This text contains several dichotomies. First, there is
the intensity of Jesus dying and suffering on the cross
and yet tender responses from him as he says “Father,
forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing”
(v. 34). Even in his suffering Jesus ministered to
others. Those he forgives in this scripture passage are
Roman soldiers who have been cruel to him and others.
But in fact, Jesus is forgiving all involved, not just
the soldiers. The Jewish leaders who had long wanted to
be rid of Jesus were present in the crowd. Curious
onlookers continued his torture by mocking him. The
soldiers charged with the task of crucifixion divided
the fine clothes that had been given to Jesus
symbolizing him as “The King of the Jews” (v. 38).
Amid all this torture and suffering, the love of
God shows in Jesus until his final breath. He is willing
to defeat hatred, injustice, and cruelty with the simple
act of loving those who are committing these atrocious
acts. He models how all should respond to those who
mistreat and abuse them. He defeats the cruelty of this
particular and widespread form of punishment.
Because crucifixion was such a shameful form of
execution, the Gospel writer wanted to make clear that
Jesus’ crucifixion was different. Even in his suffering
and pain, Jesus brings Divine dignity to the scene by
forgiving his executioners and loving the people
committing the atrocious acts, all while having a tender
conversation with one of the men hanging next to him.
Luke is the only Gospel writer to record the
conversation of Jesus and the men on crosses next to
him. One of the men cruelly taunts Jesus by “deriding
him and saying, ‘Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself
and us!’” (v. 39). This phrase is a reminder there will
always be doubters who must be shown a different way.
But this opened another conversation with the penitent
thief who, in defense of Jesus, says to his fellow
criminal, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the
same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed…are getting
what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done
nothing wrong” (vv. 40–41). Once again the shame and
humiliation of the moment is lovingly shattered as the
thief says, “…Jesus, remember me when you come into your
kingdom” (v. 42).
In a fitting way, Jesus dies among the outcasts
of society: criminals, thieves, and murderers. And in
the way Jesus lived his whole life, as he is dying, he
grants mercy for all involved. Consider the tender
moment when he says to the penitent thief, “Truly I tell
you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (v. 43).
In that moment, Jesus connects with the promise
of eternal life. Jesus began his ministry in Luke 4:18
proclaiming the “good news to the poor” and “release to
the captives” and now he ends his life with loving
assurance of eternal life to one of life’s captives who
is next to him on the cross. Jesus’ ministry of life has
come full circle with his death. The world will awaken
with his resurrection.
In this last moment of Jesus’ life shared so
poignantly in Luke 23:39–43, we are reassured that the
good news of the gospel is fully realized in the