Faces Around the Cross – #3 – The Two Thieves

Read LUKE 23:32-43

          An old preacher was dying. He sent a message for his banker and his lawyer, both church members, to come to his home.           When they arrived, they were ushered up to his bedroom. As they entered the room, the preacher held out his hands and motioned for them to sit on each side of the bed. The preacher grasped their hands, sighed contentedly, smiled, and stared at the ceiling.

          For a time, no one said anything. Both the banker and lawyer were touched and flattered that the preacher would ask them to be with him during his final moments. They were also puzzled; the preacher had never given them any indication that he particularly liked either of them. They both remembered his many long, uncomfortable sermons on greed, covetousness, and materialism that made them squirm in their seats.          

          Finally, his curiosity got the better of him and the banker said, “Preacher, why did you ask us to come?”

          The old preacher mustered up his strength and then said weakly, “Jesus died between two thieves, and that’s how I want to go.”

<Retrieved from http://www.christian-jokes.net/Jokes/Pastor-and-Priest-Jokes/137-Jesus-died-between-two-thieves.aspx on 3/21/14.>

          Not all of the faces around the cross were those of spectators.  Two of the faces were distorted in the worst pain imaginable.  Those two faces belonged to the men crucified at Jesus’ right and left hands.

Where was Golgotha located?

          The place is variously named, but it is translated as “THE SKULL.”  “Golgotha” is the Aramaic word.  “Calvaria” is the Latin word from which we get our English word, “Calvary.”  This should not be confused with a set of soldiers who ride horses, but it often is. Why was this place thus named?  Perhaps it protruded from the ground in such a way that it looked as if a skull had been set down there.

          There are at least two shrines that vie for attention as the site of the crucifixion, but when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in 72 AD, the landscape was so altered that identifying a definitive location is impossible. We do know, however, that the Romans preferred to stage these executions beside a road so that all the travelers would see the warning; “Don’t mess with Rome.”  For this reason, bodies would be left on crosses until they rotted and fell down.

Who were these men?

          Their criminal status fulfills predictions by both the Old Testament prophet Isaiah & Jesus Himself that He would be NUMBERED AMONG THE TRANSGRESSORS.

          Isaiah 53:12 = THEREFORE I WILL GIVE HIM A PORTION AMONG THE GREAT, AND HE WILL DIVIDE THE SPOILS WITH THE STRONG, BECAUSE HE POURED OUT HIS LIFE UNTO DEATH, AND WAS NUMBERED WITH THE TRANSGRESSORS.  FOR HE BORE THE SIN OF MANY, AND MADE INTERCESSION FOR THE TRANSGRESSORS.

          Luke 22:37 = [Jesus said] “IT IS WRITTEN; ‘AND HE WAS NUMBERED WITH THE TRANSGRESSORS’; AND I TELL YOU THAT THIS MUST BE FULFILLED IN ME.  YES, WHAT IS WRITTEN ABOUT ME IS REACHING ITS FULFILLMENT.”

          You may not be surprised to hear that the Greek word for thief is “klepto.”  However, this word was also used for “rebel,” so these men may have been revolutionaries.  Either way, they broke the laws of Imperial Rome and paid the ultimate price.

What did they do to deserve death?

          The Roman Empire succeeded in conquering most of the ancient world by their cruelty and efficiency.  Crucifixion is one example of this.  Lots of offenses were punishable by death, but only people who were not Roman citizens, who were rebels, slaves, or low-class thieves would be executed by crucifixion.

Why did the thieves have such different reactions to Jesus?

          Both Matthew and Mark attest that both the thieves mocked Jesus at the beginning.  When we harmonize the with Luke, we see that after spending several hours on the cross, one of them had a change of heart.  He turned to Jesus to live.

          Their differing reactions flow from their differing characters. One thief betrayed his lack of character when he joined the Jewish clergy and their crowd by hurling INSULTS at Jesus.  The word INSULTS implies blasphemy as does the other thief’s rebuke; “DON’T YOU FEAR GOD?” Blasphemy is a sin; it is saying untrue and slanderous things about God.  The first thief had clearly decided Jesus has nothing to offer him.

          The other thief’s character is revealed in two further statements.  “WE ARE PUNISHED JUSTLY… BUT THIS MAN HAS DONE NOTHING WRONG.” Demonstrates a sense of justice and responsibility.

