As we all appreciate, the saving grace of God  depends on the resurrection of Jesus from  the dead. “For if when we were enemies  we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son,  much more being reconciled, we shall be saved by  his life” (Rom 5:10). Yes, the resurrection saves us,  brothers and sisters, but unless the crucifixion has  an impact and meaning in our lives we can never  be true disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The impact of the Lord’s crucifixion

The Apostle Paul felt this very keenly as can be seen  from his words in Philippians 3:10,11. The Roman  method of death, as we appreciate, was very cruel  and a gruesome way to die. The death of Jesus was  a very tragic event insomuch as Jews and Romans  put the Son of God to death. But as tragic as it was,  it nevertheless was in the purpose of God for the  redemption of mankind – “it pleased the Lord to  bruise him.”

I am not going to deal with all the cruelty of  men associated with the evil deed but rather I want  to consider how in the midst of all this suffering,  the lives of men and women were greatly affected,  and in particular, three personalities present on that  fateful day. Those three personalities were the thief  on the cross, the Roman centurion, and Joseph of  Arimathæa (and by extension, Nicodemus).

The impact upon three

I think it is very significant that there at the foot of  the cross all stratas of society met – a lowly Jewish  thief, a rich Jewish member of the Sanhedrin, and  a Roman centurion representing the Gentiles. They  all were greatly affected – and in so being, there are  great lessons for us.

Take firstly, the thief on the cross. Here was a  man of incredible perception and faith and, like  those in Hebrews 11, we know that he will be in  the Kingdom. Matthew 27:44 tells us that the two  thieves crucified with Jesus joined with the passersby  and the chief priests in mocking and taunting  Jesus. “The thieves also, which were crucified  with him, cast the same in his teeth.” But by and  by one of those thieves was greatly affected by  the circumstances. As he hung there and listened  to the taunts of cruelty thrown at Jesus, the very  demeanour of Jesus had a profound effect upon  him. Luke 23: 39–43 describes the scene.

I want you to think of this scene. Here are  three men hanging on crosses discussing matters  of eternity. Just the sheer effort of speaking would  have been excruciating. Jesus was in the middle of  the three crucified men and, no doubt, he listened  with interest to the verbal exchanges between the  two thieves. One of the thieves continued with the  taunting of Jesus (v39) but the other saw things  more clearly and began to rebuke the other thief.  The repentant thief, as it turns out, had a very  good grasp of Biblical principles! “Dost not thou  fear God?” (v40). The repentant thief was still a  god-fearer despite his lot in life. Something must  have struck a chord in his life, like Cornelius,  who later we are told was also a god-fearer (Acts  10:2). He continued, “… seeing thou art in the  same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we  receive the due reward of our deeds …”(v40,41).

The belief of the repentant thief

The repentant thief saw life’s issues very clearly.  He recognised that he and the other thief were like  all humanity, that “all have sinned, and come short  of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). He acknowledged  his sins and recognised that as thieves they were  receiving just punishment. But what about Jesus  crucified with them? Had he committed any sins  that deserved such punishment? He said, “but  this man hath done nothing amiss” (v41). He  acknowledged the sinlessness of Jesus, so evidently  he knew quite a bit about the Lord Jesus Christ.

Brothers and sisters, the thief saw clearly the  full impact of Peter’s words in 1 Peter 2:20–23. Despite terrible provocation, Jesus maintained his  composure. As Peter said, there was no guile found  in his mouth and he did not revile his tormentors. In  this righteous man the thief saw all the hallmarks  of Messiah and thus in his extremity, in his dying  hours he appealed for mercy from the only one that  could save him from death, “Lord, remember me  when thou comest into thy kingdom” (v42).

This was a statement of incredible faith from  a dying man. But, brothers and sisters, quite apart  from the faith of the thief, just think how much  these words of the thief would have encouraged  the Lord Jesus Christ. When all seemed lost here  was a man who believed:

  • Jesus would rise
  • that he would also rise (“remember me when thou comest …”)
  • that Jesus would come again to receive the kingdom
  • that he would reward the faithful!

Hence Jesus’ unequivocal reply: “Verily I say unto  thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise” (v43).

Now we are aware that, of course, Jesus was not  literally in paradise (the garden of Eden restored in  the Kingdom) that day, and hence some versions  have either placed the comma after “Today”  instead of before, or like Rotherham’s version  given the frequent Old Testament sense to the  phrase “Today”. Rotherham’s version has: “Verily  I say unto thee this day: With me shalt thou be in  Paradise.”

Jesus was giving reassurance to the repentant  thief. “I will not only remember you in the day of  my return. I will say categorically now – Today –  This day – you will be with me in paradise.”

But, brothers and sisters, whether the comma is  in the right place or not I think we can understand  the verse as it stands. You see, like God, Jesus spoke  of things which are not (ie in the future) as though  they are present now – today (see Rom 4:17). As  far as Jesus was concerned the Kingdom was as  certain to be established in the future as he was  hanging on the cross that day and hence he could  speak with absolute conviction. It was as good as  that day in being established.

Besides, there was a very real contrast between  the first and last paradise.

  • In Eden God said, “in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die,” that is, the death process began that day and death was assured.  Paradise was lost.
  • At Golgotha Jesus said, “To day shalt thou be with me in paradise”; that is, although dying that day, the Lord’s and the thief’s absolute  certainty of inheriting the kingdom was  assured that day. Paradise was to be regained.

