UNSUNG HEROES

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  The Criminal On The Cross  
 
 

Luke 23:26-43
26 As they led him away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus.
27 A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him.
28 Jesus turned and said to them, "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children.
29 For the time will come when you will say, 'Blessed are the barren women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!'
30 Then "'they will say to the mountains, "Fall on us!" and to the hills, "Cover us!"'
31 For if men do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?"
32 Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed.
33 When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals--one on his right, the other on his left.
34 Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.
35 The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, "He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One."
36 The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar
37 and said, "If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself."
38 There was a written notice above him, which read: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.
39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: "Aren't you the Christ? Save yourself and us!"
40 But the other criminal rebuked him. "Don't you fear God," he said, "since you are under the same sentence?
41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong."
42 Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."
43 Jesus answered him, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise."


He was an unnamed character, a criminal, but one who makes us look deep into our hearts.

The three of them were publicly paraded, carrying the cross on their backs, with a description of their crimes displayed, as a warning to all others what happens to those who live like them!

As they all hung on their crosses, his attention was caught up by this man named Jesus, who had healed the blind, the lepers, and the lame, stopped the storm, and even brought the dead back to life! But now he was nailed and hanging on the cross, fighting for every breath just as helpless as he himself was!

As he listened to the crowds jeering, challenging this man to bring down Elijah, to get down from the cross, prove indeed he is God, he too resented him and sneered at him.....He could have surely averted the horror of their death by crucifixion by doing a miracle for him and his other friend as well! He could have brought down lightning on his tormentors, or let an earthquake set them free?!! Did he somehow lose his super powers?!

Then the possibility that he, " The King of Jews", actually would have chosen to die this death struck his heart.

Then he heard him saying " Father forgive them, for they know not what they do" ! He became convinced that if he is able to forgive and pray for those who were tormenting and murdering him, he is God!

His face was distorted, bruised and bleeding, eyes torn in pain yet so filled with compassion. The criminal's heart melted, struck with remorse. This innocent man's ability to love his torturers convicted him. His mind flooded with the horrors of his own sinfulness, his selfishness, his disregard for God or man, unsatisfying desire for power, his numerous cruelties,...That face reminded him of all the faces that had hurt, all the eyes that had cried, all the hearts that had broken because of his own atrocities. This man, choosing to be broken on the cross, actually brought healing to the broken hearted.. .. He recalled how he forgave, showed compassion, and transformed the lives of the sinful woman, the woman caught in adultery, Zacchaeus, sinners and tax collectors....He desired that 2nd chance from Jesus too. His tears of remorse, flowed down for his own wasted life, mixed with the fear of death and eternal fire of Hell.

Suddenly the other criminal loudly insulted Jesus. Immediately, he rebuked him indignantly for not fearing God. He humbly begged Jesus to remember him when he came into his kingdom. Those words reflected the changed heart within him.

Now he cried in unbelievable joy and gratitude as he received Jesus' promise to take him to paradise, experiencing divine forgiveness and amazing grace!

We know that this criminal also joined In reviling Jesus at first (Mt27:39-44, Mk15:32)

All he was selfishly concerned was how the situation could be turned to his advantage, not understanding or caring about the salvation of the whole world.

Do we blaspheme God when things do not go according to our way, or our prayers are not answered! Do we revile God in our response to those "bad situations" in life? Do we complain, grumble, and question God?

But the admirable thing about this criminal is that at the cross, he repented.

Are we convicted by the cross daily? Is the cross the centre of our daily life or is it reserved for communion time on Sundays?

As in 2 Cor 5:14-15 are we daily compelled to deny ourselves, walk the extra mile, sacrifice our energy, resources,and time by the cross of Jesus?

This criminal later took responsibility for his sins, and accepted the just judgement. Do we take responsibility for our sins, short comings and mistakes? Or do we blame others, justify & fight to prove ourselves, instead of accepting and confessing our sin?

I have many times refused to accept my mistakes, argued and defended myself instead of accepting or initiating to apologise with my husband and my children.

Another great thing about this criminal is that he spoke up boldly the truth about Christ, and rebuked his friend for not fearing God. He spoke up despite pain, death, or crowds jeering. Do we speak up the truth? Do we share our faith boldly, despite the repercussions? Or do we fear being rejected or being different? Does tiredness, sickness or discomfort stop us from sharing our faith? Are we convinced that nothing can stop us from sharing our life and the Word?

The penitent criminal showed a contrite and humble heart and accepted the grace that Christ offered him, at the very last moment of his life. Do we still hold back from accepting this grace? Do we live in guilt, shame and fear, not forgiving ourselves? Do we feel compelled to "do enough good deeds" to somehow earn forgiveness? Do we freely offer others the grace that is offered to us?

Application:
1. Write down if you have any grudges towards God, or if you resent Him for any reason. Meditate and pray through scriptures, and get help for your heart.
2. List down how you can be more like Christ in your daily living because of the cross. Identify your sins you have not taken responsibility for. Confess, and apologise to the concerned people.
3. Today pray and share your faith boldly with someone you have always held back from sharing, or radically share the truth of God's word to someone.
4. If you have not accepted God's grace and struggle with guilt about yourself, decide to open up and get help. If you are holding back from forgiving someone, get help to resolve your relationship.