Luke 22: 14-23:56
Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying,
“Are you not the Christ?
Save yourself and us.”
The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply,
“Have you no fear of God,
for you are subject to the same condemnation?
And indeed, we have been condemned justly,
for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes,
but this man has done nothing criminal.”
Then he said,
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
He replied to him,
“Amen, I say to you,
today you will be with me in Paradise.”
On Palm Sunday we read about Jesus’ Passion and Crucifixion. The part that spoke most to me this time is when Jesus is on the cross with someone on his right and someone on his left. I’ve always thought of these two as “the good one” and “the bad one”. I think I’ve always approached the “good one” as the convert there just meant to be an example to us – so that we can be reminded that Jesus died for us despite his perfectness; that he died to save us despite the fact we aren’t perfect.
Usually I am so distracted by the fact Jesus is there hanging and dying that I haven’t thought much of the men beside him — other than one is good, one is bad — and the good one helps gives us two oft-cited verses: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And “Today you will be with me in paradise.” But for the first time I thought more about this man who was “the good one” and just how incredible this scene really is.
The man hanging there is clearly a sinner. He acknowledges this to himself, to the other criminal hanging, to the crowd, and to Jesus. He knows that what he has done is wrong and so he is being righteously punished. But while he is hanging there no one is there telling him who Jesus is. In fact, everyone there is saying that Jesus is really the opposite of who he claims to be. So the fact that this man defends Jesus when no one else does means three things:
(1) This sinner was aware of Jesus before the Passion and Crucifixion. He must be well-aware of the things that Jesus has done. He knows that “this man has done nothing criminal”.
(2) The sinner believes in Jesus and in what Jesus is saying — He recognizes Jesus for who Jesus is.
(3) Even though he knew Jesus’ message he failed to live it out. Despite knowing that Jesus came to “call sinners, not the righteous” and that Jesus wanted him to lead a better life he (the sinner) still remained a sinner to the point of his (the sinner’s) death.
But it also means a fourth thing: (4) That the sinner, despite knowing he failed and was flawed, felt sorrowful. He recognized the mercy God grants to those who seek repentance and he sought that reconciliation. Despite being in the midst of dying it was not too late for him to be saved. And he wasn’t just saying this in the off chance that this guy beside him was the Son of God — He already knew it by what he said in defense of Jesus!
This “good one” is a good example of God’s mercy and love. There is nothing you can do to make God love you less. He doesn’t want you to sin, but if you come to Him with true remorse He will know what is in your heart and He will forgive you no matter what it is you have done. But “the bad one” is a good example of our failed humanness and what happens if we deny acceptance of God and His mercy. If you cannot accept that God will continue to love you even though you may have failed in various ways and if you do not turn to God and seek redemption then it is you who condemns yourself. You are the one who chooses.
The “good one” shows us that if it takes us even to our final breath to recognize God God will welcome us to Him. God is love.