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As Jesus was nailed to the cross, the Scriptures describe how He was mocked and scorned not only by the crowds who had been incited by the religious leaders and followed Him from the Praetorium (where He was condemned) to Golgotha, but also by the soldiers who crucified Him, as well as by the two criminals who were being executed on either side of Him.  The charge for which He was being put to death was prominently attached to His cross like the title of a book.  It said He was the king of the Jews, the Christ, God’s anointed.  The people were waiting for the Messiah to save them from their bondage under the Romans, but since He couldn’t save Himself, they reasoned that neither could He save them.  Therefore He couldn’t be the Christ, and so they mocked and derided Him for His claims.  But in fact the title was true, and the crown of thorns, the cross, and the mocking were all the marks of His glory in the kingdom He came to establish, with no blood shed but His own.  Blinded by their desire for deliverance from the Romans, who in the long history of the Jews were only the latest to oppress them for their sins, they couldn’t see the much greater deliverance He was accomplishing by dying on the cross to deliver them from sin itself.  And yet, as His life was being drained from Him, His Spirit that was being poured out with His blood was even then affecting many of these who, however imperfectly, had begun to understand that the deliverance they needed was from more than just the bondage of their oppressors or any other consequence of sin.  That Spirit of dying to self-will and subjecting oneself to the will of the Father, even unto death on a cross, was pressed from Jesus in Gethsemane and was now being surrendered up on Calvary.  It would come pouring out like rivers of living water fifty days hence on the day of Pentecost, but even now, that Spirit of sacrifice that was powerful enough to rend the veil of the temple was softening the hearts of some from stone to flesh.  And yet, like a winnowing fork that at once separates the wheat from the chaff, it left no heart unaffected, but at the same time hardened all the more the hearts of others for whom Christ’s sacrifice cannot avail, who love their sin, and will only have deliverance from its consequences.  Such were the religious leaders, such were the false witnesses, and such was one of criminals crucified next to Jesus.  Still though, while hardening their hearts, that same Spirit was unexpectedly changing the hearts of the soldiers, as well as the other criminal, who had just earlier joined in the mocking of the crowd, and whom none would ever have imagined could be saved.  How do these two opposite ways that people respond to Christ’s Spirit help us to better understand the spiritual reality underlying Jesus’ words in Luk 17:34-36?

While the one criminal remained unhumbled by his sufferings and his approaching death, but continued all the more to rail at Jesus with the venom that filled his heart, what does Luke record that the other criminal, overcome by the Spirit being poured out, answered him?  See Luk 23:40-41.  On the one hand, from a worldly perspective, why is such a rebuke unusual, coming from one whom we would suppose to be the weaker of two criminals to the other who was so proud and sure of himself?  On the other hand, what does such a rebuke indicate about a latent courage that even in his dying breaths was being fanned to life by Jesus’ Spirit that was being poured out in His dying breaths?  Cf. Mar 15:37-39, Joh 19:30.  What do his words indicate about his greater fear of God at that point of his life, that was very near to death, than for how the other criminal might respond with invective for rebuking him?  Cf. Luk 12:5.  Do we similarly fear God, knowing that we too are under the same sentence of condemnation, and understanding from the example of so many whose lives have been cut short the innumerable ways that our lives could be nearer to death than we might suppose?  What did he say to the other criminal that expressed his own penitence before God?  See Luk 23:41.  What do his words, and Jesus’ promise to receive him into Paradise, teach us about the nature of the true repentance that saves?  Is there any hint of him justifying himself before God?  Rather, do we not find a simple acknowledgment from the heart that it is God’s right to judge, and that He is just in recompensing us for our sins?  I.e., is not true repentance the simple understanding that God is God, and as such, He has the right to reign supremely over His Creation, which leads us to confess that we are guilty of rebellion against His rule, and if we are to have any hope of salvation, we must commend ourselves entirely to His mercy?  Cf. Luk 15:18-19, 18:13-14; see also Dan 4:29-34.

In contrast to his own sinful state, and in spite of the attempts by the religious authorities to cast Jesus as just another criminal so that He was even crucified between them, what did the penitent criminal also recognize about Jesus?  What does this also teach us about the true repentance that leads to salvation that sees past the lies of the world’s propaganda to acknowledge the righteousness of the One through whom we must be saved?  Cf. Act 4:12.  And although the heart of the other criminal was hardened by it, what exactly was the righteousness that this penitent criminal was especially observing at that very time, the Spirit of which was softening his heart?  Cf. Joh 15:13.  Do we understand that it is that same Spirit of sacrifice that lays down one’s life by taking up one’s cross—and only that Spirit of sacrifice—that is able to change the hearts of others and save them from their sins?  Are we willing to lay down our lives and take up our own cross in order to follow Jesus in saving others out of this world into His kingdom of righteousness?  See Mat 16:24-25, Luk 14:27, cf. Mat 10:38.

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