          “JESUS, REMEMBER ME WHEN YOU COME INTO YOUR KINGDOM.” Remember, the sign above Jesus’ head listed the charge against him (v. 38).  Pilate recorded the charge as Jesus being “King of the Jews.” This man had faith enough to accept that as the truth; he connected Jesus to the charge and had faith enough to accept it as the truth.

How was Jesus’ promise fulfilled?

          PARADISE refers to the true home of the righteous.  PARADISE is a Persian term for a walled garden.  Those who found approval in the king’s eye were invited to walk with him in his walled garden.

          In the Old Testament, this word refers to the garden of Eden.  See Isaiah 51:3 and Ezekiel 28:13: 31:8 as examples.)

          In the New Testament, this word refers to heaven.  In 2 Corinthians 12:4, Paul wrote about his experience of being caught up to PARADISE, which he also identified as THE THIRD HEAVEN.  In Revelation 2:7 John’s vision located the TREE OF LIFE as being is in the PARADISE OF GOD.

          Jesus is promising a lot more than a place in an earthly kingdom – and sooner than he expected!  Jesus underscored the seriousness of His reply when He began, “I TELL YOU THE TRUTH.”  Jesus emphasized the immediacy of His promise when He continued, “TODAY YOU WILL BE WITH ME IN PARADISE.”

          Darrell L. Bock wrote, “This man has gone from guilty to gifted by his coming to Jesus.” (BOCK, p. 598)

When are you going to join Jesus in paradise?

          The repentant thief is an example to us of the truth of the proverb, “Where there is life, there is hope.”  He shows us that it is not too late to have faith in Jesus.

          What’s certain is that we will all stand before Jesus at the moment of His Second Coming.  Those who trust in Jesus Christ as Savior will, like the second thief, be raised to eternal life in paradise.

 

            There was a man whose name was Edwin Thomas, a master of the stage during the latter half of the 1800’s. This small man with a huge voice had few rivals. Debuting in Richard lll at the age of fifteen, he found success with his ability to act out the great dramas of Shakespeare. In New York City, for one hundred consecutive nights he performed Hamlet and even in London where the tough British critics lived, he found favor.

          Edwin Thomas was not alone for he had two brothers, John and Junius. They too, were actors, although they were not nearly as gifted as was Edwin. In 1863, the three brothers performed together in Julius Caesar (PP-4). The fact that Edwin’s brother took the role of Brutus was almost an eerie foreboding of what was to occur in just two years.

          One little decision would not only affect the brothers but an entire nation. Brother John who played the assassin in Julius Caesar played the role of assassin again in Ford’s Theatre. On a dark April night in 1865 John walked into the theater and fired a bullet at the head of Abraham Lincoln. The last name of the three brothers was Booth—Edwin Thomas, Junius, and John Wilkes Booth.

          That night would mark Edwin forever. The shame from his brother’s crime drove him into early retirement. He might have never returned to the stage had it not been for a twist of fate at a New Jersey train station.

          Edwin was awaiting his coach when a well-dressed young man, pressed by the crowd, lost his footing and fell between the platform and the moving train. Without hesitation, Edwin locked a leg around the railing, grabbed the man, and pulled him to safety.

          After this sudden adventure, the young man recognized the famous Edwin Booth. Edwin, however, did not recognize the young man whom he had rescued. That knowledge would come to him a few weeks later in a letter, a letter that he would carry in his pocket to his grave.

          The letter came from General Adams Budeau, chief secretary to General Ulysess S. Grant. Budeau wrote to thank Edwin Booth for saving the life of the child of an American hero, Abraham Lincoln. The young man was none other than Robert Todd Lincoln.

          How ironic that while one brother killed the president, the other brother saved the president’s son. (Adapted from Paul Aurandt, Paul Harvey’s The Rest of the Story and Max Lucado, He Chose the Nails) (This story is true:

http://www.disarranging.com/review/archives/001252.php) <Retrieved from

http://www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/two-brothers-two-crosses-and-two-choices-philip-harrelson-sermon-on-cross-83651.asp?Page=1 on 3/24/14.>

          The testimony of the faces of the men on the cross is this; choices bear consequences.  One man chose hatred.  He blasphemed Jesus and simply died that day.  The other man chose faith.  He believed on Jesus and was rewarded with a place in paradise.

          What will you choose?

 

          The NIV Application Commentary, Darrell L. Bock, Zondervan, 1996.

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