As Jesus died on the cross two criminals were crucified next to him. One taunted Jesus saying, ‘If you’re the Messiah, save yourself and save me while you are at it’. This was a perfectly natural reaction, many people had thought Jesus was the Messiah who had been sent by God to rescue them from their miserable lives under Roman occupation. The people expected a powerful Messiah, but Jesus was dying in pain and his broken and tortured body on the cross would have been horrific to look at. Jesus looked as though he had failed and as a result he was mocked.
The second criminal spoke up. ‘We deserve to die for what we have done, but this man has done nothing wrong’. Then he said. ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom’. This criminal put his trust in an apparently broken and dying Messiah. What was he thinking? Was this an act of desperation, a dying man hedging his bets to get a possible ticket to heaven? It feels like more than that to me, the criminal seems confident that Jesus will be coming into his Kingdom.
The Jews at the time were expecting a Messiah who would defeat the Romans but Jesus had just been defeated by the Romans who had nailed him to a cross. If success as a Messiah was defined by the Jews expectations then Jesus was a failure and as a result he had no credibility. Although Jesus appears defeated, the criminal sees something different in who he is and in how he is dying. He wants to follow and trust in Jesus even though Jesus appears broken and defeated. The criminal may have been a revolutionary of some kind who had fought the Romans. If so, he would have tried to win freedom through violence and it had failed. Somehow in this desperately sad situation he seems to grasp that the purpose of the Messiah wasn’t to defeat the Romans but to offer us a way to return to God.
‘Remember me’ was his request. ‘Today you will be with me in paradise’ was the reply from Jesus. ‘Crucify him’ called the Pharisees and their followers and Jesus had been executed. These religious leaders should have seen who Jesus was but they could not. In contrast, this criminal who had not lived a God focused life suddenly saw clearly who the Messiah is. Jesus offers a way to God for all who turn to and call on him in faith and his death and resurrection make it possible for us to know God now and forever.
We have the advantage of knowing how the story ends. Jesus did die, but he also came back to life a few days later proving that he was more powerful than death and sin. We follow a victorious all-powerful Lord but the criminal showed amazing faith in choosing to follow a Messiah who appeared broken and defeated.
The grace of God is amazing. Someone who had led a life contrary to God’s will at the last-minute can say ‘remember me’ and be saved. Some people get upset about this as it feels unfair, but what they fail to grasp is that for any of us to be saved by God is unfair. I am saved not because I am good enough but because I have turned to and trusted in Jesus as my lord and saviour. Jesus died in our place to save us. He died to offer us eternal life and this is not fair, but he still willingly did it.
Churches can be obsessed with portraying themselves as successful but I wonder if we should at times be more like Jesus. At times things will go wrong, we may feel broken and things sometimes are a struggle but there is much more going on behind the scenes. Let’s not be ashamed of our struggles and hardships, instead lets give it to God and trust him to lead us through.
Whether we are facing problems and we feel broken or we are living a happy life, may our cry to Jesus be ‘remember me‘.
Read this Bible story for yourself. It’s in Luke 23.39-43.