“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” begins the famous one-of-a-kind opening sentence of Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities.”
Dickens’ novel opens with a single, one hundred word, opening sentence that includes, “We were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way,” sharing a narrative which aligns itself with the Bible’s most memorable story on eternal destiny. A story that Dr. Jonathan Murray of Dallas Theological Seminary calls “The Tale of Two Criminals.” A five verse narrative from The Book of Luke 23 that frames the ultimate question for every person: “Which side of the Cross are you on?”
Luke’s story provides us front row seats for the most important conversation in written history. Here the climax of the original Good Friday unfolds on a hill called Golgotha, along a main road where two criminals are hanging on crosses on each side of Jesus Christ who is ridiculed by a Roman sign reading, ‘King of the Jews’. There they discuss the ultimate eternal question we each will answer, which side of the Cross of Jesus are you on?
Doctor Luke did not name either criminal allowing us to freely associate our own names with with either of these men who were approaching their last hours on earth.
So, place your name with either or both men and consider the gravity of your decision within this conversation taking place on that Good Friday long ago.
On one side is the dominating mood of overall rejection at the ‘the place that is called the skull’. This atmosphere of refusal included a passive watch of people, the casting of lots to divide Jesus’ garments, the self-righteous sneers of the rulers scoffing at Him, saying, “He saved others; let Him save Himself! Additionally soldier’s mocked Him, by offering sour wine and saying, “If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself!”
Then to finalize the rejection, a criminal hanging on Jesus side showed a selfish disregard for his own pathway to perdition ‘railing at Jesus, saying, “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!”
On the other side of Jesus, we hear true repentance and expression of trust in Jesus by the criminal who rebukes the other criminal by recognizing the truth, “Do you not fear God?...since we are receiving the due reward of our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he cries out to Jesus to provide a pathway for his salvation, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”
In the middle is redemption as Jesus remembers with His near last words those who trust in Him, Promising Paradise for his repentance. He will now be saved by the his faith alone as Jesus assures him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in paradise.”
Which side of the Cross of Jesus are you on?
Prayer: Father, this Easter may we live towards Heaven! Help us to remember the wise counsel of CS Lewis who wrote in ‘Mere Christianity’, ‘’If you read history, you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were those who thought most of the next.” Amen
Jeff Anderson is Servant Pastor of SERV Kerrville, a nonprofit collaborating with community partners to empower lifelong learning. He welcomes your comments at Jeff@Leadershipinc.us.