The Three Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke each record very similar scenes from the life and ministry of Jesus, however, there are also some differences and one of those differences is where we find ourselves. It is a significant diversion in Luke’s narrative of the events up to and around the crucifixion of Jesus. In Matthew Chapter 27 and Mark 15 and Luke 23, the journey to Calvary is very similar in each. However, before we look at a small section of Luke’s Narrative I want us to consider both other accounts because I believe they help paint a fuller picture and help us to grasp the wonder of the scene in Luke’s Narrative. When we look at all three we realise just what Jesus did, endured and the hope he offers us through the cross.
Matthew’s Account of the Death of Christ.
Chapter 26 is where the narrative starts to move to the account of the resurrection and in Chapter 27 where Jesus is being led down the road to Calvary to be crucified and fulfil the will of his father. We are presented with two criminals who walk the same road as him; one is crucified on his left and the other on to his right. Christ has the central point because it is all about him. In the image being created in the mind of the reader, they should see Jesus first and then compare the actions of every other character against the picture they have developed of him throughout the whole narrative. Thus, all the other characters play roles in how the relate to Christ. At this point, the image presented through the criminals on crosses at the side of Christ and those who passed by him is one of arrogance. We see ridicule coming from the Chief priests, scribes, and elders who shake their head and revile him. Furthermore, as you read you are presented with their arrogance in light of the cross; with their perceived victory as they think have defeated the man who has been a thorn in their side, a threat to their power and a challenge to the status quo.
Everyone in Matthews Narrative is presented as an enemy of the cross, as they arrogantly look upon Jesus at his weakest moment and see only their victory. They never see the innocence of the man who hung from the tree, even the criminals who find themselves rightfully condemned at that point are presented as arrogant as they ‘reviled him in the same way.’ (Matt. 27:44 ESV) The Rest of the Matthean account is filled with imagery and awe as the Son fulfils the will of the father, yet at his moment of weakness, when Jesus seems powerless to help and all those who are presented with him and around him are reveling in their victory and his defeat there seems to be no hope; no one who can see Jesus for who he is and what he is about to do.
Mark’s Account of The Death of Christ: Darkness
Marks account of the events leading up to Jesus death on the cross are similar in structure and flow to the account of Matthew. In Chapter 15 the events that happen up to the resurrection appear to be even more sinister and dark than Matthews Gospel. The trial before the high priest is succeeded by a mock trial before the Roman Governor Pilate, then a mob scene follows where a murderer and insurrectionist is free in place of the innocent Jesus. The crowd demand the blood of innocence. Then the account moves towards the foreordained conclusion of the death and resurrection of Christ.
Mark presents the facts of what happened to Jesus without any real suggestion of the theological significance of what was going on. The section we are concerned with feels a lot faster than the Matthean storyline as Jesus is offered wine to drink and rejects it; his clothes are divided and gambled away; people pass by with the same arrogance as before; Pharisees mock him and the condemned thieves on either side of him revile him (15:32). What we see is a picture of equality at the foot of the Cross, as those who consider themselves righteous before the law and those condemned by it; whether good citizens or criminals. What we see is that all stand equal in their arrogance and condemnation of Jesus, wagging their head and mocking the broken, bruised, bloodied and beaten Christ. What we are presented with is a picture of hopelessness and despair
Luke’s Account of the death of Christ: Hope amid Chaos
We find the section we are concerned with in Luke Chapter 23. Luke was obsessed with detail and built his narrative of the life and ministry of Christ from eye witness accounts. Thus, because Luke uses different sources he sometimes seems to have a different or fuller picture of different moments in the life and ministry of Jesus. However, it is important to read all the Gospels when they are discussing the same scenes because they capture different things for different reasons as so they help us paint a fuller picture of everything that was going on, they help us to capture the contrast of emotions between Jesus and those who opposed him. Reading all three help to grasp the struggle, symbolism and travesty of the situation. It is with a knowledge of all three that we can see the Grace given amid darkness. The hope offered amid chaos. The future secured in the light of eternity. It is only when we grasp the evil, hopelessness and darkness that surrounded all of the events leading up to the death and resurrection do we start to glimpse the depth and power of what Jesus offers to the criminal and to us today.
