The scene at Calvary is one that can produce a lot of emotion. As Christians, we tend to focus on the cross of Christ. However, there are lessons that we can learn from each cross at Golgotha that day.
A Cross of Rebellion
Hanging on the first cross is a rebellious sinner being justly punished for his sins (Lk. 23:40-41). This man represents most humanity. Mankind chooses to live their lives in sin and will be justly persecuted for their rebellion (Rom. 3:23; 6:26). Proudly and arrogantly, this man on the cross next to Jesus railed and blasphemed the Lord. Luke 23:39 says, “One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, ‘Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!’” This crucified man symbolizes humanity in general. His attitude is one of rebellion until the very end. The only words this criminal is willing to speak is blasphemy toward the Lord. He is not interested in salvation, obedience, or humbling himself before the Lord. This criminal does not view Christ as his savior. He is only thinking of a way to save his neck.
A Cross of Repentance
Hanging on another cross, we see yet another rebellious sinner being justly punished for his sins. What makes this thief on the cross different from the other criminal is his attitude. As the thief is faced with his own mortality, he confesses that he has sinned, and seeks repentance. Luke 23:40-42 says, “But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong. And he said, Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’” The difference between this thief and the other criminal is their attitude toward Christ. While the first criminal was rebellious and blasphemous toward God, this thief rebukes him for his attitude. Not only does the thief rebuke the other criminal, but he recognizes that he is no better than the other thief. They are both facing just punishment for the crimes that they have committed. The thief on the cross is not looking for some “quick fix” solution. He is not trying to justify or make excuses for any of the crimes that he has committed. The thief accepts the responsibility of his sin. Then, he humbly asks Jesus for mercy, and to remember him when He comes into His kingdom.
A Cross of Redemption
Finally, on the middle cross (Matt. 27:38; Mk. 15:27; Lk. 23:33; Jn. 19:18), we see Jesus. This is the sinless Son of God sent here to suffer and die for our sins (Isa. 53:5). At this cross, we see the mercy that is offered to us (Rom. 3:26). This is the cross that offers each of us redemption if we choose to obey Christ. We are all doomed to face death because that is the consequence of our sins (Rom. 5:12; Prov. 11:19). Jesus offers us redemption. We could be like the first criminal who, rather than humbling himself before God, chooses to mock Him. There will be no pleasant end to that attitude of rebellion. Wouldn’t you rather have the attitude of the second thief, and humble yourself before the Lord and do as He says to gain redemption through Christ (Acts 17:30; Rom. 10:10; 1 Pet. 3:21)? Have you turned in repentance to the cross of Christ or are you standing in open rebellion? — Joel Raulerson