I’m thankful every minute of my life that Jesus died for me on that cross. I know that if God had chosen, he could have punished me for my sins instead of punishing Jesus. But Christ’s atoning death satisfied my sin debt, and the debt of everyone else in the world who believes in Him. Because Jesus chose to do it, I don’t have to take my place on a cross.
Nevertheless, someone like me was on a cross, that very day, at “the place of the skull.” In fact, someone like each and every one of us was there. You may think I’m referring to Jesus himself — he took on human flesh and form, was tempted as we are, and suffered as a man. But I’m not. No, as Luke the physician points out in his Gospel, there were two others on the hill that day. Two criminals, condemned to die, hanging on crosses to Jesus’ left and right.
Am I calling each of us a criminal? Not per se, in that most of us have done nothing to warrant punishment under man’s law, especially a death sentence. Still, we each share something with one, or the other, of the criminals who like Jesus drew their last breaths on that hill. But what? I’ll answer that question with another question: What is your approach to Jesus? Or, as Jesus asked Peter, who do you say he is?
One of the criminals (I’ll call him the “first criminal”) joined the crowd and the soldiers, mocking Jesus and calling on Him to save Himself, if He was indeed the Christ. The second criminal recognized that Jesus had done nothing wrong and didn’t deserve to die. And in recognition of his Kingship, that criminal asked the creator of the universe simply to remember him when Jesus came into His kingdom. He was not disappointed with Jesus’ answer.
You see, there’s just no middle ground with Jesus. Either you join the second criminal in proclaiming Him to be who He said He was, or you will join the first criminal in questioning and doubting Him. Riding the fence is just not possible — Jesus said so Himself.
Here’s the amazing thing: Yes, Christ could have easily taken Himself off that cross and chosen to save Himself, just as the first criminal suggested. But, by staying on that cross, He chose to save…you. And me. And the rest of us.
Yes, it may indeed have been a Friday on Golgotha…..but Sunday’s coming.