When looking at the hill of Calvary, we tend to focus a great deal on the middle cross, the one on which the Christ was nailed. And rightly so, for that is the cross by which we might be saved. That was the cross to which our sins were nailed. But we mustn't exclude the other two crosses, for they are a representation of mankind. In these two criminals we see the two possibilities for man. Either to choose a home in Paradise, or to die a blasphemer of the living God.
Luke writes, "There were also two others, criminals, led with Him to be put to death. And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left... Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, "‘If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.' But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds, but this Man has done nothing wrong.'"
From this context, we see a picture of all of humanity unfold before us. We ourselves take one of these two viewpoints when it comes to the Son of God. Either we take the side of the blasphemous criminal, mocking the name of Jesus, or we defend Him. There is no middle ground. Perhaps that is why the one thief defended Him.
These two crosses can be classified as the cross of rebellion and the cross of repentance. Which cross we bear is entirely up to us, but we must realize that there are consequences to each.
The cross of rebellion. This cross represents those who despise the name of Jesus. They do not want to submit to His authority. They have a will of their own, and want to exercise it. Such a person is above the need or the desire for a God. Such things seem foolish, as well as those who would follow after such an idea. We often think of the atheist as being the rebellious, but if we look into Scripture, it is the children of God who are warned against the possibility of rebellion. Children at times have the "my way" attitude, and we as the children of God are no different. What we need to realize is that this is a spirit of rebellion, and will find no place within the kingdom of God.
The cross of repentance is the one we ought to bear. We don't know much at all about either thief, but there are some things that are quite evident about the second thief. First, we know that he was a sinner. This was the reason for which he was to die. His sins were so hideous among men that he was to die because of them.
Second, he realized that he was guilty of sin. That is where the problem lies in those who are rebellious. They are unwilling to admit to their own errors. They will not acknowledge the fact that they are sinners. But we see this thief acknowledging before the other criminal, before Jesus, and before anyone else who was within ear shot that he was guilty, and justly punished for his deeds.
His desire was to turn from his sin. He may never have thought about it before, but now, as his life was ending, he realized the error of his way. He realized that he could not do it on his own. He realized that he needed a Saviour.
"Then he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.'" He realized he needed a Saviour, and he realized that a Saviour hung on the tree next to him. The next words which Luke records, as spoken by Jesus give the greatest promise to a hopeless sinner. "Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise."
What cross will you bear? The cross of rebellion or the cross of repentance? There is no middle ground. This is an issue on which you cannot remain neutral. What words will you hear Jesus say to you on the judgment day?