By Jim Uhley, D. Min
College of Theology
June 29, 2015
Luke 23:32-43 tells the story of three men on crosses. Two of the three men were from the bottom of society. We don’t know their crimes, but Matthew tells us they were robbers, implying violent thefts.
The Romans were law-and-order people, and there was no Supreme Court to appeal to. If you were caught, the Romans didn’t put you in a prison with three meals a day and free TV. Many crimes resulted in execution; but if you had money or if you had friends in high places, generally you could get off.
But these men were at the bottom of life; they were being used to deter others from a life of crime. They were crucified as examples for everyone to see. Their victims could come and say things like, “Not so tough now!”
It’s not hard to imagine what some of the people would do to men who had violently robbed them. It was time for some payback against them when they were helpless.
The Power of the Cross
This death was a humiliating death. Both the Roman and Jewish cultures were shame and honor cultures. Crucifixion was intended to discourage those thinking about a life of crime or political rebellion. Not only would the criminal be killed, but his family would endure lasting shame.
Yet in spite of being at a low point in life, one of the criminals finds it in himself to ridicule Jesus.
This would be funny if it were not so sad. Ridicule is done by people who feel they are above people they consider beneath them. He thinks Jesus is a fool who has been going around claiming to be the Messiah.
Actually, Jesus never makes this claim in a direct way, but that is what people have been saying about him. So this criminal uses some of his final time on Earth to mock Jesus.
CS Lewis in his book “Mere Christianity” describes the biggest sin of all when he writes:
“The vice I am talking of is Pride or Self-Conceit: and the virtue opposite to it, in Christian morals, is called Humility… According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere flea bites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.”
But the other criminal has a very different attitude. He admits he is getting what he deserves. He rebukes the other man, asking him if he doesn’t fear God. This implies that this criminal does. He not only fears God, but he is also able to look at his own life and accept his punishment as just.
He then turns to Jesus and asks for mercy. He identifies Jesus as an innocent victim and requests to be remembered when Jesus comes into His kingdom. This criminal is able to look in four directions. In the midst of terrible pain at the end of his life, he examines himself. He looks to God. He speaks to the other criminal and then he looks to Jesus and asks for mercy: “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Jesus’ reply should give us all hope. It is a reply that promises mercy. Notice that this promise is spoken to one thief and not the other: “You will be with me in paradise.”
Jesus accepts the man’s faith, his trust that He has the power to save him, not from the cross, but from eternal death.
Pride Will Get the Best of You
Why does God hate pride? Lewis said:
“He is trying to make you humble in order to make this moment possible, trying to take off a lot of silly, ugly, fancy-dress in which we have all got ourselves up and are strutting about like the little idiots we are.”
Pride is always competitive; it always seeks power; it always fosters enmity between us and others, and between us and God. A proud man is always looking down on people.
I’m thankful that Luke told us the story of the two robbers. He illustrates so many things. He shows us that we can be at the lowest point in life and still hang on to our pride and refuse mercy.
Luke shows us that to be with Jesus in paradise, we have only to humble ourselves and seek mercy. The robber was not baptized and didn’t join a church. He never took communion. He didn’t have a chance to do any good deeds to make up for his evil deeds. He didn’t win anyone to Christ. He didn’t feed the poor or preach any sermons. All he did was ask to be remembered by the one he knew was the King.
As we look at our lives, some feel that they are on the very bottom rung of the ladder. Others feel that they are pretty good, have accomplished a lot and not broken any of the big commandments. They say, “I’m a good person.” Their friends look at their lives and are impressed. Their resume of accomplishments and honors is long.
But what really matters is what we say to Jesus: “Lord, remember me. Everything is garbage but you. I am hopeless without you.”
We are all the same before Jesus and that should make you glad. Christ will give us His righteousness. Christ will remember us. His resurrection will be ours.