“When I survey the wondrous cross…” what stands out for me, after Christ’s unprecedented sacrifice and love, is the penitent thief. Of all the personalities surrounding the cross, HE is the one with whom I identify. He seems to be the individual that is most pathetically lost, while at the same time, most truly repentant.
That’s me. I’m a mess – a BIG mess. And only Christ – ONLY Christ – could see any redemptive value in me. The fact that Christ, in the midst of His own suffering, could relate so well to another human being, shows the extent of His love.
And then, contrast the penitent thief with the one who wasn’t penitent. Both men are doomed to die in the most excruciating way possible. But only one of them has eyes to see, and what he sees is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. An exchange takes place that alters everything for him: Christ’s invitation and his acceptance.
A hand held out and a hand taken. A kind word spoken and a kind word received. How simple, we might think. But if it were that simple, everyone in the world would be a Christian. As dramatic as that moment on the cross was, there was far more going on.
In the background, in the Heavens, a war was raging. You can read about it in Revelation 12. Michael and two-thirds of the angels fought against the dragon and one-third of the angels. The world saw the war merely as a Hebrew man being crucified by Roman soldiers. But in the Heavens, in the spiritual realm, a cataclysmic event was taking place.
One of my favorite verses in that chapter from Revelation is “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto death.” Christ’s blood, mingled with God’s Word on the lips of His saints, mixed with disdain for a life lived selfishly – that is what saved us, what is saving us and what will save us and others.
The selfless sacrifice of Christ was meant to be an example for us to follow; not a one time event on a cross, but something that takes place every day with every person we meet. Only God can reach out to others through us to offer a hand of friendship and a kind word. But because it IS God reaching out through us, for one purpose and one purpose only – to save – our lives can have purpose and meaning beyond our wildest dreams.
So, the thief on the cross – cast off by society as worthless – becomes a linchpin in God’s campaign to save the world. Only God could have come up with such a plan. Only God could bring about such a redemption. And only Christ could have made it possible.