Luke records a conversation among two criminals and a King, who are all being executed by crucifixion. We do not know the lives of the two criminals preceding their being nailed to crosses. We know that Jesus is beaten, bruised, scoffed, and made to carry his cross almost the entire way to the place called the Skull. They are all experiencing excruciating pain as this conversation unfolds. One of the criminals rails, derides, and yells blasphemous accusations at Jesus. Jesus does not respond. In his humanity and human suffering, he cannot bear this man’s lament. The other man rebukes the first and defends Jesus. He thinks they are getting what they deserve—they have earned painful death by their actions.
At times in our lives, we all hang on the criminals’ crosses next to Jesus. Sometimes, like the first man, we lament and rail and blaspheme against a God we feel has abandoned us to suffering despite possessing the power to save us. Other times, like the second man, we feel sure we deserve our suffering for our sinful actions toward God and others.
As Christians who follow the man in the middle—the one who will be resurrected indeed as King—we recognize that Jesus dies for both men who hang with him. Because Jesus dies, we can rail at God and deserve our suffering. The difference between the two men is in their posture toward Jesus. The first man is excluded from Paradise not because he asks hard questions about human suffering but because he demands proof of Jesus as King in the way he desires it. The second man joins Jesus in Paradise not because he defends him but because he approaches Jesus in a posture of humility that allows him to recognize Jesus as King.
God, may we who are guilty demand nothing yet humbly pray to take part in Jesus’ kingdom. May we not ignore our guilt, pain, and shame but ask Jesus to remember us. Amen.
Our readings for the week highlight the Reign of Christ. Jeremiah prophesies about a future King from the line of David who will bring justice, righteousness, and security for the people of God. Luke 1 records the song of Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist. Zechariah praises God for raising up salvation from the house of David as God had promised through the prophets. This child will bring mercy, forgiveness, and light. Luke 23 recounts part of the story of the death of Jesus. Here Jesus, the Light of the world, dies as an act of mercy for our forgiveness. In Colossians, Christ holds first place above everything else. Through his death we are forgiven and brought from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light.
Read Jeremiah 23:1-6. How do you trust in God’s promises to bring safety and justice as you watch unjust rulers oppress and abandon their followers?
Read Luke 1:68-79. What will you say when you break your silence?
Read Colossians 1:11-20. Recall a time when you waited for something in great anticipation. How did your faith help you find patience?
Read Luke 23:33-43. How do you recognize Christ as King when you experience or witness suffering?
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