Each of the four Gospels tells that Jesus was crucified between two men. Only John describes them as two others. The other Gospels call them criminals. I wonder why John chose not to describe the two men on either side of Jesus that way.
Rome condemned all three men to death – a cruel dignity-stealing death. Jesus wasn’t only condemned by Rome, but his own people shouted for him to be crucified. The same crowd who cheered days earlier “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” – shouted “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!”
Pilate said to them, “Should I crucify your king?”
“We have no king but Caesar!” the chief priests answered. Then he handed him over to be crucified.
The people hurled insults and mocked them as they passed by the men on the crosses. The leaders scoffed and even those crucified with Jesus mocked him. Neither criminal knew the man between them. I’m certain they’d heard rumors about Jesus. About the miracles. About the sermons. About the healings and the way he challenged the religious institutions. They knew firsthand only what they’d seen the day they were crucified with him.
The Gospel of Luke is the only one with details about part of a conversation between Jesus and the men on either side of him. One of them yells at Jesus: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” The other man rebuked him: “We are punished justly…this man has done nothing wrong.”
One man joined those insulting Jesus, not knowing who he was mocking. The other rebuked the mocking one not fully knowing who he was defending.
All he knew was that Jesus was wrongly condemned. All he knew was the inscription above Jesus’ head read – THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS. All he knew was that whoever Jesus was and whatever kingdom he was to rule over – he wanted to be part of it.
He couldn’t have known what it all meant. Still…he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
No theology required. No Romans Road prayer. No baptism. No statement of faith on the Trinity, the Virgin Birth, or Heaven and Hell.
Just a man on a cross who encountered a love like he’d never known before.