Which Criminal Are You?
Have you ever wondered why there were two crosses next to Christ? Why not six or ten? I have always wondered why Jesus was in the center. Why not far left or far right? Could it be that the two crosses on the hill symbolize one of God’s greatest gifts?
Crucifixion. A gruesome form of capital punishment used by several ancient nations, especially the Romans. Crucifixion was incredibly painful, hence the term excruciating. If one found themselves at the receiving end of this hideous torture, they would find more relief in death.
Death by Roman crucifixion was a result of the whole body weight being supported by the stretched arms. When nailed to the cross there was a massive strain put on the wrists, arms and shoulders often resulting in a dislocation of the shoulder and elbow joints. The rib cage was constrained in a fixed position, which made it extremely difficult to exhale, and impossible to take a full breath.
The victim would continually try to draw himself up by his feet to allow for inflation of the lungs enduring terrible pain in his feet and legs. The pain in the feet and legs became unbearable and the victim was forced to trade breathing for pain. The length of time required to die from crucifixion could range from hours to a number of days.
This was hell.
It is here we find Jesus with two others, damned to the same fate. The two criminals who hung next to Jesus had so much in common. Convicted by the same system. Condemned to the same death. Surrounded by the same crowd. Equally close to the same Jesus. In fact, they even begin with the same sarcasm. I mentioned that Jesus and the criminals symbolize the greatest gift of God, and this gift is another thing these criminals have in common.
The gift of choice.
The crowds watched, the leaders scoffed, the soldiers mocked, and the criminals insulted. Jesus was tormented from every angle in every way. Bloodied, bruised, slandered, and in the midst of it all he says a prayer: Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing. I like to think that this is when one of the criminals makes his choice.
Imagine yourself in his place. You feel the sting of the nails that are pierced through your hands. You feel the struggle in your lungs to catch a full breath of air. You are watching, and even participating, in mocking this man who claims to be the Messiah. And yet here Jesus hangs, praying for forgiveness on his accuser's behalf. On your behalf.
How often do you find yourself hanging on a cross next to Jesus? How often do you find yourself hurting Jesus with your actions, with your words, with your lifestyle? How often do you hear Jesus' voice praying for forgiveness on your behalf?
Listen to his raspy breathing as he pushes himself up for a painful intake of air. Look at his battered body flex and unflex as each spasm of pain electrocutes his body. This is for you.
You have a choice. Like the two men who hung on the cross next to Jesus, you have a choice to witness his sacrifice and respond to his calling in your life. Regardless of your decision, Jesus died for you. Jesus died for both those men who hung with him. Jesus died for the soldiers on the ground who pierced his hands and hoisted his cross upright with him attached. Jesus died for us, two thousands years after his death.
So, which criminal are you?
What is your choice?