The Condemned Men
Two men hung alongside Jesus on this day. Condemned men. Given the practice of the Roman Empire, they were not surprised to be there. They both well knew the price of breaking the absolute law of Rome. And the price for their crimes would be extracted from their flesh.
They were dying. Perhaps their souls drew back at the sight of the execution party awaiting their arrival at Golgotha hill. But within moments of their brutal but scientific placement on the Roman’s cross, both were begging for sweet death to take them.
Life was ebbing away. One of the thieves, we are told, took up the taunting and cursing the crowd was directing toward Jesus. Maybe he was relieved that the attention of the cruel crowd was turned somewhere but at him for a moment.
What makes the scene bizarre is the fact that none of the three men hanging there as the Palestinian sun burned through the sky could breathe or speak without great eﬀort. Surely he knew that only a few words were left to escape his mouth before death snuﬀed them out. And yet, he chose to curse. And to taunt. Peer pressure? Perhaps. Desperation for the claims of Jesus as the son of God to be true? “If you’re God’s Son, prove it! Prove it now!”
But hardly belief, or saving faith in Jesus. Just guttural, desperate and profane words coming as quickly as he could draw his breath.
Jesus never responded. Never answered. Never defended Himself. “As a lamb before its shearers is silent….” He heard the man. He heard his words. But no reply was coming. Only death for this man.
On the other side, however, was a conversation that caught Jesus’ attention. A man in the same spot… the same desperation… the same death sentence… spoke to the other man, defending Jesus. “Can’t you see this man has done no wrong?”
And then, the sweetest words Jesus could have heard that day on Calvary’s hill: “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” I don’t know what the man had seen of Jesus; maybe he had watched Him do miracles on the street. Maybe he simply observed the way Jesus suﬀered. Sometimes, this is our greatest witness to the reality of God.
“Remember me….” No theological proclamation about Christology or soteriology or theory of atonement. Jesus, remember me.
And it was enough. Jesus responded with four words in Aramaic: “Today… with me… paradise.” With that the nameless thief continued the hard work of dying crucified. But now he turned to the task, not in despair but with hope.
And with the salvation of this nameless, former thief, the first victory of Calvary was…
“The dying thief rejoiced to see That fountain in his day;
And there may I, though vile as he, Wash all my sins away.”
“There is a Fountain”