we read any of the accounts of the crucifixion, we have a strong
tendency to focus on Christ and the purpose of His death there. While
this is all very well, we need to take the time to think about all the
implications of that event.
Luke’s account of the event is probably the most comprehensive. Luke 23:26-43
focuses clearly on the fact that there were three crosses and goes, I
believe, to quite some effort to bring to us the significance of that
Before we look at those three crosses, let us look at a
myth that, while it is certainly not promoted, is certainly not removed
from our teaching. That is Calvary itself. This hill, outside the walls
of Jerusalem, was a popular place for crucifixions for two main
reasons. One thing was that the top of the hill was quite visible from
all directions and, in particular, from the walls of the city. Thus it
made it a good place to make examples of those who broke the law. The
second aspect was that it had limited access thus making it easy for a
small company of soldiers to keep control of any potential trouble that
could arise from a crucifixion. Thus we need to be aware that there was
nothing special about the Romans taking Jesus there to be crucified. In
fact, they may well have feared a problem because they would well
remember the tumultuous welcome Jesus had received when He had entered
Jerusalem just a few days earlier.
What about the choice of the
other two who were to die? Probably a random choice. Apart from being
brutal and ruthless, the Romans were also efficient, so to crucify one
person would not have made a lot of sense and would have been a waste
of resources. We are certainly not told this, but it may well be that
these two were actually scheduled for death that morning and Jesus was
added to the process on that morning. Remember, to the Romans Jesus was
just another Jewish criminal to be executed. As far as they were
concerned He had no real significance. This only comes to those of us
who know just who Jesus really is.
So we have the scene set for a triple crucifixion. What we need to look at here is the significance of what was to follow.
first one was the fact that Jesus was placed in the middle. Whether
this was under Pilate’s instructions or by pure chance, we don’t know.
What we do know is that it was at God’s clear directions and plan, part
of which will become even more important as we proceed further.
we will look at the criminal who is generally attributed to being on
the left hand cross. As Luke’s encounter continues, we find that this
man was defiant and a total rebel. As he hung upon his cross, dying, he
was rebellious right up until the end of his life. Not at all sorry for
what he had done, he simply curses everything and everyone he could
see. Because Jesus was alongside of him, he really vented his anger and
rebellion at Jesus. Right until his very end, this man chose to be
rebellious against God.
What is the significance of this man and
his cross for us? Put quite simply, it is one of the options God places
before us in the free will He has given to us. Like this criminal, we
can choose to follow the path of rebellion. Just as this man did, we
can choose to ignore who Jesus really is and walk the path of
destruction as a consequence.
Now we need to look at the second
criminal and what his actions demonstrate to us. Like the one on the
left, this man was guilty of some crime. In fact, there is some hint
that they may have actually been partners in crime, though this is
certainly not stressed or state in any way. I say this simply because
the second criminal clearly states that “we deserve the punishment” and
this could, and I stress could, imply some association. That aspect,
however, is not really relevant other than it emphasises that this
second man new the serious nature of the crimes of both criminals.
is relevant is his reactions and response to the situation. This man
clearly has a change of heart. Something inside of him has changed.
Unlike the other criminal, there is no rebellion, but rather there is a
sense of remorse. First thing we note is his reaction to the first
criminal’s outbursts. He soundly criticises his actions and words.
Luke’s recording of this is quite specific. What Luke says as a part of
this is also significant. This criminal recognises who Jesus really is.
His response to this fact is one of clear repentance. His change of
heart is to the point that he is truly sorry for what he has done and
expresses this repentance to Jesus, seeking complete forgiveness for
what he has done.
Jesus’ response is quick. Forgiveness is
immediate. This is important to us because it shows two very important
truths that are to be associated with genuine repentance. The first of
these is the fact that no matter how bad we have been, there is still
forgiveness in the cross of Christ. All we need to do is to lay our
sins down before Christ in genuine repentance and forgiveness is there
for us to claim. You need to note that in forgiving this criminal Jesus
did not lay down any conditions or post requisites - repentance came,
complete forgiveness was then given. Don’t let the devil convince you
otherwise. The second aspect is that it is never too late to repent
your sin before Jesus (unless of course He has already returned).
However, remember that we do not know when death will come, so putting
off our repentance is certainly a highly risky choice. In fact, it is
certainly not recommended at all.
So far, then, we have seen two R’s represented by the crosses of Calvary - those of rebellion and repentance.
clearly brings us to the third cross and the third R. The third cross
is clearly that of Jesus, we are all familiar with that aspect of the
story. Considering what we have talked about beforehand, with the
significance of the criminals to our lives, we need to look at the
relationship of the cross of Christ to these two points.
What does the cross of Christ offer?
it provided redemption. It is a clear offer but, like the two
criminals, our reaction to this offer, be it rebellion or repentance,
determines whether or not redemption is activated for our lives. Whilst
we have the choice, Jesus has the reward.
Like those two
criminals, Jesus response to our choice is swift. Jesus reaction to the
rebellious criminal is absolutely non-existent, and this is important
for us to remember. He was already outside the kingdom so that is where
he stayed. On the other hand, the second criminal’s repentance brought
immediate reward in that Jesus made redemption available to him
immediately. The significant point here is that repentance means the
immediate reward: no penance, no tasks, no requirements, just immediate
forgiveness. It is that simple, and that is the stumbling block for so
many people. They cannot accept that God’s gift is totally FREE and
without conditions. Those who teach otherwise are contrary to God’s
The second thing provided by the cross of Christ is much
the same as the first. It provides us with a bridge back to God. Only
those who have repented and received the redemption of Christ can cross
over. What a truly wondrous event that is - total acceptance as sinless
before God. To me, that is the ultimate of everything. For there is no
other reward so great and wonderful in the whole of creation.
we have seen that there is considerable significance in all three
crosses there on Calvary and they represent the choices we can make. We
can choose rebellion and miss out on redemption; or we can choose
repentance and receive God’s offer of redemption, made possible only by
the cross of Christ.
Which will you choose?