Luke’s narrative throughout is a wonderful contrast to the darkness of the others as repeatedly Christ offers to those, that which they would never offer him: There is his lament over Jerusalem (28-31) as those who make up the city revile him; then there is the open offer of forgiveness to those who hung him on the tree (33). Finally, there is a small yet powerful moment of hope at precisely the moment when evil seems to have triumphed as Jesus sits in the jaws of death and all seems to be lost, there is a moment which offers the reader a picture of what is to come and the confidence that Jesus has because he is where he needs to be, he is fulfilling the will of the father and playing his part in God’s redemption plan for all of the man.
Luke’s narrative follows a similar path to all the accounts that we have looked at, with similar characters throughout who react the same way. We are introduced to the two criminals in a similar chronological place, we are not given details of their location but based on the other account we can assume that one hung to his right and the other to his left.
Jesus has just prayed for those who have placed him on the cross who at that very time are scoffing at him and gambling over his clothes. Then the sign that hangs just above the head of Jesus is revealed to the reader: This is the King of the Jews. It is as one of the criminals in the final moments of his life and being angry with the world scanned all that was around him, seen the sign above the head of Jesus and thought that for one last time he would feel powerful. So he starts hurling insults, he looks upon Jesus and thinks “if he is who he then he might be of benefit to me.” He looks at Jesus and thinks if he is who he says he is if he is the Son of God; the promised Messiah then he can free himself and Us. Even at the moment when he is paying the price for a life of breaking the law and living as he wanted to live with no regard for anyone else, every at the moment where he is receiving what he deserved he still looks through his own self-centred eyes. Selfishly, he sees only his own situation, his own salvation.
There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.”
CS LEWIS – THE GREAT DIVORCE
With this criminal, we see a picture of all of humanity and those who continue to rebel against God and reject his free offer of Grace to all. With the arrogant criminal who even as he is gripped by the jaws of Death and is paying the price for his wrongs and sins under the law, we see ourselves as individuals and communities when we chose to reject God and try to be God ourselves. As he tried to devise his own plan of salvation so too often do we – even as Christians – try to do things on our own, try to solve the problem of our sin with our solution and in doing so we sin even more. Yet in such arrogance and darkness, we are offered hope, we are offered a different picture: someone else enters the narrative and speaks up, in doing so he defends Jesus and offers us a picture of something better. In his response to the other criminal he reminds him that they are there by their own actions and choices, they had no one else to blame but themselves. He exclaims: “Jesus is innocent, we are not; Jesus should not be here and we have no one to blame but ourselves for being here. It is our sin that has nailed us here. Furthermore, after recognising Jesus for who he was the criminal asks something of him, but it is different to the other because he does not snarl, nor demand; He pleads, he begs for mercy as he Cries “Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom.” It is a picture of hope during Chaos; beauty in despair; light in darkness; and a glimpse of what is to come. It is both a plea for mercy and confession of faith. In these short scenes before the death of Christ, we are offered hope during Chaos and a glimpse of what is to come. As the man recognises Jesus for who he is and himself for what he is and pleads for Mercy. As Jesus Prayed “Father forgive them,” so then he could offer forgiveness and Grace to the man who hung with him.
Conclusion, Application and Response
What we see here is a picture that is still true today. There are two types of people in this world, those who look to God and see what they can have and demand and those who kneel before him. The Second criminal offers us a picture of kneeling before God and shows us how:
- He recognises his own Guilt and Sin.
- He recognises Jesus for who he is. He looks upon Christ during his weakness moment’s and sees his true strength. He looks upon the broken, battered and bruised Body of Jesus hanging on the cross and see the Son of God who is worthy of Praise. He sees hope in Hopelessness.
- He pleads for Mercy – which is glady given – and Confesses his faith in the Son of God.
What we have is a picture of the Redemption, the Gospel and the hope that we have through the cross of Jesus Christ. The Question is you willing to place your all in that event whether for the first time or the hundred time and allow God to make you more in his Image.