On the road to Easter - part 4
32Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. 33When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. 34Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.35The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.”36The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar 37and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”
And there he was. Between two criminals. Taunted and laughed at. Yet he offers forgiveness "for they do not know what they are doing". They had no idea that they were crucifying the author of life, the Messiah, the King and Saviour.
At a Roman crucifixion, a capital punishment reserved for the worst criminals, they sometimes wrote the charges against the criminal on a notice over the cross. In the case of Jesus, the words of the offence were actually his title. Not only were they the charges against him, but they were his true identity:
38There was a written notice above him, which read: this is the king of the jews.
What was meant as a taunt actually portrayed the truth. What was meant as a joke was a clear statement of Jesus' identity. This man, hanging between two criminals, was the King. And the criminals either side argue...
39One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”40But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”42Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”43Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
What the criminals offer us are the two responses possible for us humans:
Either Jesus is the King, or he is not.
Either Jesus can save us, or he cannot.
And either we will be with him in paradise, or we will not.
However, I think the verse that grabs me the most over Easter is this one:
"We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
This is exactly the purpose and meaning of the cross as we celebrate Easter - Jesus getting what he doesn't deserve, so we can escape the punishment we do deserve. In other words, on the cross, Jesus gets what we deserve.
This is the nature of what we call "substitutionary atonement". It's a fancy phrase that simply means Jesus is our substitute, so we can be "at one" (atoned) with God.
He took our punishment. He took our place. He got what OUR deeds deserved. He was our substitute so we can be at one with God. Sins paid for. Debt cancelled. Undeserved.
That is Grace.
Heavenly Father, please help us to reflect deeply this Easter on what it means to have our sins forgiven by you. Help us to be more and more thankful for what you have done for us, even when we did not deserve anything at all. Thank you for taking the punishment we deserved, so that we may be in paradise with you. Amen.