32 Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. 33 And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. 35 And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine 37and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”
39One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
(Luke 11:1–4 ESV)
I wish I were perfect. But I’m not. Ask my wife and kids if you don’t believe me! Like all human beings I come flawed in ways large and small. The apostle Paul states this truth as follows, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Life exempts no human being from sin’s impact. It mars us all.
For this reason, human repentance serves as the necessary requirement for entering into a relationship with God. We have to turn from our selfish manner of life to follow Jesus. To put it another way, we cannot clean up our act sufficiently to become acceptable to God on our own. If we’re human, we won’t be perfect.
Today’s passage contains one of the most memorable episodes in the story of Jesus’ crucifixion. Jesus had been viciously beaten and mocked by Roman soldiers. Ironically, the soldiers mocked Jesus by calling him “King of the Jews” and “the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” Against all appearances, that is precisely who he is. Jesus demonstrated his kingship by dying on behalf of others.
In the midst of this chaotic scene, we learn two other people had been crucified alongside Jesus. Luke names neither man; nor are we told the specific nature of their crime. We are only told they were criminals. One man joined in with the mockers of Jesus. He shouted to Jesus, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” In response, the other criminal rebuked the first. He acknowledged that they each deserved their punishment. But Jesus is innocent. He then turned to Jesus and requested, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (v. 42).
The second criminal, on a cross next to Jesus of all places, recognized the truth of who Jesus is. As part of that recognition, we hear overtones of repentance in his request for Jesus to remember him. At that late moment, after hours of torture at the hands of the Roman soldiers, this man recognized the true King in the defining act of his kingship.
Jesus’ response grabs our attention. He acknowledged the man’s faith, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Jesus freely welcomed a crucified criminal as one of his own.
The remarkable truth on display in this episode lay in Jesus’ willingness to accept even a crucified man. Crucifixion not only inflicted unimaginable pain. According to ancient sources, nothing was more degrading and humiliating than to be fixed to a cross to die. But as with other outcasts, Jesus didn’t hesitate. Even crucified criminals who turn to him found welcome.
The point of this passage is that it’s never too late to turn to God. Nothing will stay in your way. If God could accept a criminal on the cross, God can readily accept us whatever our imperfections or wrongdoing.
Questions for Reflection
- Do you ever doubt God loves and accepts you? Why is that so?
- What is one area of your life that you can totally commit to God today?
Jesus sums up the entire biblical message as follows: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27 NRSV). But what does that love look like where we live? Where we work? With the people we do life with everyday?
In answer to such questions, Jim Miller draws practical lessons from Luke’s Gospel in order to help us live a life modeled after the example of Jesus Christ. This involves his pattern of prayer, relating to others, establishing holy priorities, and a host of day-to-day issues that together establish what Jesus himself called the abundant life. Get the Bible study from our store here.