He has been forgiven, redeemed, and is the benefactor of gracious mercy from the One who created him and now welcomes him
By Dr. Donald Whitchard
“And as they led Him away, they seized one Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, and laid on him the cross to carry it behind Jesus. There followed Him a multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for Him. But turning to them Jesus said, ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed! Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us, and to the hills, cover us!’ For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?’
“Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with Him. And when they had come to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified Him and the criminals, one on His right and one on His left. And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ And they cast lots to divide His garments. The people stood by watching, but the rulers scoffed at Him, saying, ‘He saved others; let Him save Himself if He is the Christ of God, His Chosen One!’ The soldiers also mocked Him, coming up and offering Him sour wine and saying, ‘If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself!’ There was also an inscription over Him, ‘This is the king of the Jews.’
“One of the criminals who were hanged railed 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.’
“It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun’s light failed. Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice said, ‘Father, into Thy hands I commit My spirit!’ And having said this, He breathed His last. Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, ‘Certainly this Man was innocent!’ And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, went home beating their breasts. All His acquaintances and the women who had followed Him from Galilee stood at a distance watching these things.
“Now there was a man named Joseph from the Jewish town of Arimathea. He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man who had not consented to their decision and action and he was looking for the kingdom of God.
“This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down and wrapped it in a linen shroud and laid Him in a tomb of stone where no one had been laid. It was the day of preparation and the Sabbath was beginning. The women who had come with Him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how His body was laid. Then they returned and prepared spices and ointments. On the sabbath day they rested according to the commandment.”
- Luke 23:26-56, ESV
In 2004, a motion picture premiered in theaters across the country and overseas that caused a great deal of controversy, bringing criticism for the subject matter from individuals who either derided it, mocked it, or labeled it as a derogatory portrait of a particular nationality and its religious practices. There were thousands who watched the film in movie theaters across the nation and the world, however, who had their faith renewed, or had the reality of what was portrayed on the screen sink into their souls and brought them before the presence of God for the first time in their lives. Many who saw it were content to see it one time due to the graphic violence and the conclusion thereof.
When I took my family to see this picture, the audience did not leave until the credits had finished playing, and even then, they stayed silent for ten or more minutes before departing in silence, tears, and thought. It was the first “R” rated movie I had decided to let my children view. And for my son, who is autistic, the central character of the film was instrumental in starting him on his journey with the LORD, which is still going strong today in his adult years. This film became the year’s biggest hit, earning over $600,000,000, yet it was all but ignored by the Academy Awards the following year, which came as no surprise to me.
Specials were produced by cable and satellite networks on how the movie changed people’s lives, and for one individual, to confess to a crime that had occurred years ago and to let justice have its way with him. He had told reporters that he had been burdened and convicted within his spirit to make things right and bring peace and closure to his victim’s family. In turn, the family forgave him for his crime and got on with their lives in accordance with the faith they had renewed by seeing the same picture earlier that year.
The film was Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, which has been shown on religious networks every Easter and is currently part of the lineup of movie channels on the internet and other outlets. Those of you who saw it know why the movie received the “R” rating. If you have never seen it, the story centers on the last hours of Jesus as He undergoes the unspeakable agony, brutality, and excruciating pain of being beaten with a whip and His skin being torn to shreds, being made the subject of mockery and insults from soldiers, the religious leaders, and the local rulers such as Herod.
He is barely alive, with visible and horrific wounds everywhere, and is finally nailed to the cross he had been forced to carry to the hill of the skull, where He lingers in pain and agony and endures the wrath of God as the sins of humanity are poured out on Him. His distraught mother, Mary, the young Apostle John, and Mary Magdalene, who had been delivered from the grip of demons by Jesus, is also there, weeping bitter tears. Judas has been tormented by the fiends of hell and has hung himself in shame and remorse over betraying Jesus. Peter has run off after denying that he knew Him, and the other apostles have gone into hiding.
Every mother who watched this film began crying at the scene where Jesus, as a little boy, falls and apparently injures Himself. Mary sees this and immediately runs to Him, picking Him up in her arms and reassuring Him that she is there. The scene then goes to the present time, where the LORD is carrying His cross, falls in exhaustion, and Mary gets through the crowds to be at His side and tell Him that, again, she is there. Jesus looks at her lovingly and lets her know that He is making all things new. Little wonder that tears fell from both women and men as they watched this scene.
The account of the crucifixion, as recorded in all four gospels, presents a diverse, hostile, grieving, and indifferent cast of players in the drama of redemption. There are the Pharisees, who had instigated the entire affair with the aid of the reluctant governor Pontius Pilate, all of whom now look upon Jesus with scorn and then leave to return to Jerusalem and the affairs of the temple. They hear one of the thieves who is suffering the agony of crucifixion cry out to them that even in His own pain and suffering, Jesus has prayed for them. The disdain and hatred that these Pharisees and officials have for Jesus is so engrained in their hearts that this does not even seem to faze them as they ride away.
