There is a point at which we receive a revelation. It can come at any age and it is a moment in time when we are given insight and conviction. For years, as simple church-goers, we believed in the cross, in the conviction of the sinful, and the salvation of the repentant. If you were reasonably good, you were reasonably saved. If you were only a bit naughty, you were reasonably redeemed. There were, of course, really bad people who were beyond redemption.
Then one day, truth dawned but let me take it step by step.
We see three men on three crosses. The middle one is Jesus and on either side of him is a criminal but please note that these three men had each been brought up in homes of worshippers. They were Jews so it is reasonable to assume that each one had been brought up in the faith of their parents and each one had been home-schooled as was the law of their nation. None was illiterate, ignorant, or untaught. It is not impossible that each one had done service in the ministry. Each one on those crosses was in indiscribable agony, two were cursing and swearing, desribed as malefactors, and we would have believed them to be beyond redemption. Only one was realising the horror of being rejected by God.
Yet Jesus had an escape from the horror of dying on a Cross. He did not have to stay there. He was being rejected by his Father only because he represented sinful mankind but not because he had any sin of his own. If he chose to, he could claim his divinity, reject mankind and go home in glory. Yet onlookers even scorned him and taunted him saying ‘If thou be the king of the Jews, save thyself.’
What a temptation! He could have proved them right. He could have saved himself, but it also meant that he had greater pain than the other two put together because they had no choice, they had to stay. But he did not have to stay, he had a choice to make and keep.
He even cried out “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). Foresaken by God…at such a time…why indeed!
When in the simplicity of my understanding, I realized some of the meaning of the three crosses, I realized that I identify with one or the other of the two malefactors. Why? Because they represented the whole of mankind and that includes me. I had begun to understand that these two malefactors represent the nearly good, the nearly bad, the very best and the very worst of us. We justify ourselves and pretend there is goodness in us. We forget that we are all the same as the malefactors on the crosses– we are sinners. At least they were honest with themselves, and one even said “we indeed suffer justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds.” (Luke 23:41)
So would I curse and swear and blame everybody but me for my sinfulness as they did? Or would I be like the one who turned to Jesus and said, “Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom” (Luke 23:42)?
I am beginning to truly appreciate this fellow. Of all the biblical characters, I relate to him the most clearly. Humbly, I searched my heart and said in prayer, “Please Lord, let me take the hand of the malefactor who came to you and please take me home with my brother.”