The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.” The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” There was a written notice above him, which read: this is the king of the Jews. 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 23:35-43
“If.” Because we are not sure. “If.” Because we don’t really believe. “If.” Because we already know how the world works.
The crowd says it, deriding him with their sarcasm. The authorities pronounce it in a sign of mockery, “The King on a Cross.” Even one of the criminals, hanging next to him, tries to manipulate Jesus into saving himself and him.
If we are honest today, we stand with the mockers. A man, accused of treason suffers public death in order to kill the threat and silence all who would try and emulate him. His hands and feet punctured with metal spikes. A crown of thorns pierces his head. He hangs in the hot sun, the scavengers circling overhead. His arms are stretched out and so his chest cavity caves in. Crucifixion kills by strangulation. You lose the ability to breathe. It is the worst form of death the Roman Empire could carry forth.
The reaction to such death is horror, ridicule, and disdain. This is the only reasonable way to understand this scene.
There is one other, however, in our story. There is one character who suffers a similar fate. There is one who hangs on his cross, remembering his life and his many failures. There is only one who speaks honestly even as he struggles to breathe. “Jesus, remember me.”
The justly condemned, the criminal, is the only one faithful here. The dying man sees both himself and his savior in the one who hangs next to him. He has the audacity, the courage, and the faith to confess his sin and trust that this sin does not, in the end, define him. His public death, naked before all the crowds, is not who he really is. He is being changed by the grace of God in the moment that should be his most shameful.
And in his honesty and trust, he receives eternity. Paradise.
This is the day of great honesty for us. This cross is the ultimate revelation of God. All acts of forgiveness and mercy, second chances and renewed hope, the ability to endure the worst of the world and not be destroyed. This cross makes it possible. This cross shows the way. Today God reveals that in the worst we have done and the least we have ever thought of ourselves, God remembers us. God sees us. God does not destroy or condemn. God saves. That is why today is Good Friday.
Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom.
I hang condemned by my sin, both my actions and my will,
For alone I turn only toward myself and I am empty.
Yet you refuse to leave me there.
You call and you claim me.
You promise paradise.
All I can do is stand in awe,
With tears and great laughter.