Lenten Reflection – Part 3

by DanWolgemuth on March 8, 2024

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? …for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:39–43, ESV)

I’ve often heard people comment on the surprise that the announcement of the resurrection of Jesus was first communicated to women. In a male-dominated and “women-dismissing” culture, God chose women to be the first witnesses to the resurrection of Christ. A mind bender, and an equally enlightening strategy. The protocol of Jesus grates against the norms of power.

But before we arrive at an empty tomb, we have a gruesome cross. And it’s while Jesus is on the cross that we see a declaration of faith that is easy to overlook. The first clear crucifixion-informed declaration.

While a collection of family and close friends were witnessing the injustice of the execution of Christ, “a criminal” made a profession of faith. While the two men were gasping for air, while they were pressing through the final moments of excruciating pain, a nameless criminal confessed that Jesus was King. Without having witnessed three years of miracles, a criminal acknowledged that Jesus was on His way to His kingdom. The Kingdom.

At the moment when the faith of others was crumbling, a criminal verbalized his confidence in the power and position of Jesus. He went first.

“Jesus, remember me…”

What a declaration of faith. Pragmatic, for sure. But rooted in a confidence that the cross wasn’t the end for Jesus. Instead, it was a torturous gateway to paradise. A paradise that the confessing criminal wanted to experience.

“…we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.”

Judgment deserved and acknowledged. A miscarriage of justice, defined.

Faith on the cross. Faith while watching Jesus die. Faith in real time.

While others mocked and taunted, while others recoiled and lamented… a criminal pressed forward in faith. In hope.

“Remember me, when…”

Not if, but when.

A criminal on a cross got it. And yes, his request was granted. Likely the first saint to enter paradise after the death of Jesus. He entered forgiven. He entered as a free man.

This shortens my list of excuses. My reasons for doubt. My fragile faith. “A criminal” shows the way to hope. He moved toward confidence, even while Jesus was on the cross.

Yes, the women as witnesses, and yes, a criminal as a confessor of faith.

The strategy of Jesus presses against every norm of power. Then, and now. The Good News is the best news to those who are outcast. To the brokenhearted. To those on the margins.

Still in the classroom. Still amazed.

Remember me…

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