Wintonbury Lent Devotional | Week 6
The Gift of Fearing God
by Thomas Price
Jesus Promises His Kingdom to the Good Thief
Good Friday is nearly upon us. Its rich drama hearkens our attention to the profound mysteries of our salvation as they are enacted on the stage of ordinary life and history. In our text, we contemplate the significance of what would otherwise be seen as something not worth our time or attention. Here is an account of three condemned men undergoing capital punishment, something common and mundane in those days. Of course, what makes this otherwise ordinary and banal happening something extraordinary and profound is glimpsed in the conversational exchanges which take place between the three men.
The first exchange is initiated by 'one of the criminals' who was condemned to death and now hangs alongside Jesus. This one initiates contact by blaspheming Jesus. His anger and frustration, his defeated life, expresses itself in its disdain for God by re-iterating the same mockery which the soldiers hurled at Jesus. Rather than see himself for what he truly was, a condemned criminal receiving his just reward, he deludes himself into thinking himself worthy of divine entitlement: 'if you are the Christ, save yourself and us!' Jesus responds to him with silence!
But the one who does answer him is the other condemned man. This one does not claim divine entitlement. Rather, he speaks of the 'fear of God'. Further, he recognizes his sin. He notes to the blasphemer: 'for we 'justly...received the due reward for our deeds'. This condemned man is penitent. He sees himself in the light of truth; he is a sinner who deserves the fate before him. And yet, he sees something else. He sees one alongside him who 'has done nothing wrong'. He sees God's sinless lamb being slain for the sins of the world. And turning to this lamb in utter humility utters his confession and hope: 'Lord, remember me when you enter into your Kingdom'.
The final exchange in the text is that of Jesus. He does not reply vocally to the blasphemer. But he does answer the condemned man who has nothing to offer God but his trust in the one beside him who did 'nothing wrong'. Jesus, full of grace and truth, full of blood and sweat and suffering love, has mercy on this man. This mercy, wholly unexpected and unmerited, ushers from one cross to the other God's saving hope. Here, Jesus, the spotless lamb, imputed to this sinful man his righteousness and gave him something that his wildest imagination could never have conceived: 'today you will be with me in paradise'.
Contemplating this holy event should always have us consider ourselves as condemned criminals. It's a gift to see ourselves as such. The alternative is delusion, the belief that we are somehow worthy to merit God's salvation. The gift of fearing God, of seeing His just condemnation upon our sin, and seeing that He sent one wholly perfect who was condemned to die on our behalf is the extraordinary good news communicated in this profound exchange between three condemned men.
Questions for Reflection
How does someone become so sin-hardened that they fail to realize their need for mercy while standing in the very presence of God?
What do we learn about Jesus' heart for lost people in this passage?