Any time you read a transcript something is lost, for a transcript reads without emotion or emphasis and a great deal of the communication that took place is lost. Most human communication is nonverbal whereas a transcript is only verbal, thus voice inflection, tonal quality facial expressions and body language are all gone. As we read Luke’s words, our perception of what is going on tends to be rather stale; we have a conversation recorded between the three who are being crucified and it reads as though they are sitting by a warm fire with nice cups of coffee on the table in front of them, along with fine pastries… and nothing could be further from the truth for they were in the process of being tortured to death slowly, agonizingly…
Luke mentions that the Romans grabbed a guy named Simon on the street and forced him to carry Jesus’ cross through the streets, but he neglects to mention that Jesus was physically unable to carry it because of the beating He had receive by their hands. His back would have been torn open, He would have been a bloody mess; probably His body would be in shock. When He spoke to the “daughters of Jerusalem” (23:28-31) He would have had difficulty speaking and have been in unbelievable pain. Even to have seen this scene would probably cause most of us to lose our breakfast in the street.
Yet Jesus is quoting Scripture…
The three condemned men are stripped naked and nailed to their crosses. When they are lifted up, no doubt they were immediately in a state of panic even through their unimaginable pain, for as soon as these crosses were upright, they would be unable to breathe, for they could only take a breath by pushing up on their feet which had a nail driven through them rubbing their bare backs against the rough wood of the cross; try to imagine what that would feel like for Jesus who had His back ripped open.
That is where Luke inserts his conversation.
With all of this in mind, take another look at what is said.
One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”
But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Can you hear them struggling for breath, their crying out in pain, their emotion and sheer terror?
Sadly, many commentators like to get into the gruesome details of this scene to impart guilt on their readers, for after all, Jesus was bearing my sins and yours too on that cross. As for me, I don’t think that imparting guilt is a very useful strategy for teaching about this scene for guilt is a negative emotion that impairs our relationship with our Lord, for it tends to defeat the very purpose for which He went willingly to the cross His purpose was to take our guilt away. What we really have is quite different, for we have a picture of our human condition:
The first criminal is angry. Bystanders are hurling insults at Jesus, and he joins in and uses the occasion to demand that Jesus save him from the situation as though it was Jesus’ fault that he had committed a capital crime. How many people have you known who seek to blame God for their circumstances and turn away from Him?
The second criminal, realizing that he is responsible for his own situation rebukes the first man, instead asking Jesus to “remember” him in the Kingdom. Which of these two men, in spite of the horrific circumstances in which they met Jesus, was justified before God on that day?
Round about noon, the landscape became dark, perhaps a storm was moving in. The curtain in the temple is torn in two around three in the afternoon, and Jesus commends His spirit to His Father and breathes His last… The curtain that was now broken in two was what symbolically had been the separation between humanity and the presence of God. The commander of the Roman troops on the scene was moved by what he witnessed, the onlookers went on their way… and the Messianic mission of Jesus Messiah was now completed; darkness was upon the land.