KING OF THE JEWS
"The soldiers also came up and poked fun at Him, making a game of it. They toasted Him with sour wine. 'So you're the king of the Jews! Save yourself!'
"Printed over Him was a sign, THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.
"One of the criminals hanging alongside cursed Him. ‘Some Messiah you are! Save yourself! Save us!'
"But the other one made him shut up. ‘Have you no fear of God? You’re getting the same as Him. We deserve this but not Him -- He did nothing to deserve this.'
"Then he said, 'Jesus, remember me when you enter your kingdom.'
"He said, 'don’t worry, I will. Today you will join me in paradise.'" Luke 23:36-43 (The Message).
If they had known what they were doing, would the people who were thoughtlessly mocking and taunting Jesus, ever have said and done what they did?
Surprisingly, there was only one unlikely man who understood, and he was at the point of death. Up to this moment he was like everyone else -- denying his responsibility for, and ignoring the consequences of his deeds; part of a race of rebels against God, doing what he chose at the expense of others, but one of the unfortunate ones who was caught out. Both men hanging beside Jesus were paying for their misdeeds and he finally knew it.
One was behaving in a typically human way, defiant all the way and using Jesus as a scapegoat for his angry rebellion. The other one watched Jesus' reaction to the torture and listened to His gracious words of forgiveness. He was not 'religious' but in a flash he realised that there was a world of difference between them and Jesus. Perhaps for the first time, he became aware of God and acknowledged his responsibility for his ungodly life.
His rebuke of the other criminal mirrored a reverence for the man dying beside him. Jesus was so different from any other man that he instinctively knew He was God. We might think that his plea was a last desperate effort to escape judgment. I think there was something far nobler in his request than what we give him credit for.
Those around the crosses were taunting Jesus. 'Save yourself!' they mocked Him, not understanding that it was the last thing He wanted to do. His response to the dying thief was the culmination of His coming to the earth. It did not matter at what stage of his life the man next to Him recognised and acknowledged who He was. All that mattered was that he had answered the question every human being must answer at some time in his life.
'Who do you say that I am?' Jesus had once asked His disciples and Peter had responded, 'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.' That is the answer that transforms a life and settles an eternal destiny.
KING OF THE JEWS! A title of contempt or a declaration of faith? For this man it was a declaration of faith and the last words he ever uttered in this life. But he died with the assurance that he would join Jesus in the presence of God because, like Peter and his fellow-disciples, he embraced Him as Messiah and rightful king of God's people.
What tipped the scales for him? He answered that question in his comment to his fellow-criminal. 'Have you no fear of God?' His eyes were opened to the realisation that he was where he was because he had never acknowledged God or taken Him seriously. The apostle Paul diagnosed the reason for human depravity. "'There is no fear of God before their eyes.'" Romans 3:18 (NV)
The moment we take Jesus seriously and acknowledge who He is, the truth of our accountability to Him will dawn on our souls. Like the dying thief, we will step into the realm of understanding the truth and be joined to Jesus forever.
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