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    Rebellion, Repentance and Redemption


When 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

Luke 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 fact.

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.

The 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.

Firstly 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.

What 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.

This 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?

Firstly, 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 ways.

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.

So 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?

R.J. Burling