Three Crosses

Luke has provided posterity with a detailed account of the crucifixion. Notably the fact that there were three crosses with three men is keenly accentuated, and Luke describes how the two rebels rightly accused of their misdeeds died on each side of Jesus.

Karl Barth, the great Swiss theologian, has said that this text, if understood properly, contains the whole history of the world, and of all God’s dealings with humanity.

Typifying the entire human race those two rebels died with Christ. Paul tells us that the sting of sin is death. On those crosses we died on account of our sin. Cary Stockett writes: “Jesus and the two criminals hang there together as three men all exposed to the same abuse, the same agonizing pain, and the same slow, but irreversible death throes.”

The two rebels were guilty, but the third person that day was innocent. Christ identifying with our sin died in our stead on what seemed like one of the grimmest days in history. The broader meaning of what took place on those three crosses is easily lost when we attempt to commemorate what transpired that day through only one cross.

The two rebels are often omitted when artists or others try to visualize the crucifixion scene.  “Whenever this is done, a crucial and all-important element of the story is missing, not only historically, but spiritually and theologically.  Because the New Testament makes it clear that Jesus the Lord—precisely because he was and is Lord—did not die alone.”, Stockett points out.

Paul makes it clear in his second letter to the Corinthians that “we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead.” (5:14) The three crosses signify our inclusion in Christ’s death. What happened to Jesus happened to us. That day when we died together with Him our sins were forever blotted out. Dead people are free from sin.

After the crucifixion there is a resurrection. Paul writes that the last Adam was a life-giving Spirit (1 Cor 15:22) and that His life has abounded to many (Rom 5:15). Paul elaborates in verse 18: “Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.” Through Christ all is raised to a new standing before God. We were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, Paul explains to the Corinthians.

This is the shocking and “too good to be true” news of which God has made us ministers. Yet this universal crucifixion of the entire human race does not leave those who are presented God’s dealings with mankind without a choice to be made.

The crucifixion scene offers us two rebels and two destinies. One of them chose Christ and was immediately granted access to paradise. The simplicity of salvation is vividly demonstrated through this man. He called on Jesus and that was all. Contemporary Christendom has turned salvation upside down. You have to straighten up your act before you are incorporated in the church. You have to repent and confess your sins before you are accepted by Christ. On the cross Jesus cries out a resounding No! to this cursed lie.

The other rebel for various reasons rejected Christ. So, even though I firmly believe in this universal crucifixion of the whole human race I am not saying that everyone goes to heaven. The two rebels demonstrate this sad fact very lucidly. Every man is left with a choice when presented the astonishing good news about their inclusion in Christ; that they are reconciled to God and forgiven, but they are free to reject or accept the good gift of grace.

Jesus never condemned the man who rejected Him. Despite the excruciating pain and the death throes He refrained from manipulation and a call for pity. It was like He said: “This is the deal. You can either accept it or reject it, but you cannot remain untouched from it.” The cross will always provoke a reaction in man, it confronts us, bothers us, pursues us and it compels us to make a choice.

John plainly states that the choice we make has eternal repercussions: “He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.” (1 John 5:12) Paul explains that the one who accepts Christ has become one Spirit with God (1 Cor 6:17). God makes it plainly clear that in Christ His life is our life. The Father said to the son in Luke 15 “all that I have is yours.” From God we derive our new identity and confidently and boldly we say with Paul, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” (Gal. 2:20)

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13 Responses to Three Crosses

  1. cheryl lowry says:

    Brilliant! Loved this as it was Holy Spirit inspIred.

  2. Ole Henrik says:

    Thanks Cheryl! It was very difficult to write. I wrestled with the text for two days. Glad you think it came out well and that you could sense the Spirit behind it.

  3. Hi Ole, that’s a great point about art often leaving out the two rebels and depicting only Jesus on the Cross, not that I think that the depiction always has to be inclusive. But as you say, Jesus did not die alone,but in the presence of the other two dying with him, and also in the presence of onlookers of all types, all having the same need and not really any different in their need for Christ’s death. It is a miraculous and thrilling thing that on a cross dying, Christ and the thief next to him talked of paradise at the moment of their torture. This had to have strengthened Jesus to already see fruit in this excruciating moment.

    • Ole Henrik says:

      I think Jesus must have been encouraged by seeing that the rebel would join him. I also think about that the rebel didn’t have anything to show for himself, but by turning to Jesus he was qualified for paradise. There weren’t any conditions attached to the promise either. I infer from this that once granted access forever granted access.

  4. Patty Musick says:

    This stirs up many questions for me. Mainly about the other man. I just can’t let him go.

  5. Pamela says:

    What? No ‘sinners prayer’? lol…. great post.

  6. Patty Musick says:

    The other man on the cross asks Jesus, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!”
    I relate to that plea in myself even this day. So many times my eyes look to the seen to prove who I am and who He is. It is not a lack of faith but of understanding. I am coming more and more to see my faith is not my own but God’s and I am safe in my misunderstanding at times but that misunderstanding will not last. God’s truth will prevail.

  7. Tony says:

    This is one of the best articles I have read. I think Patty and I may have some if the same struggle. I am loving every new thing I learn about grace, but how to get from head knowledge to experience is my struggle, especially when It comes to breaking what I believe are sinful habits.

    • Ole Henrik says:

      Thanks again, Tony! The good thing is that whenever we have stretched our faith muscle and embraced a new truth which to the Spirit has opened our eyes we merely relax and wait for Him to settle us in this truth. If Christ is my life I find it difficult to talk about sinful habits. I am not quite sure what that is anymore. I see you have read “What is Sin”. Hopefully that one contains some answers to that question.

  8. Agapeus Christus says:

    “You see, just at the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”- Romans 5:6-8.

    The Lord shared this with me the other night when I was returning home. It brought me to my knees. All I could do was say, “Thank you Lord for what you did for me.”

    And now, the One who gave His life for us tells us that our only debt is to “Love one another.” What a great price Jesus paid for this opportunity.

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