Through the eye of faith the thief gained the  Kingdom when all seemed lost. In John 19:32 the  crucifixion of the thief is described as “the other  which was crucified with him”. In a very real sense  the thief was literally crucified with Jesus, which  we, of course, can only do by symbol in baptism  (Rom 6:6).

The lesson for us from the example of the thief  is – what is our attitude ‘when the chips are down’,  when all seems lost? Will we have the faith of the  thief?

The conviction of the Roman centurion

Here was one like the thief who heard all the taunts  directed at Jesus from the rulers, the people, the  soldiers and the thief. During all that time he stood  there opposite Jesus and watched incredulously as  time went on. No doubt the centurion had witnessed  many crucifixions, but this one was different. Not  a single word of retaliation came from the lips of  Jesus. The centurion would have been amazed.

But the centurion did hear Jesus speak. They  were wonderful words of grace:

  • “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”
  • “Verily … Today shalt thou be with me in paradise”
  • “Woman, behold thy son! … Behold thy mother!” And finally a loud cry,
  • “It is finished. Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.”

Brothers and sisters, these words from the  lips of the Master had a profound effect on the  centurion. “Certainly this was a righteous man” –  “Truly this man was the Son of God” (Luke 23:47,  Mark 15:39). How did he form these convictions?  By Jesus’ words and actions in great extremity, he  formed the same judgment as the repentant thief.  He had never before seen a man die like this one. Would this centurion ever be the same man  again? I very much doubt it. The crucifixion  undoubtedly had a great impact on his life. What  would the other soldiers present that day say about  his ‘words’? What would it have been like back in  the barracks that night?

The lesson for us is, does the crucifixion have as  much impact on our life as it did on the centurion, so  that our life is never the same again? It should have  as great an impact. Let us make sure that it does.

The plea of the rich man

Finally we come to Joseph of Arimathaea. Before  the day of Jesus’ crucifixion, like the repentant thief  and the centurion, we know nothing about this man.  But from the moment Jesus died, ‘he came out of  the woodwork’, as the saying goes.

We are told that he was a rich man, a member  of the Sanhedrin but also a good and righteous man  who had not consented to the evil counsel of the  Sanhedrin.

And he was a disciple of Jesus, albeit secretly  for fear of the Jews, that is, the Jewish leaders. We  are also told that, like the repentant thief, he waited  for the Kingdom of God.

The death of Jesus must have been a severe blow  to his faith. Everything now appeared to come to  nothing. Being a secret disciple he could have just  melted back into one of the crowd – back into the  life of a distinguished member of the Sanhedrin.

He didn’t, brothers and sisters. What was in it  now for him to remain a disciple? His Master was  dead! But the amazing thing is that, like Nicodemus  who previously came to Jesus by night, he came  out into the open ‘in broad daylight’ and taking  courage, declared his hand. He came boldly out  in the open, not caring whether anyone, especially  other Sanhedrin members, saw him or what they  thought of his actions. And he went out and craved  the body of Jesus from Pilate (Mark 15:42–46).

Did he and Nicodemus believe in the Lord’s  resurrection? I suspect that although their faith was  sorely tested, they did! Who knows for sure, but  one thing is for sure, they were prepared now to  come boldy out in the open to give the Son of God  an honourable and decent burial. As to the fate of  Jesus, they left this and their own lives also in the  hand of God.

The lesson from Joseph of Arimathaea and  Nicodemus is that there comes a time, brothers  and sisters, when we can no longer be a disciple  in secret. Like Joseph of Arimathaea, we need  to have that courage to come out in the open and  declare our hand. We must identify ourselves with  the Son of God and stand up for the principles of  the Truth, regardless of the consequences. And if  difficulties come our way because of this, then so  be it. Like Joseph and Nicodemus, we commit our  lives into the care of our heavenly Father, as Peter  so beautifully expresses it in 1 Peter 3:13–18.

The impact upon us

So in summary, what does the crucifixion mean to  us in our day? Surely the reading for today must  have some effect on our lives. Is the crucifixion a  matter of so little account in our lives that it hardly  moves us? Or are we so moved by it to change our  lives, as it did to those three we have considered?

Surely the death of Jesus for us was not in vain?

The Apostle Paul did not think so, as he  powerfully stated in Galatians 2:20 and Titus 2:11–  14. In Hymn 221 we have these powerful words,

“Was it for me thy flesh was wounded sore,  Thy body lifted high on cross of shame?  Was it for me the King of Glory bore  So meek the scourge, and ruthless men’s  defame?”

Let’s hope we can say an emphatic yes – amen  to those questions.

“For the love of Christ constraineth us; because  we thus judge, that one died for all, therefore all  died; and he died for all, that they which live [that  is us, brethren and sisters] should no longer live  unto themselves, but unto him who for their sakes  died and rose again” (2 Cor 5:14,15 rv).

What magnificent words, brothers and sisters!  We like the thief must die with him so that in our  new life we no longer do what we wish but live unto  him who suffered so much for our sakes.

Where then do our own petty, selfish thoughts  and actions lie? Why, they pale into insignificance  alongside the sufferings of our Master! (Phil 2:3–5)