Taking a break from our study of the Gospel of John, I thought we should look at this very wonderful passage that I believe shows the greatest mercy and grace that has ever being bestowed on us. Not only does it show the grace but it also shows the true meaning of what the Grace of God is all about. There are such a lot of controversies regarding the grace of God and I believe this passage we will be looking at, will show beyond doubt how great, powerful and loving the grace of God is.
We find ourselves in Golgotha (place of skull) on the day Jesus was crucified. Now, a little history about crucifixion: Crucifixion was one of the most cruel and barbarous forms of death known to man. It was practiced, especially in times of war, by the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Egyptians, and later by the Romans. So dreaded was it that even in the pre- Christian era, the cares and troubles of life were often compared to a cross. The agony of the crucified victim was brought about by (1) the painful but nonfatal character of the wounds inflicted, (2) the abnormal position of the body, the slightest movement causing additional torture, and (3) the traumatic fever induced by hanging for such a long period of time. Now as cruel as this is, it was reserved for the worst forms of criminals.
The only thing we know about this place Golgotha was that it resembled a skull and that is why it was called Golgotha. We look at the passage just after Jesus was nailed to the cross and was now hanging on the cross together with the two criminals, one on either side of him. This was a time when the Jews and most of those that did not follow Jesus were happy that he was being crucified and they were mocking him and even spitting on him. Some of the things that they were saying to our Lord while he was hanging on the cross are found in the gospel of Matthews:
Matthew 27:39-44 (ESVST)
And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads 40 and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” 41 So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, 42 “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. 43 He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God. ’” 44 And the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way.
I do believe these are not the only ones but these are some of the things that they were saying to him. Note that both the criminals who were crucified with him, were also mocking him according to verse 44. It was a day when the hearts of those that were taking part in this crucifixion, were as hard as a rock. They were showing epsolutely no mercy at all. They simply all wanted Jesus to die. It is very important to not verse 44 since it clearly states that both criminals were also mocking him. We find the same stament made also by Mark
Mark 15:32 (ESVST)
Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also reviled him.
So, clearly both criminals at this stage of the crucifixion, were both mocking Jesus. Now, one might ask why I am hammering on this point. You will see just now. At this point, the most important thing to realize is that both the criminals who were crucified with Jesus and most of the people around there were actually mocking Jesus. Now, let’s look at the following passage, which is our passage today
Luke 23:39-43 (ESVST)
One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “ Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he said, “ Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 And he said to him, “ Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Luke 23:39 above continues to also show how one of the criminals continued with his mocking by asking Jesus if he is not the Christ. He is simply saying, you said you were the Christ, save yourself and us as well. This was just a continuation of the mocking that both the criminals were part off as explained by Matthew and Mark but in verse 40, something different takes place. Amongst all this mocking, a miracle or if not, close to a miracle happens. The other criminal who has also been taking part in the mocking of Jesus now suddenly, from nowhere, has a change of heart. He now reprimands the other criminal who was continuing to mock Jesus. He makes four very important points during his reprimand of his fellow criminal.
FEAR OF GOD
Firstly, during his reprimand, the criminal asks the other criminal if he does not fear God. Now, going back to the Old Testament, we find a number of places were fear of God is defined. Let’s look at a couple of these. First, fearing God is a commandment from God
Deuteronomy 6:13 (ESVST)
It is the Lord your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear.
Secondly, fearing God is the beginning of wisdom,
Proverbs 9:10 (ESVST)
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.
Thirdly, the fear of God is the beginning of knowledge,
Proverbs 1:7 (ESVST)
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
fools despise wisdom and instruction.
Fourthly, fear of God is the hating of evil,
Proverbs 8:13 (ESVST)
The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil.
Pride and arrogance and the way of evil
and perverted speech I hate.
And lastly, fear do God leads to life
Proverbs 19:23 (ESVST)
The fear of the Lord leads to life,
and whoever has it rests satisfied;
he will not be visited by harm.
So, the fact that this criminal asked his fellow criminal if he did not fear God, it shows that he himself feared God and if he feared God, it means he had the wisdom, the knowledge, he was beginning to hate evil and clearly was on the right path that leads to life. But how did this criminal know that he needed to fear God. I mean this was the worst criminal, it is reasonable to assume that this man did not attend church. These kinds of criminals at that time, were not the kind that would be allowed to attend church because of their criminal ways. The Jews would never allow such a person in the synagogues. So, the question remains, how did this man suddenly realize and know that he needed to fear God, to such an extent that he reprimanded his fellow criminal and asked him if he did not fear God. We will answer this as we proceed. Keep this question in mind.
Let’s continue next time.