"In Mercy and Truth" - Jesus' Encounter with His Opponents at the Cross
"Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do"...
...Then he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”
And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”
- Luke 23:34,42-43
Out of all the encounters of Jesus, there was nothing that was more significant to the transformation of lives than beholding Jesus on the cross. Jesus had come to this earth for this very hour and had resolved to lay down His life as a ransom for many.
Many, if not all, of the opponents of Jesus had witnessed a crucifixion before since this was a form of execution that the Romans regularly used to instill fear in anyone who committed a crime that was punishable by death or threatened the peace and stability of Rome. However, never before had anyone ever seen someone as humble and holy as Jesus being treated or executed like this. All of the claims of his opponents from the governor Pontius Pilate and his wife to the the thieves and guards who saw Jesus up close on the cross and even to Judas Iscariot, His betrayer, were consistent in their testimony that Jesus was an innocent and just man who no one could find any real fault with. As the sign over Him read, Jesus was truly "the King of the Jews".
The Bible says that Jesus died as "the just for the unjust" (1 Peter 3:18) and that God "made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Cor. 5:21).
This was the Gospel being lived out and fulfilled in Christ and the people who were His opponents or onlookers knew that something world changing was going on. In one sense, the eternal destination of mankind was hanging in the balances while Jesus was hanging on that cross.
AND WHY would Jesus allow Himself to remain on the cross (when He had demonstrated the power to save others as many people mockingly pointed out)?
The ANSWER: God's LOVE toward us and Christ's OBEDIENCE to the Father.
On either side of Jesus were two criminals who joined in the commotion and mockery of Jesus even while they were suffering right there beside Him. However, one of the first things that the Scriptures tell us Jesus did after they drove the nails into His hands and feet was that He prayed and interceded for all of His opponents, which includes all of humanity since we are all guilty of sinning and rebelling against God.
His prayer was so pure before the Father and penetrated the hearts of those who heard it that one of the thieves rebuked the other thief and then turned his attention to Jesus in repentance saying, "Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”
While the one sinner rejected Christ, the other suddenly became convicted of his sin and knew that he was guilty before God and began to plead for the mercy and truth He saw in Christ. He openly confessed Jesus as Lord and clearly believed that He was the Christ who would be raised from the dead and desired to enter into His kingdom.
The RESULT: Jesus forgave him and promised him eternal life (Rom. 10:9). Wow! The same is true for all who believe. He REMEMBERS US...but FORGETS OUR SIN!
Jesus finished the work that was necessary for salvation and committed His Spirit to the Father. The aftermath turned into a powerful scene of the earth shaking, the rocks splitting, the veil in the temple ripping, and the spirits of the dead coming out of the graves at His resurrection, with a company of Roman soldiers declaring, "Truly this was the Son of God!"
- How does Jesus praying on the cross while in excruciating pain and suffering pierce your heart at this time in your life?
- Think back to the last time you went to the Lord's table and took the bread and cup, how does this help you to encounter Jesus on the cross even though you were not there?
"For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just reward, how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him, God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will?" - Heb. 2:2-4