Have you ever had a discussion about the event of the crucifixion and then been asked, "Who do you most relate with during the time of the event?" This is a great question for all of us to ponder. My answer normally is the crowd yelling, "Crucify Him! Crucify Him!" but I've been thinking about this in more detail as of late.
In the crowd I would have been yelling for Jesus to be crucified. If I had been Governor I would have sentence him to be crucified. If I had been a religious leader I no doubt would have been conspiring to kill him. If I had been a Roman soldier I would have flogged him, hit him and nailed him joyfully on the cross. As a criminal being executed next to him I would have reviled him. In any and all cases as a sinner I would have mocked him joyfully while cheering on his execution.
But as one of his chosen children I now relate to two specific people we see in Scripture at the scene of the crucifixion: The centurion and the penitent thief. In Mark 15 we read about the death of Jesus when he breathed his last breath. The text says, "And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, 'Truly this man was the Son of God!'" (39). This is amazing. This centurion who had witnessed the crucifixion and many other crucifixions undoubtedly, sees the difference in Jesus. But this heart change comes from the work of the Spirit in his life to confess that Jesus, dying upon the cross, is indeed the Son of God. What a confession of faith.
Also the penitent thief or as J.C. Ryle put it, "Christ's Greatest Trophy." It is easy for all of us, as sinners, to see ourselves as the criminals being crucified next to Jesus. No doubt our hearts are the same as these men. We hated Christ! These men clearly hated Christ because as they are being executed justly for murderous deeds they mock and revile him. "And the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way" (Matthew 27:44). But as Christians we ought to find great joy in the story of the repentant thief. Only Christians can relate to this man. Almost to the point of his very last breath we see him mocking the King of kings. Death is inevitably upon this man. But then...
"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 23:39-43)"
This is truly amazing. This is the work of grace in the life of a sinner. If you are a follower of Jesus Christ you also can relate to this criminal. Yes we would have been the crowd, the soldiers, the religious leaders, Pilate and the unrepentant criminal but because of the grace found in the cross we can relate to the centurion and the penitent thief who both confessed Jesus as the Christ. Praise God for his glorious grace.
Grace upon grace,