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Three Criminals

I would like for you to take a moment to put yourself in the place of one of the three criminals from the story of Good Friday. First, there is Barabbas, the man who was guilty of murder and insurrection. There was likely no hope for his freedom until an innocent man was condemned by an angry mob; a mob which may have been eerily similar to the one Barabbas had hoped to incite before his arrest.[1]

Then there is the first thief on the cross. He was filled with vitriol and hatred until the end. He showed open contempt for the “criminal” beside him who had the audacity to claim that he was the promised Messiah and equal with God in power and authority. How pathetic.

Finally, there is the second thief. We can only speculate now, but somewhere between his crime and that moment on the cross, he had come to the dreadful conclusion that he was getting exactly what he deserved. Devastated and dying, there was no hope to be found—until he looked to the man on the cross beside him.[2]

Despite his innocence, Jesus would be the first to die. For all we know, Barabbas may have died of old age decades later. We do know that the two thieves were still alive when the soldiers came and found Jesus dead. And so it was that the man who had never sinned died while criminals looked on. How could we remember the day of crucifixion as good?

It is good because the innocent man who died in this story was the only man who can justify the guilty before God. Any judge who lets off the guilty simply on a whim cannot be considered good; how much more so could the righteous and perfect Judge of all mankind be considered good by simply turning a blind eye to criminals? If we want a God who is truly good, then we must also want a God who is truly just.

Like Barabbas and the criminals on the cross, our sins make us the direct and rightful target of God’s justice. We are all guilty before God, and our only hope is that someone who is completely innocent will be willing to bear our punishment for us. Because of his love for people, Jesus chose to receive the justice you and I deserve. He loved the three criminals, and the message for us this Easter weekend is that the lavish display of God’s love is once again on display for the world to see. “But God shows his own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”[3]

[1] Luke 23:18-25 (ESV): [2] Luke 23:32-43 (ESV): [3] Romans 5:8 (ESV):



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