I recently completed a study of Luke chapters 17-24, and as powerful as Luke’s narrative is, this scripture really stood out for me.
One of the criminals hanging beside him scoffed, “So you’re the Messiah, are you? Prove it by saving yourself — and us, too, while you’re at it! — Luke 23:39, NLT
When we read this passage during our family Bible study, it led to an excellent discussion about God’s will versus our will.
Imagine how terrible it was for Jesus to face crucifiction, knowing that he really could come down off the cross. Yet, He chose to die for our sins. Of the two criminals next to him, one jeered and said, “So if you’re the Messiah, save us!” He recognized Jesus — by that time, everyone in the area knew who he was — but he had no understanding of who Jesus really was; he thought he was just another evildoer, and passed him off as a crazy or an eccentric. The evildoer had no concept of what Jesus was really doing. In contrast, the criminal on his other side rebuked the first:
But the other criminal protested, “Don’t you fear God even when you are dying? We deserve to die for our evil deeds, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.” — Luke 23:40-43, NLT
Scripture does not tell us why these men were being executed, but we see the drastic difference between the two. One scoffed until his dying breath; the other knew who Jesus was and recognized his difference. And his faith assured that Jesus welcomed him into his kingdom. Even before a single one of Christ’s apostles set foot in heaven, this criminal was there! How heartwarming for us, the value of faith, and the knowledge that the acceptance of Christ is truly our salvation!
How often do we find ourselves questioning our faith in God’s will for us? We want Him to come down off the cross and “prove it,” rather than realizing that His purpose for us is greater, and more far-reaching than we can imagine.