Eyes on the Cross: The Criminal Hanging Next to Jesus

Then they crucified Him and divided His clothes, casting lots for them to decide what each would get. Now it was nine in the morning when they crucified Him. The inscription of the charge written against Him was:  THE KING OF THE JEWS.

They crucified two criminals with Him, one on His right and one on His left. [So the Scripture was fulfilled that says: And He was counted among outlaws.]  Those who passed by were yelling insults at Him, shaking their heads,and saying, “Ha! The One who would demolish the sanctuary and build it in three days, save Yourself by coming down from the cross!” In the same way, the chief priests with the scribes were mocking Him to one another and saying, “He saved others; He cannot save Himself! Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross, so that we may see and believe.” Even those who were crucified with Him were taunting Him.

– Mark 15:24-32

Then one of the criminals hanging there began to yell insults at Him: “Aren’t You the Messiah? Save Yourself and us!”But the other answered, rebuking him: “Don’t you even fear God, since you are undergoing the same punishment? We are punished justly, because we’re getting back what we deserve for the things we did, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom!”

And He said to him, “I assure you: Today you will be with Me in paradise.”

– Luke 23:39-43

As Jesus is crucified and now hanging on the cross between two criminals, everyone begins to mock Him. Everyone joins in cursing Him. They throw Jesus’ words in His face. Even one of the criminals crucified beside Jesus taunts Him.

Only one person is recorded close by the cross who speaks up for Jesus, one of the people hanging beside Him. Through his own excruciating pain, he sees Jesus suffering, too. From his vantage point, he views the hate surrounding them, zeroed in on Jesus. The sign above Jesus declares His royalty, yet He is now exposed and rejected by the world. Then the criminal also hears Jesus call out to God, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” While struggling to breathe on the cross, the man sees hope.

All of the people around Jesus were guilty (whether they were on a cross or not), but it was the one crucified and actively paying for his sins who realizes that he ultimately needs God’s forgiveness. This criminal turns to God’s Son and admits that he deserves what is happening to him, but Jesus does not. This dying man admits his guilt, and asks Jesus to remember him.

1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

This criminal facing death is made new, right there. Jesus forgives this broken man as He pays for his sin. Jesus assures him that very day he will be with Jesus in heaven.

The criminal’s salvation doesn’t stop his pain or crucifixion, the earthly consequences of his sin. He still has to suffer and die. But, he will go through his darkest hours, and into eternity, with Jesus literally by his side.

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