Three Men and One Savior on a Cross

Today, as I contemplate “Good Friday” and the crucifixion of our precious Jesus, a few thoughts come to mind concerning this most important of events in all of eternity as it relates to men.

One Man died for all.  Of course, Jesus, the God-Man was there on the top of that hill on that crucial day.  As far as men go, there weren’t many other men present there who observed, participated, or agonized over the death of the Righteous One in some sort of positive way.  I can only spot three men that fit this description.

Do you know who these three men were?

One of them was crucified to the right of Jesus.  He was a man guilty of crimes and throughout this day, he realized that he was suffering the rightful punishment of his deeds.  He also, and more importantly, realized that Jesus was suffering as a righteous man, and his statement, “Lord, remember me when You come into your kingdom,” demonstrated that He understood that Jesus was indeed the Savior and the only One who could impart eternal life to him.  Even in that horrible state and position of suffering on his own cross, Jesus forgave this criminal and promised him eternal life.  If there is anyone in this scene that we should be able to identify with, I hope it is this man who though deserving death as a criminal, received the free gift of eternal life through faith in Jesus.

The second man that I see who had a positive presence in the crucifixion account is surprisingly, the centurion who was in charge of supervising the crucifixions that day.  John only records the centurion in a positive light, but Matthew states it was not just the centurion but “those with him” which indicates it actually wasn’t just the one man but probably all the soldiers there under his charge, and his statement, “Truly this was the Son of God!” apparently represented the sentiment of all of them.  The same men who nailed Jesus to the cross and who ridiculed, reviled, and taunted Him, suddenly had their eyes opened to the truth and believed in Jesus for who He really was.  Amazing.

I think we should be able to relate to the criminal who was saved, who was only there in this story because of his own sin, and who could do nothing about his situation.  I think we should also be able to relate to the centurion and those under his command who were responsible for putting Jesus on the cross and who seemed to human eyes to be in control of the situation, and yet, they too needed the Savior.  After completing their heinous deed, they finally recognized who Jesus really is and repented of their sin.  We are no less guilty than they for crucifying the Lord.

Finally, I’m sure you know that the third man present at the cross with a positive part in the account is the disciple named John.  It is here with John that all of my thoughts on these men began today.

Recently, I gave a brief introduction to the book of The Revelation of Jesus Christ to the youth here in our house church.  In sharing a little of the background information concerning the Apostle John who was the inspired human author, I mentioned the historical account that John was the only disciple of the original Twelve who did not die a violent death.  I’ve heard that repeated many times over the years, and so I suspect few, if any, would doubt this to have been the case.

John was the only disciple of the remaining Eleven who was recorded as being there at the cross.  Where were the others?  We don’t really know, but aside from Peter slinking in the shadows in the distance the night before the cross until he finally denied knowing his Lord those three prophetic and pathetic times and then leaving the scene in grief, Peter and the rest of them were probably hiding somewhere, just as we find them in the account of the Resurrection morning.

With that in mind, some of the words of Jesus seem to echo throughout John’s presence at the cross.  Jesus spoke much about the cost of discipleship and of following Him.  He said that if anyone wanted to be His disciple, that person would have to give up his own life (“take up your cross and follow Me”); that person would have to love Jesus more than his father or mother or anyone else; that person would have to realize and embrace the fact that it is worthless to gain the whole world and yet lose his own soul; that person must also realize and accept that to save one’s life, one must lose it, but in losing one’s life for Christ,  one’s life will be found.

Isn’t that interesting?  What?  (you’re probably wondering.)  Obviously, the disciples realized that to be seen with Jesus, to be recognized as a follower of Jesus was a very dangerous thing.  They all fled from Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Peter tried to muster up some courage and stay nearby, but even he couldn’t withstand the scrutiny of a little girl who accused him of being a disciple of Jesus.  However, John, “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” came back.  He stuck around during the mock trials of the night, he was there when Jesus was led out to Golgotha, and he was there when Jesus was nailed to the cross and when He hung there all that day.

Some have said that John had connections (see John 18:15).  He didn’t have to worry because he was known by influential people (namely the high priest) who would protect him.  That may have been the case, but I’m not buying the conclusion that John was immune to fear or to accusation or to being caught up in the furor and frenzy of violence.  I believe he risked his life to be there.  I think John knew this quite well and still decided to stick with Jesus.

It is this small point that made me wonder.  Perhaps John’s presence here was an act of “giving up and losing his life so that he could find it.”  Not in an eternal salvation sense, but just in a general sense that he really did keep to the teachings of his Lord by not fleeing to save his own life.  All the other disciples at some point after the cross apparently died violent deaths, but not John.  I wonder if perhaps John, whose presence at the cross, seemingly proved beyond any doubt that he was willing to die for being identified with Jesus while none of the other Eleven did so at this point in time, was thus granted the fulfillment of Jesus’ teachings.  He was granted a long life, and as is presumed, died of natural causes instead of a violent death.

I don’t know, but it does seem that our Lord made a conditional promise through His teaching, and John, in keeping that condition on this one, most eternally important day, was granted the fulfillment of that promise through a long and fruitful life to a natural death.

I wonder…would I have had such courage to identify with the Savior at the cross as John had?  Even the soldiers who crucified Jesus as well as one of the two criminals eventually were loosed of their fears of being identified with Jesus and acknowledged Him for who He was.  If I don’t identify with Christ today in any situation, then the answer is obviously and unequivocally, no.

May we take up our cross daily and follow Jesus, and be found faithful to the end; for in losing our life, we find it, and in order to live, we first must die.

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