Good Friday

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One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: ‘Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’ 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.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.’  Luke 23:39-43

This small section of the crucifixion narrative is only found in Luke. In the other gospels, the two criminals crucified with Jesus are mentioned, but only Luke includes this brief exchange between Jesus and one of the criminals. This is a moment of unexpected hope and beauty in the midst of the horror of that day.

Even in his state of utter humiliation and suffering on the cross, there was still something about Jesus that made an impact on the wretched man hanging next to him. We don’t know anything about this man – who he was, or what he had done to deserve execution. We don’t know whether he’d ever encoutered Jesus before that day. But somehow, during the agony of those hours on the cross, he becomes convinced that Jesus really is the King of the Jews, the King of Heaven, the King of the world.

In his dying moments, this man makes a statement of confession and a request for forgiveness to Jesus. The words that Jesus utters to him are filled with comfort, hope and certainty –

‘Today you will be with me in paradise.’

What started out as the worst possible day in this man’s life, and in fact, the last day of his earthly life, is transformed in an instant into the first day of his eternal life. Jesus is giving his life for him. The Saviour dies next to the sinner he saves.

The two criminals are powerful pictures of the two responses to Jesus. One rejects him, the other accepts him. One is lost, the other is saved. Nothing more is needed than to recognise the need for salvation and to ask Jesus for it.

Just as I am, without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bidst me come to Thee,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, though tossed about
With many a conflict, many a doubt,
Fightings and fears within, without,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind;
Sight, riches, healing of the mind,
Yea, all I need in Thee to find,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, Thou wilt receive,
Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
Because Thy promise I believe,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, Thy love unknown
Hath broken every barrier down;
Now, to be Thine, yea, Thine alone,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, of that free love
The breadth, length, depth, and height to prove,
Here for a season, then above,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come!

Charlotte Elliott (1835)

 

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