I was stopped at a red light in the middle of Hereford one beautiful sunny morning last week. I watched as cars and other vehicles passed the junction in both directions. Children and young people were on their way to school and college, and workers of all ages were hurrying to their various places of employment. The light changed to green and I pulled out, all of a sudden bombarded with thoughts about the meaning of life, God and us, why people believe in Him and why they don’t. A hearse drove slowly by in the opposite direction, although strangely the coffin was not adorned with flowers. At the next traffic lights I reflected on the time allotted to us on this planet and the journey from birth to death. Why is it so complicated? It didn’t seem to be for Adam and Eve with only one rule to obey, but somehow they still messed up. And there began the very human trait of blaming someone else, or finding any number of excuses for something not being our fault.
I was still deep in thought as I parked at church where I had to open up and get things ready for a wedding later in the day. On the rear wall of our church there is a cross, just like there is in many other churches. But on the day when Jesus died there was not one cross, but three. Jesus, who did not deserve to be executed, was in the middle. Crucified on either side of Jesus were two criminals. These were men who had been found guilty of crimes that were punishable by death in the days of the Roman Empire. Unlike Jesus, who had done nothing to deserve being tortured and crucified. One criminal had nothing but contempt for Jesus. Instead of acknowledging his guilt and seeking forgiveness this man shouted insults:“Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” The other criminal was rather different. He didn’t look for excuses for his behaviour, but recognised his guilt and accepted his punishment. He also recognised that Jesus was innocent. Amazingly this man did not seek forgiveness, he just asked Jesus to remember him. And Jesus promised that He would. Jesus expects us to come as we are. We don’t need to explain anything. We just have to come, surrendered to Him. What beauty there is in simplicity.
One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23: 39-43 NIV)