The Roman soldiers who have flogged and ridiculed Him have placed a crown of sharp thorns on His head that causes profuse bleeding in His scalp. He has become a source of grim and sadistic amusement as they watch Him and the other two criminals writhe in untold pain and sheer physical agony and slowly die from a combination of blood loss, shock, and the onset of suffocation. Their heartbeats are erratic and fluctuating and starting to decrease.
Death may not come for two to three days for most victims. Even then, their bodies are usually pierced with a spear to verify that the victims have not merely passed out or are pretending to be dead in order to be taken off the cross. The two criminals’ legs will soon be broken to hasten their demise, and then the carrion will come to feed on the corpses. What is left of them is then cast into the burning garbage pit outside of Jerusalem known as Gehenna, which Jesus used as an illustration of the horrors of eternal hell.
The women of Jerusalem are told by Jesus as He heads to Golgotha that their weeping should not be for Him but for the oncoming destruction of Jerusalem and its horrific aftermath for the nation of Israel. He had prophesied that this disaster would come upon Israel as a judgment from God for their deliberate rejection of the Lord Jesus as the Promised Messiah.
The two criminals have also taken cheap shots at Jesus as they curse and ridicule Him. One thief stops his insults and realizes that he is totally unprepared for what awaits him after his death (Luke 16:19-31). He is faced with the unknown and turns to Jesus, asking in what little faith he can muster if he will even be remembered when Jesus enters His kingdom. It is a desperate cry for redemption. He hears the unexpected pardon from the Lord Jesus, assuring this dying thief that he will be in Paradise alongside Jesus when he draws his final breath. He has been forgiven, redeemed, and is the benefactor of gracious mercy from the One who created him and now welcomes him to a place that neither he nor any of us deserve, yet is freely given. That includes you, friend.
Jesus is undergoing this brutality of body and spirit willingly for our redemption and salvation from the sins that should rightly place all of us on crosses to pay for our wickedness and sins before a Holy God, who will not tolerate any sin in His presence and will not overlook anyone. We cannot atone for our sins by doing “good works” or some other self-centered task. The Scriptures tell us that we are redeemed through faith in Christ and not by our own works (Ephesians 2:8-9).
It is the finished work of Christ on the cross – bearing our sins and enduring the wrath of God as the perfect, sinless Lamb, sacrificed for our atonement once and for all, never to be repeated again (John 10:27-30, 14:6; Acts 4:12, 16:31; Romans 5:6-11, 6:23, 8:31-39; Hebrews 7:25; Revelation 1:1-18) – that saves us, and He is the ONLY way that God has provided for redemption and forgiveness of sin. When Jesus cried out, “IT IS FINISHED!” our salvation was secured, and we are now able to approach God and be the recipients of eternal life in heaven, forever free from the bondage of sin and death.
A righteous man, Joseph of Arimathea, came forward to help friends and family take Jesus’ body off of the cross and prepare it for burial in his personal tomb as a gesture of respect and love for the Master he had up to now followed in secrecy. He approaches Pilate and requests Jesus’ body that He might have a burial place. The body is wrapped in linen, prepared with spices to prevent the stench of decay, and put in the rock-hewn tomb, the stone rolled over it, and the followers of Jesus return to their homes to observe the Sabbath with grief and sorrow. Three days pass, and the world will never be the same when Sunday approaches. The King will return.
Donald was born and reared in the authentic Cajun country of south Louisiana. He is a 1978 graduate of LaGrange High School in Lake Charles. He is also a graduate of Louisiana College (B.A. in History Education, 1984), New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (M.Div., 1994) and Andersonville Theological Seminary (Doctor of Ministry, 2000). He is an ACPE Certified Chaplain with training in Trauma/ER, NICU, and Psychiatric Pastoral Care from the McFarland Institute in New Orleans (2003). He has over thirty years of ministry service, which concluded when he was called to serve as pastor of Meadowbrook Baptist Church in Muskogee, Oklahoma from 2017-2018. Due to health concerns, he retired from public ministry in 2020 and now devotes his time to internet evangelism through the writing of Bible studies, sermons, and articles on current issues for varied Christian webpages and ministries. He is a regular contributor to sites such as Rapture Ready and Sermon Central as well as Inspirational Christian Blogs. He and his wife Cathy are both active members of Eastern Heights Baptist Church in Muskogee. Don will often serve as a panel member of the Gospel Rescue Mission Pastor’s Round Table Broadcast, shown monthly on the mission’s Facebook page as his health allows. He has a personal evangelistic blog as well and can be contacted at his Email address.