How appropriate, that at the end of His life, Jesus was placed between two sinners in an eternal reminder, symbolizing the purpose of His life. It is a sad and wasted life, to die in your sin without hope of a promised eternal future in heaven. Through the two criminals on the cross, we see how death exposes the human heart. At the climax of a lifetime’s interaction with sinners, we see Jesus between two criminals. One joins the mockers and dies in his sins. The other admits his guilt, acknowledges Jesus’ majesty and seeks His mercy. Oh, if crosses could talk, there would be many a penitent hearts crying out to God for mercy and forgiveness, don’t you think?
The three crosses of Golgotha’s Hill speaks volumes. They speak of the character, the works of the flesh and what these men really believed to be true. As one of the men ridiculed the Son of God by saying, “If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.” While the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” And Jesus God’s Son full of faith said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”. All three showed what they believed by what they said.
The arrogant loud mouth criminal was a hard core man. He was hell bent and he never looked back, not even in his death. He had lived his life as he wanted and what was left hanging on the cross was a bitter soul, emptied life by this world. His only regret was that he got caught. Jesus had already stated in Matthew’s gospel that what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. As the other criminal rebuked him by saying, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?” No, in fact, he had no fear of God, it was all just a joke to him. This man’s famous last words were filled with cursing and blasphemy as his heart spoke out. He railed on Jesus until the end, dying in his sins.
Perhaps, the other thief, or criminal, had heard of God growing up in temple and his mother or grandmother, possibly both had been praying for him all these years. Maybe, he had even heard Jesus preaching in the towns and fields or by the seashore somewhere. However, he was made aware of Jesus being more than man, it was clear that he did know, the truth. For many years, he did as he pleased enjoying a life of crime. A life of taking what didn’t belong to him. Most criminals will tell you that they once felt bad about their actions, but later lost any remorse that they may have had as they continued to do wrong. However, at some point this man came to his senses and knew as he hang on the cross, that his life had been going in the wrong direction, and he was going to chance seeking God’s forgiveness with all his heart.
At the very end of Jesus’ life, notice He did not say, “I am finished”, but rather, “It is finished”. That was short for, the work that He had prepared for all His life was done, finished, as He hung on the cross for the entire human race. It was His shout of victory over sin, death and hell for all who would claim it as theirs. Only He could do what He did! He even went as far as saying “I have authority to lay it down (His life) and authority to take it up again”. Early in the Gospels you can hear Christ declaring that He set His face steadfastly toward Jerusalem and the cross. His entire life was spent in the shadow of the cross. He was ever eager to go to the cross because apart from that He could not fulfill His divine mission and sweet friend, as the song says, “When He was on the Cross, you were on His mind”!