A Picture of Human Destiny

three-crosses-1024x890Today, the Church remembers the suffering and death of Christ on a cross outside Jerusalem about the year 33 A.D. On this Good Friday, I’ve been reflecting on what happened on that day almost 2,000 years ago.

We are told in the Gospel accounts that the Lord Jesus was crucified with two others on that day.(Matthew 27:38; Mark 15:27; Luke 23:33; John 19:18)

I think this is significant. All four Gospel writers thought it was an important enough detail to record for their written account of what happened to the Lord Jesus that day. Matthew and Luke give us a bit more information about what happened.

In Matthew’s account, we find bypassers, chief priests and elders who mocked the crucified and dying Jesus. In the text, we see also:

“The robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way.” (Matthew 27:44 ESV)

In Luke’s account, we find:

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”  (Luke 23:39-43 ESV)

Some might look at these texts and see a contradiction. However, the same Holy Spirit who inspired Matthew to write also inspired Luke. How do we harmonize these two accounts?

I think the simplest way to harmonize them is to see that one of the robbers repented and placed his faith in Christ while on his cross and the other robber remained hostile and apart from Christ..

I think that these accounts give us a very compact picture of human destiny. We see two humans, both of whom are hostile to Christ when their time of crucifixion begins. Yet, one remains hostile to the end and refuses to allow his eternal destiny to be changed. The other comes to faith in Christ and is ultimately saved from his eternal condemnation.

What a picture of human destiny. The perfect human, Jesus Christ, is in the midst of sinful and hostile humanity. In His dying, He brings life and peace to others. His death (and also in His resurrection days later) changes the destiny of those who trust in Him, giving hope, purpose and eternal life.

One remains hostile. The other comes to faith. The ultimate paths of humanity are only two. The path of the one who fails to believe and the path of the one who does believe.

What encouragement for us to trust Christ. The thief who repented had no list of good things he did for God. His life was lived in rebellion to God and to the people around him. With only hours to live, under a sentence of death, both physical and spiritual, he brings nothing to recommend him. In the midst of his crucifixion, he changed his mind. With words of implicit trust said to Jesus, this robber’s destiny was changed. After this, he wasn’t going to have a long lifetime to do the work of Christ on Earth. But it can be truly said that he spent the remainder of his life faithful to Christ (even if that life was to be measured only in hours). No long list of good works already done to recommend him to God. No promise of a long life to do the work of the kingdom of God. Only simple trust in Christ in the midst of nothing else. Yet, such faith then and today hears the promise echo back: “Today, you will be with me in Paradise.” 

Finishing Strong

Finish Line - 2014-03-08Recent events are reminding me that not only are we running the race which God laid out before us to run (Hebrews 12:1-2) but that we need to keep the finish line in mind and in sight. Those of us in Christ know from this passage that not only was Christ the one Who put us onto this race course but also caused us to start the race, raced along with us and awaits us at the finish line.

A few weeks ago, I participated in a 5K walk in nearby Utica, Michigan. It was my third 5K walk in the last three months. I really wanted to do well (that is, to set a new personal best time). To help me along the way, I used the stopwatch on my wristwatch to indicate the elapsed time at certain mile markers along the way. In working the numbers later on, I found that the pace on the first mile was remarkably fast for me. The second mile was a bit slower but still much faster than my average pace. It was, however, between mile markers 2.0 and 2.6 that I really slowed down. Without other landmarks to use, I didn’t realize at the time how much I had slowed down.

However, at mile marker 2.6, the large structure for the finish line was directly down the street in front of me, half a mile away. When I calculated my speed from that point to the finish line, I found that my pace significantly increased. I completed the race with a personal best time, 32 seconds faster than my last race.

I didn’t realize it at the time but seeing the finish line gave me a focus to complete the race and do it with strength. I think we can compare this to what we have in life’s journey. The finish line is Christ. At a time in my life when I know that I have fewer years on Earth in front of me than behind me, I want to encourage all of us in Christ to finish strongly.

Recently, I read a passage from Psalm 92 that goes along with these reflections on finishing strong. I pray this would be true of all of us:

They flourish in the courts of our God.
They still bear fruit in old age;
they are ever full of sap and green,
to declare that the Lord is upright;

Psalm 92:13-15 (English Standard Version)