There were also two others, criminals, led with Him to be put to death. • Luke 23:32 •
Have you ever considered the observations and responses of the criminals crucified on the crosses to the left and right sides of Jesus? In God’s plan of the details of Jesus’s crucifixion, He chose to give two criminals an up-close view of the events of that day. These two men experienced the crucifixion in a personal way, and the responses they had could not have been more different.
Luke 23:32 tells us that these criminals were alongside the innocent Messiah as they were led up to Calvary to the deaths they deserved according to the law.
From Scripture, we know that along the way a great multitude followed Jesus as He walked to Calvary. This multitude was mourning for the man they loved. The man whom they had seen perform miracles—perhaps even on their own family members—and the man whom they expected to be their long-awaited Messiah and Savior by rising to power as an earthly king.
The criminals probably didn’t expect such a crowd on their death walk, and they had to have taken notice of the many onlookers of the event. The two criminals were watching the crowd lamenting and Jesus taking the time to stop and teach. They were there listening to the words Jesus spoke.
And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” • Luke 23:34 •
After the journey up Calvary, the criminals were placed on their crosses beside Jesus. They felt the pain of being on the cross just as Jesus felt the pain. The criminals also heard every word Jesus spoke from the cross. They listened as He spoke words of love and forgiveness of others during His unjustified suffering on the cross. The criminals had to be amazed as they identified with the immense pain of the cross, yet heard Jesus offering forgiveness to His executioners.
Christ was at work that day, not only on the cross, where the sacrifice of Himself would offer forgiveness for all sins for all time, but also in the heart of a criminal.
One criminal began to understand. From the observations he made on the walk with Jesus up to Calvary and through the love and forgiveness Jesus displayed from the cross, he understood the authenticity of Jesus’s message.
Yet the other criminal’s heart remained hardened.
Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, “If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.”
But 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 said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” • Luke 23:39-43 •
On this day, a criminal was able to recognize that Christ’s kingdom was not of this world; he was able to understand his need for Christ—and he was one of the first to enter paradise through the shed blood of Jesus Christ.
The choices are evident as we see the hearts and responses of the criminals on the crosses beside Christ: We can blaspheme the work of Christ on the cross by rejecting and mocking Him, or we can in fear and humility recognize our sinful state next to the holy state of Jesus and ask Him to remember us in His kingdom.
Jesus was on the cross for the criminals and sinners—for us. As we consider the cross and the resurrection this Easter, how will we respond to Christ?
Lord, help us to take the time to observe and listen to Your Word this Easter. Like the criminal who asked to be with you in Paradise, in humility let me recognize Your holiness and my need for You.