April 10, 2020

Perspectives on the Passion of Christ: Part Three-Remembering

Rev. Dr. Mark Raeburn Johnston

And with him they crucify two thieves; the one on his right hand, and the other on his left. And the scripture was fulfilled, which saith, ‘and he was numbered with the transgressors.’” Mark 15:27-28

The Crucifixion of Jesus Christ on ‘Good Friday’ is the most widely known story in the history of the world.

After a terrible night of mock trials and abuse, Jesus was finally condemned to death by crucifixion. Preparations for the Passover meal were underway that Friday morning throughout all Israel. Partaking in this sacred meal would bring to remembrance the historic liberation of the Jewish people from Egyptian bondage.

For the Passover meal, a spotless lamb was slaughtered and cooked over a fire by every pious family. The lamb was prepared and roasted by utilizing two poles. One pole was inserted from the nape of the neck to the tail while the other was inserted from the right shoulder to the left shoulder. The symbolism of the cross has been noticed by some in this preparatory stage. In fact, the common term at that time for such preparation was called the ‘crucifixion of the lamb’!

Interestingly, Jesus is called the Lamb of God by New Testament writers.

Crucifixion was a common means of capital punishment in that era. That Friday morning two convicted criminals were crucified alongside Jesus of Nazareth.

A detail regarding the slaughter of the Passover lamb that is often overlooked is that ‘no bone was to be broken’ when preparing and eating the lamb (Exodus 12:46). The Book of Numbers repeats this command;

They shall leave none of it until morning, nor break one of its bones. According to all the ordinances of the Passover they shall keep it. (Numbers 9:12)

These Scriptures present a prophetic picture of Jesus, our Passover Lamb and is detailed in the Gospel of John;

Therefore, because it was the Preparation Day, that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who was crucified with Him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. (John 19:31-33)

While we don’ know much about the criminals who died alongside Jesus, the word describing them as ‘thieves’ is the same word found in the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-33).  In that story we read about a man who was violently wounded, robbed and left to die. We are to understand that these two criminals were violent people who committed violent acts. In the tradition of the Church, the names of these robbers were Dismis and Gestas.

It has been said that when death strikes, people remember what is truly important in life. No longer important are such things as money, fame or social standing. Rather, the truly important concerns are the people we love, and also what awaits us after death.

According to the accounts in the Gospels, the repentant robber, Dismis, asked Jesus to remember him when entering His Kingdom. Jesus answered;

“This day you will be in paradise with me!” (Luke 32:42)

The answer of the Lord was directed only to the repentant criminal. The other criminal, Gestas, died without remorse or redemption.

J.T. Ryle, a famous preacher of the Bible, summarized this episode when he wrote;

“One thief on the cross was saved, that none should despair; and only one, that none should presume.”

The prayer of a dying sinner was answered by the promise of a dying Savior!

That Good Friday something incredibly great happened! A violent criminal was forgiven his sins and received the promise of eternal life. He was remembered by God because he dared to hope in God’s mercy and forgiveness!

This is the hope of all humanity. Even at the point of death, the Lord is ready to rescue and redeem any who call upon His Name!

Today as we meditate upon the gift of God’s only begotten Son, let’s remember that the reason for this priceless Gift is that God has remembered us.

Then, let’s remember to tell others about His love!

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