An Intimate Gospel: A dying man’s hopelessness

39One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43And he said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” – Luke 23:39-43

I am reminded and have always been struck by how personal and intimate the gospel is in this passage. There is sometimes the tendency to lay the gospel out only in general terms leaving out the beauty of its focus on the individual. Imagine your last moments on earth in total acknowledgement of your sin and in agreement with the punishment that has been sentenced to you and you hear an unexpectedly and agonizingly sweet answer, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Criminal #1:
· Selfish (v.39)
· May have recognized his sin but did not want to pay his penalty.
· Prideful – Did not fear God and may not have realized he was under the same condemnation.
· May have been mocking Jesus. – “Are you not the Christ?” (v.39)

Criminal #2:
· Acknowledged sin – “…under the same sentence of condemnation” (v.40b)
· Recognized Jesus as he really was, namely innocent and God. – “..this man has done nothing wrong.”
· Willing to face eternal judgment – “Jesus, remember me…” may have been implying that he was not going to be going where Jesus was going therefore may have expected something that was not of joy.
· Hopeless – He only asked that Jesus remember him and not rescue him.
· Feared God (v.40a)
· Humble – “…we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds” (v. 41)
· He knew that there was more than an earthly life – “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Jesus Christ:
· Bore the wrath of God – He suffered the “same sentence of condemnation” (v.40b)
· Willingly took the place of sinners – (v.40b)
· Suffered and died as a sinner
· Showed compassion, grace, and mercy to undeserved men — “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (v.43)
· Gave hope to man
· Displayed the grace of God by showing that there is nothing that man can do to merit his way into the kingdom. We don’t know whether criminal #2 was in outright defiance towards God until now or whether he struggled to believe. Regardless we can say that he was deserving of his punishment based on his statement in verses 40 and 41 yet in his last moments Jesus showed him grace.
· Gives grace just at the right time.
· Grants hope filled unexpected answers. – (vv.42-43)

What you have in this passage is the process of the imputation of Christ, justification, propitiation, and expiation flowed through forgiveness, mercy, compassion, hope, grace, relief, joy, love, identity, peace, and salvation all while criminal #2 and Jesus were hanging on the cross. It is the “great exchange” during this moment of history. As believers we are not far off from criminal #2.

6For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—8but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10or if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, Much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. –Romans 5:6-10

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