Not such a good Friday
That Friday, which came to be called “Good”, was anything but good for three particular men.
Sentenced to be executed in one of the most brutal ways ever invented by mankind, these three were whipped and then forced to carry their own cross to the place where they would die in agony hours later. On a hilltop outside Jerusalem they were nailed through their hands and feet and then lifted up high to be mocked by the crowd.
Three crosses. Three men. Hanging in a row.
The two men on either side were criminals, terrorists. They were guilty of terrible crimes and were paying for their actions. But the man in the middle was different.
The man in the middle was different
He had been the leader of a new movement which claimed to have the answers to the big questions of life. He claimed to know the way to live life as it was meant to be lived. He claimed to be the way to God. His name was Jesus; he came from a small town in northern Israel called Nazareth. He said he was God’s all-powerful King, his “Christ”. To the shock and astonishment of his countrymen, he claimed to be God’s own Son – God himself walking round in a human skin.
As they nailed him to a criminal’s cross, he looked nothing of the sort. He had already endured hours of beating, mockery and torture. The Roman soldiers who carried out the execution had stripped him, and placed a sneering sign above his head: “The King of the Jews”.
A man called Luke, who carefully researched the events of that day with people who were actually there, records what happened next:
The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him.
They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, 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.”
... One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!”
Most people there that day reacted in the same way to this Jesus as he hung dying on his cross. They saw a failure, a fake. They thought it impossible that this crucified man could be a King. Even one of the criminals found the breath to shout insults at him.
But Luke’s account doesn’t end there—because one man reacted very differently to what was going on.
The other criminal rebuked him [the first criminal]. “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.”
Here’s an alternative view of the same death, the same event. This second criminal was dying, and he knew that he deserved to die: “We are getting what our deeds deserve”. But as he looked at Jesus dying next to him, he understood that “this man has done nothing wrong”. He realized that Jesus was not like him. He deserved to die – Jesus didn’t.
And this criminal had decided something else too. He’d decided that the sign above Jesus’ head, which mocked him for his claims to be a King, was actually, ironically, spot on. He recognized Jesus was a King, and he thought that the place Jesus would rule over was a place beyond death. When he looked at Jesus he saw the future.
So he asked the bleeding, dying man next to him to “remember me when you come into your kingdom”.
And Jesus’ answer is one which has changed thousands of lives, and deaths, ever since: “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
One day; two reactions
One day – Good Friday. Two reactions – rejecting Jesus as irrelevant, or recognizing King Jesus as the future. And, according to Jesus, two very different outcomes.
The man on one side died as he deserved; the man on the other had a place in paradise he did not deserve.
As one man faced the end, leaving behind everything he’d ever had, the other found a new beginning, leaving behind all the mistakes he’d ever made. He could look forward to a wonderful life beyond his own death.
One day; two reactions; two very different outcomes.
This is an extract from a short booklet called The Real Easter, by Carl Laferton and Tim Thornborough.
You can purchase a copy of the full booklet from The Good Book Company for 45p.
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