Hope for the Hopeless
Bible Reading: Luke 23:32-43
The sign said, “Jesus the Nazarene, the King of the Jews.” It was posted on the cross above Jesus’ head and was written in three languages—Hebrew, Latin and Greek. “Many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city” (John 19:20). The religious leaders had argued that Pilate should write instead, “This man said, I am King of the Jews,” but Pilate refused to alter what he had written (John 19:21-22). The sign thus bore testimony to the truth of Jesus’ identity.
The two thieves saw the sign. They were crucified with Jesus, “one on his right and one on his left” (Luke 22:33). It was not by accident they shared in His plight. It was prophesied of Jesus that “he was numbered with the transgressors” (Luke 22:37). Jesus, the Divine and sinless Son of God, was crucified “between” two common criminals (John 19:18). They would both serve, by their varied responses, to illustrate the two disparaged destinies of the believing and unbelieving.
They were both mocking Jesus. They enjoined themselves to the religious leaders, soldiers and ‘passersby’ in their blasphemous choir of insults (Matthew 27:29, 39). The religious leaders mocked Him, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down 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” (Matthew 27:42-44).
Both robbers saw the same things. They both beheld the bitter abuse directed at Jesus. Both heard Him utter those surprising words, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 22:34). Both read the sign above His head which testified to the truth of Jesus’ identity. Both were privileged to behold the Savior fulfilling the redemptive work that He had come to do.
Both saw the same things, yet the heart of one criminal was changed. “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” (Luke 23:39-41). The robber came to understand the truth about Jesus and himself. He knew himself to be a sinner. He saw something different in Jesus and perceived Him to be an innocent man. How precious the Spirit of God’s conviction whereby he opens eyes to truth! He works to both reveal our need and the God-provided remedy in Jesus whereby we can be delivered from it (John 16:8-11).
With believing eyes, the one robber said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42). Simply put, the thief believed the truth declared by the sign above Jesus’ head. He is the King of the Jews. He is the Son of God. Skeptics see no beauty in the cross. They fail to comprehend the wondrous truth of which it speaks. The Son of God purposed to die for lost sinners. The King stepped down from heaven’s glory to mediate our salvation! The cross is “a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles,” but to those who are called it speaks to “the power of God and wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:23; Galatians 6:14).
Salvation was promised to the believing thief (Luke 23:43). He was granted mercy and forgiveness through no meritorious act of his own. He trusted in Jesus and was saved by grace (Ephesians 2:8-9). The crosses and the sign at Calvary have long since rotted away, yet the truth revealed on that day still stands. “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15). He alone can save (John 14:6; Acts 4:12).
“All men have no choice but to fall in behind one thief or the other. ‘Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him’ (John 3:36). The sign cries out ‘BELIEVE!’ Some do and some don’t. On which side of the cross do YOU stand (1 John 5:11-12; 2 Thessalonians 1:8-10)?”
WHEN I SURVEY THE WONDROUS CROSS
When I survey the wondrous cross
on which the Prince of glory died,
my richest gain I count but loss,
and pour contempt on all my pride.
Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast
save in the death of Christ, my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them through his blood.
See, from his head, his hands, his feet,
sorrow and love flow mingled down.
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
or thorns compose so rich a crown?
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
that were a present far too small.
Love so amazing, so divine,
demands my soul, my life, my all.