Suffering: The darkest day in human history
Jesus. He was fully human and fully God. He was servant and King. He was persecuted and exalted. What does all of this have to do with suffering? Our Christ suffered a horrific death on the cross, but if we look to his right and to his left we see two thieves who handled Jesus’ suffering completely differently.
We, as humans, usually have two different responses to suffering. The first is when we approach God and say, “If you are such a great and powerful and loving God, why am I going through this?” Or we acknowledge that we are sinners and don’t deserve any good thing, and cry out for mercy and help in our time of desperation. The world is full of people who complain to God in their pride and expect that the creator of the universe is obligated to make their life smooth. The other response seems to be rarer – the few who know that God truly owes us nothing, and that any good to come our way will be due only to his mercy and grace, and not from anything we have done or will ever do.
When you look at the two thieves in Luke 23 you see that their situations are extremely similar. They are both suffering a death on a cross due to a crime that they had committed, and both desperately want to live. Who can relate? We have all experienced or will experience some sort of suffering or trial in our lives. Most of us want to live and be spared from death one way or another.
The first thief
The first thief was no exception. While on the cross, he exclaims to Christ, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” He cared little that his punishment was justified in the law. He doesn’t even acknowledge the fault in his actions. More than anything, he wants his earthly life prolonged. He wants to confirm Jesus’ identity as The Messiah only to aid his own escape from the cross. There was no sense of remorse, humility, or even guilt on his behalf.
The second thief
In response to the first thief’s failure to understand the role of The Messiah, the second thief began to rebuke 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.” The second thief actually feared God. God was real to him. In his humility, he admitted that he had done wrong and that this suffering was punishment that he deserved. Even further, he acknowledges that Jesus is a blameless king who “had done nothing wrong” and wants Jesus to “remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Jesus responded to the humble thief saying “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” He believed and was saved. His life will be spared and he will enjoy heaven for eternity. Jesus was sent to save. Even in the midst of His suffering he came to save. In our suffering He saves. Let us remember this Good Friday that it is because of His suffering that we are able to spend eternity in Paradise. Let us suffer humbly, effectively and never doubt Him.
“One of the criminals who were hanged irailed 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: 33-43)