The Other Criminal

Luke 23:33-43

When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.”The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar 37 and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”There was a written notice above him, which read: this is the king of the Jews.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.” (NIV)

Nobody ever pays attention to the other criminal; the one who joins in mocking Jesus. He speaks the truth without knowing what he is saying. 

He says, “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!

First of all, Jesus doesn’t need to save himself. He knows physical death, while painful, is not the end of the story. He knows that the essence of Jesus isn’t the same as the body of Jesus. The essence of the person is in that God given identity that death cannot touch. It lives on. It lives in the physical body but is not limited to the physical body. The criminal on the next cross over is thinking only of himself in terms of the physical body and his earthly existence. Maybe he doesn’t know there is more to life than that. But there is. There is so much more than that.

What he doesn’t realize is that Jesus IS the one who will save them. He is the one who identifies EXACTLY what Jesus is doing. Jesus is in the act of saving them. It is the very thing he CAN do from the cross. He will save us too. He will save us all by his love and self-sacrifice in the service of the fruits of the spirit; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. When you think about it, these are the qualities that Jesus showed so clearly in his words and actions. When these fruits are the harvest of our lives, God’s love becomes evident throughout our words and deeds. That will change the world when we all work together to live this kind of a fruitful life. 

We humans have messed it up though by becoming doctrinaire about how we understand what Jesus has done. When we focus on the intellectual part—trying to understand what Jesus has done for us—we fail miserably because we don’t actually follow Jesus then. We cannot save ourselves. And we cannot truly understand how God’s saving grace works. We can’t take it apart like a machine… but that is what we continually try to do by focusing on the doctrine, making a mechanical model. 

We are saved by grace through faith. This is not an intellectual pursuit. It is a relational pursuit. We serve God best by serving God’s people (and all of creation, actually.) We serve God best by working for the good of the other. We serve God best when we are interested in primarily how we can be a blessing to those around us (in the larger sense of the world, not just those we choose to be around.) 

This other criminal got it right. He is the one asking Jesus to save us. He was shortsighted in his expectations, thinking only of a bodily salvation. But he is making the right request. Come King Jesus. Save us.

Blessings to you,

Pastor Karla

New International Version (NIV)

Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Published by: Pastor Karla

I am a pastor and a retired Navy Chaplain who believes following Jesus in compassion, service and gratitude is the very best kind of doctrine. God is present in the world in the Spirit and in the church as the body of Christ. I am a One on the enneagram who lives to find the balance between having my 'to do list' all crossed off at the end of the day and being spontaneous in the moment. Biblical literacy is important to me, and I want to make the meaning of the Bible and its stories less of a mystery to the average person so the love of God comes through to them clearly. You can contact me at blessings to you, Pastor Karla

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