, women who had followed Jesus came early in the morning, the 1st day of the week to anoint His body with spices and to honor Him in His death.
But He wasn’t there.
Met by angels who told them He had risen from the dead, they were stunned, confused, amazed, and eventually overcome with the realization that it was true – and over time, what it meant.
For as we read in Scripture – He was raised up to justify those He died to save.
Raised as proof that His sacrifice was received by the Father as sufficient, and the basis upon which salvation and the forgiveness of sins can be preached to the world.
Raised to ascend on high to take His place at the right hand of the Father, far above every power and principality and authority in this age and in the one to come.
Raised to rule and reign over the kingdoms of this world
Raised to one day stand as judge of all the earth
Raised to give forgiveness of sins and new life to all who would put their trust in Him
Raised to intercede for His own in the intervening years
Raised to come again, and establish the fullness of His everlasting Kingdom.
HE IS RISEN!
But the Bible speaks of 2 more resurrections to come as well.
Jesus Himself explained the two to those in His day: John 5:25–29 “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.”
This is the resurrection of the unrepentant thief.
Revelation 20:12–15 “And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”
Can you imagine the experience of the unrepentant thief as his soul too left his body, but descended into Hell.
And there, amid the beginnings of his eternal torments, he witnesses the soul of his departed friend in Paradise, and then that of Jesus, the one he mocked, refused and repudiated, being received into glory at the right hand of God the Father?
Imagine him in that moment knowing that this Jesus would one day return to judge him for his sin.
Can you imagine what will go through his mind on that final judgment day, when he too is raised from the dead, only to be banished from the presence of the Lamb of God for ever and ever?
How he too was on that hill that day, and could have owned his sin – could have taken in the reality of what was happing
Could have cried out for mercy at that very moment that atonement for sin was being made –
But in his pride, and bitterness and spiritual blindness, he mocked and jeered at the one means by which he could find forgiveness and new life, and reconciliation to his God – Jesus the Christ, crucified right there beside him.
Then there is the resurrection of the justified thief.
Revelation 20:6 “Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.”
Can you imagine his experience of dying there, his soul departing to the paradise of those who die in Christ, only to watch from that gloried state as Christ rose from the dead, sealing his redemption and ascending up to His throne!
And how one day then as the Apostle Paul tells us in 1 Cor. 15:51–57 “Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Because Christ is risen, all those that are in Him will be raised too! To everlasting life and glory!
HE IS RISEN!
There were 3 crosses that day
The Cross of Redemption; The Cross of Rejection; the Cross of Repentance
And there are 3 resurrections –
Jesus has already been raised from the dead – and so there will be a resurrection for those in Him – to everlasting glory and one for those who reject Him, to everlasting condemnation.
But you are here today to contemplate those realities not on crosses, but in the comfort of these pews.
And it is the resurrected Jesus who stands with His arms open to receive you – will you come to Him today? HE IS RISEN!