Luke 23:32-33 – Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with [Jesus] to be executed. When they came to the place call the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals — one on his right, the other on his left.
The authorities in Jerusalem deliberately crucified Jesus between two criminals. They staged the crucifixion as a theatrical event to maximize the humiliation of Jesus in front of the crowds by placing him between two robbers.
Three crosses on the hill at Calvary: they are the crosses of Condescension, Compromise and Compassion.
The crowds in Jerusalem surge forward to watch the grisly show as authorities stand watching from a safe distance. The crowds eagerly listen as robbers on either side of Jesus speak.
First to speak is the robber on the Cross of Condescension:
Luke 23:39 – One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: "Aren't you the Christ? Save yourself and us!"
CBC news: This week 450 defenceless people were killed in the African country of Burundi. The situation is tense as Red Cross and Oxfam officials try to calm the situation and try to get governments authorities to enforce a total arms embargo on Burundi. The same thing happened last year in Ruanda. The human carnage which exists today is direct result of British Colonial rule when the Tutsi and Hutu people were forcibly isolated from each other in order to provide a cheap labour force. Today it appears that a huge crowd of refugees are running for their lives in what might become the biggest surge of refugees in human history. The robber in condescension called out "Save yourself," and the authorities stand watching from a safe distance.
Luke's Gospel describes the second robber who grieves on the Cross of Compromise.
Luke 23:42 – Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."
Legend describes the man on the second cross by name, Demus. One Judean legend tells of his exploits. Demus was a Robin Hood who roamed the hills of Judea stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. Another legend tells how the holy family were attacked by robbers as they fled with baby Jesus from Bethlehem to Egypt. The baby was so lovely that one young thief could not bear to lay hands on him but instead set him free, saying, "O most blessed of children, if ever there comes a time for having mercy on me, then remember me and forget not this hour." The youthful robber who once had saved Jesus as a baby now met him again on Calvary; this time Jesus saved him.
Luke 23:43 – Jesus answered him, "Today you will be with me in paradise."
Paradise is a Persian word meaning a walled garden. When a Persian king wanted to do a very special honour for one of his subjects he would make him a companion of the garden and then he would be allowed to walk with the king in the garden. It was more than immortality which Jesus offered to Demus, the repentant thief. Jesus promised Demus the honoured place of a companion of the garden in the courts of heaven. "You are coming with me to paradise this very day, Demus." Always be ready to accept the invitation to walk with the King in paradise!
It's never too late to turn to Christ and become a companion of the garden. Paradise waits for you who read this today. Do you feel the chance for that walk has somehow passed? I'm too old. I'm set in my ways. But you can't say that about turning to Jesus Christ. So long as your heart beats, the invitation of Christ stands.
A poet once wrote about a man who was thrown from a galloping horse and was killed.
- Between the stirrup and the ground,
Mercy I asked, mercy I found.
From the Cross of Compassion comes the eternal message: "While there is breath, there is hope and you can come with me to Paradise."
Prayer: Thank you, God, for sending your Son to us. Bring us to the cross of Christ so that we may walk with Him as a companion in the garden. Help us stand firm and be ready for Paradise. As we walk to the garden let us fill the world with your love. Let us carry the cross of Christ with us. We pray through Jesus Christ your Son, our Lord, who lives now and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.