We listen carefully as people speak their final words. Seldom do they speak nonsense if they are in their right minds as death nears. We do well to lean in and listen with special attentiveness. We do so with the final words of Jesus; words that speak life into our soul and not death… hope and not discouragement.
Jesus did not die alone. He was not the first nor the last to suffer the horror of the cross. And when He was crucified, maybe to make a point of associating Jesus with known criminals in His death or maybe just as a matter of Roman efficiency, three men were paraded to Skull Hill to have the death sentence carried out.
Hanging on either side, with Christ in the center, were two men. Some think they were associated with an insurrectionist and Jewish Zealot named Jesus Barabbas. Others believe they were slaves who had committed theft or another crime that would warrant such an end. Perhaps they had killed. Physically they had been scourged just as Jesus had, since it was the plan of the execution squad to hasten death before the Friday evening of Passover began. Always seeking political advantage, Pilate thought it best to give the Jewish leaders what they wanted.
And so the last hours of these men began together. As often men did when the nails first ripped through their flesh as it was pounded into the wood, curses and blasphemies flew at the soldiers, at the watching crowd, at the weeping families, at God. And in this instance, one of them turned to Jesus implying that since He was King of the Jews, He could order them to be taken from the cross. All of this in mocking sarcasm, of course.
But unexpectedly the voice of the man on the other side of Jesus’ cross spoke out in defense of the man in the middle. He asked, “Don’t you fear God? We are getting what we deserve but He has done nothing wrong.” Interesting, isn’t it? Even though His passion was largely wordless, the witness of an innocent life and One who suffered well was enough to bear witness to righteousness. He saw in Jesus an innocent man who would not defend Himself. He saw in Jesus a king.
And then, the question of grace. “Jesus, when you come into your kingdom, remember me?” He had nothing to commend him to be allowed access. He was a condemned criminal! He could make no promises to do better or try harder. He was moments away from his own death. He couldn’t even put on Sunday clothes. He could just look at the Lamb of God and ask… for mercy.
Mercy was exactly what he received. Jesus spoke just four halting words in the original language. “Today… with Me… paradise.” And as with any sinner who will come asking for mercy, asking for pardon, asking for grace… at the word of Jesus he got what he had asked. Entrance to the Kingdom! And a Divine escort as Jesus came home with one more trophy of grace.
A day of horror became a day of honor. A day of ending opened a new beginning. Grace showed up that day on Skull Hill for the sinner who has come to the end of himself… who will cast themselves on the mercy of God… and who will hear the same wonderful words of life.
And when they came to the place which is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on the right and one on the left. Luke 23:33
FOR REFLECTION: What does this word tell you about how deep the grace of God can reach? Do you know someone who needs to know about it?