Choosing a side


            Jesus shared his crucifixion with two other men; both of them were criminals.  Below is the account of their interaction with him.

            ‘Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed him, saying, “If you are the Christ, save yourself and us.”  But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation?  And we justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.”  Then he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when you come in to your kingdom.”

            And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23: 39-44.)


           The religious leaders who were standing at the foot of the cross were taunting Jesus and teasing him; telling him to come down from the cross as a show of his power.  The first criminal joined in on this taunting.  Mockingly he added in the request that Jesus save he and the other criminal from death as well.  The second criminal made the decision to chastise the criminal for teasing Jesus.  He recognized his own guilt, and the guilt of the other man, and professed the righteousness of Jesus Christ.  He understood that he was paying for a life of sin, and that Jesus did not deserve to die. The second criminal asked for salvation, but a different kind of salvation.  He knew he was going to die on that cross, but he believed that Jesus was able to save his soul.  He was focused on the eternal, unlike the first criminal who was thinking only of his bodily life.  Jesus granted him eternal life, not because of any work that he did, or because he lived a good life, but because he believed in the one and only son of God.  He acknowledged his sin and recognized the purity of Jesus, and in humility, asked to receive eternal life.  The purpose for the crucifixion, and for the life of Jesus Christ is revealed in this scripture, and it applies today.  He divides people.  Some choose to deny him and make him a myth.  Others choose to recognize him as the ‘Son of God,’ capable of granting them eternal life in a kingdom that will have no end.  Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth.  I did not come to bring peace but a sword.  For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’” (Mathew 10: 34-35.)  There are only two categories in to which every person must fall; those who believe in Jesus Christ and join him, and those who deny him and make themselves the friends of those who ridicule him and blaspheme him. 

            There was man named Polycarp who lived from 65 A.D. to 155 A.D.  He was an early Christian who headed the church in Smyrna.  The Romans required that everyone in the City burn incense to their Gods.  Polycarp refused to engage in this activity.  The Romans gave him an ultimatum, roughly stating that if he did not burn the incense, he himself would be burned at the stake.  Polycarp’s reply was, “Eighty and six years I have served him.  How then can I blaspheme my King and Savior? Bring forth what thou wilt.”  The Romans did just that.  Apparently he requested that they not tie his hands down to the stake, indicating that he would not attempt to flee from the flames.  Legend has it that he did not burn, and that the flames simply swirled around him.  A Roman soldier was then commanded to run him through with the sword.  The flames were put out by the blood that poured from his body.  Polycarp today is in paradise with his king, in his kingdom.  He chose to stand for Christ rather than to lay down with the world.

          Today, everyone is still offered the choice to call Jesus Christ their king.  We can stand for him, or we can stand against him.  We can trust him, call him our king, and receive eternal life, or we can join the world as they deny him and tease him; as they call him a myth and a legend.  Those who are lost believe he was just a man.  They don’t believe he has the power to give eternal life because they believe he is dead.  But those who know him, know differently.  Today, do you believe that he is able to grant you eternal life in paradise?  Is it possible that just on the other side of death lays a life of overflowing goodness?  Are you willing to stand with him now?  The answer to this question is very important.

“Lord Heavenly Father, we ask and pray that You will give us eternal life.  Help us to stand for You and to be courageous in professing our faith in You and in Your Son.  Father, give us more faith that we might do Your will in this world, and continue that work in your kingdom to come.  We love You Father, we praise You, and we thank You, and we ask and pray all of these things, in Jesus Christ’s name.  Amen.”  God bless all of you.

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