“And saying, ‘You who are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.’”Matthew 27:40
In Jesus’ day, crucifixion was the most horrible of capital punishment deaths. Victims would hang on a cross for days in the scorching sun until finally the weight of their body, nailed at the hands and feet, collapsed their lungs or their legs were broken to speed up the process. Mark wrote about the crucifixion of Christ in segments of time. He wanted us to reflect on the long, agonizing struggle Jesus endured for you and me on the cross. Any other death was preferable. Crucifixion was so horrible that it was inappropriate to mention it in conversation.
Imagine your reaction to someone wearing a guillotine or electric chair as a charm on a necklace. No one imagined the cross would become a religious symbol. In his dialogue Octavius, Minucius Felix called Christianity a sick delusion. He said that anyone who worshipped a crucified person should himself be crucified.
In Scripture, the horrors of crucifixion are recorded like this: an offense; a sign of shame and foolishness; a stumbling block. In Deuteronomy, we are told that “anyone who is hung on a pole (crucified) is under God’s curse.”
All of this bolsters the fact that Jesus Christ was not just killed, but executed, crucified with two other common criminals. By their own testimony, the men on the left and right of Jesus had led totally worthless lives. They were outlaws and rebels who were now simply getting what they deserved.
But one of them recognized the innocence of Jesus and had a change of heart. The Holy Spirit worked miracles in the life of one of the criminals even though he was in his last hour. Somehow this career criminal was able to think past his own pain and feel sorrow for the person hanging next to him. He became one of the few people at the crucifixion of Jesus to speak the truth about the innocence and sinlessness of Christ.
Of all people, this man also became one of the first to understand that the death of Jesus would not be the end of Jesus and that the mocking sign above Jesus’ head was true: Jesus was the King and would soon come into His kingdom!
Don’t you see? The Spirit moved in this man’s heart and mind to grasp that the one who was being crucified next to him could forgive him, erasing every sign of his exhausting life and bring new life after death. And, just as Jesus promised him, this man would soon experience everlasting life with Jesus in paradise. Paul tells us that this transforming blessing is for you and me. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.” Jesus took on the shame, agony, and brutality of the cross so that we will not be cursed.