In chapel services here at COP Apache, I am preaching through the Gospel of Luke. Last night we were on chapter 23 and I was fascinated by the contrast that the story shows between the attitudes of the two criminals crucified on either side of Jesus. One guy was hateful. The text says in verse 39,
"One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: "Aren't you the Christ? Save yourself and us!" (NIV)
Now, to the sarcastic unbeliever, this may not sound as if this man is being that hateful, after all, he's just going along with the crowd (see preceding verses 35-37). And this crowd was only repeating what Jesus had already claimed: that He was the Christ of God, the Messiah, the King of the Jews. What a great opportunity for Jesus to prove His power! Come off the cross and spare us the death! But that is hateful thinking. For the power to cheat death is vastly inferior in comparison with the power to conquer death. Jesus remained on the cross and remained true to His mission. His conquering death, though not immediate, was, indeed, a most powerful expression of his power.
The hateful criminal had no genuine trust or belief in Jesus or in His power. His state of unbelief meant that he had no desire for confession, no desire for repentance and no hope for the future. Judgement was his only inheritance.
In contrast to the hateful, the other criminal was grateful. Verse 40-42, "But the other criminal rebuked him.
"Don't you fear God," he said, "since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong." Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."
This second criminal began to trust and believe in Jesus and his message. This belief lead to a confession, which lead to his repentance, which gave him a hope for the future. In reply to his conversion, verse 43, "Jesus answered him, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise."
When it comes to Jesus who is the Christ, the Messiah, and King of the Jews, and His power, on which side are you--grateful or hateful?