In this season of Lent, I begin to look forward to Easter. This is actually my favorite holiday, even more than Christmas. Christmas is the beginning of a wonderful gift from God, but Easter seals the deal. At the cross and the empty tomb, Satan is vanquished and I am redeemed.
I know that the origins of Easter, and much of the current secular holiday of Easter, are pagan and based on Spring and rebirth. But I see past that to the power of God to overcome evil, even the evil within me, through the love and sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.
To see that power, it is to the cross we must come. And usually, when people talk about coming to the cross they are talking about the cross that Jesus died on. But there is another cross, not far from there, that I think we must come to. That is the cross of the criminals that were crucified beside Jesus. These two criminals exhibited very different attitudes towards Jesus. One criminal was proud and insulting; the other humbly understood how different he was from Jesus. Their conversation that reveals these attitudes is recorded in Luke:
One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? 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, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:39-43.
Today I was listening to Third Day’s debut album, which includes my favorite song of theirs. The title of the song is Thief, and it is sung from the perspective of the humble criminal who hung on the cross next to Jesus.
Who is this man?
This man beside me
That they call the “King of the Jews”
They don’t believe he’s the messiah
But somehow I know it’s true
They laugh at him in mockery
And beat him till he bleeds
They nail him to the rugged cross and raise him,
Yeah they raise him up next to me
My time has come
I’m slowly fading
I deserve what I’ve received
Jesus when you are in your kingdom,
Could you please remember me
He looks at me still holding on and tears fall from his eyes
He says to me “I tell the truth, today you will live with me in paradise”
The first time I heard this song, I cried because I imagined it was me they raised Jesus up next to. After all, the thief does represent all us sinners. And here is this Son of Man and Son of God, who did not deserve the punishment He received at Calvary, being raised up next to us all. We must decide whether we will mock the one who died for our sins, or humbly accept His loving sacrifice. We are all one criminal or the other. Which one are you?