“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
fTo add insult to injury Jesus hung on a cross between two thieves, one cold-hearted and insolent, the other soft-hearted and repentant.
1) Counted Among Criminals
Despite being infinitely higher and wholly other, he submitted to death, even death on a criminals cross (Philippians 2). This is how far he was willing to stoop down in order to bring us up.
One of the criminals next to Jesus fits the stereotype by being unapologetic and abusive to the very end.
The other criminal next to Jesus has a hear-breaking and life-giving revelation: that he was getting exactly what he deserved while the blameless Messiah-King was unjustly hanging next to him. All he could do was plead for mercy: “remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
We often find ourselves in each of these two criminals. There are certainly times in our arrogance that we don’t take seriously our crimes against a Holy God, while other times we fall on our faces in desperation, only to be met with mercy.
4) Freedom Promised
There was nothing this repentant criminal could do to earn God’s favor. He could make no promises and prove in any way the level of his repentance. All he could do was bring exactly what we are all called to bring: the confession of our need and confession of Jesus’ greatness. And to this confession Jesus, speaking out of his authoritative Kingship, declares that this man who was about to die was actually being born again; that his eternal home, Paradise itself, has been set and prepared, ready for this beaten and broken man. Even more, that Jesus himself was in the final process of conquoring sin and the grave so that, because of his victory, he would personally welcome and dwell with all of us broken criminals for eternity.