We often think of courage when we think of brave people doing noble things; like a soldier in battle. Certainly, a soldier must have courage for battle, but the soldier needs courage for much more than the fight. To begin with, he/she also needs courage to sign up for the military, to get up every morning for bootcamp, and to train in the face of weakness, fatigue, and doubt. He/she needs courage when saying goodbye to family and friends during deployment. He/she would need courage to step onto a platform and deliver a speech. Courage is required of this soldier when standing up to tyranny or facing the family of a fellow soldier who died in combat.
Courage is an interesting character trait. I think we know it when we see it.
In Luke 23, Jesus is being crucified. Jesus had courage. While being falsely accused, he remained silent. Again, while being whipped and beaten, silent. While hanging on the cross, struggling to breathe, however, he finally speaks, and says courageously, “Father forgive them….”
Jesus’ courage was so profound even the soldiers who were responsible for overseeing His execution saw it. One of them even said earnestly, “Surely this man was the king of the Jews!”
Can we live our lives with the kind of courage demonstrated by Christ? Could we face persecution and death like Jesus? Could we remain silent in the face of false accusations? Could we speak life while suffering?
The Scripture helps us wrestle with these questions in Luke 23. Hanging on a cross a few feet away from Jesus was another man. A guilty man. We don’t get to know much about his story. The Bible tells us he was a thief. Did he have good reasons to do what he did? Was he good to his family? Was he silent before his accusers?
Of the two criminals that hung on either side of Jesus, one of them hurled insults at Him, joining the chorus of mocking voices questioning His authority. The other man, the courageous criminal, spoke up, “Don’t you fear God, we are punished justly, but this man has done nothing wrong.”
Then, probably gasping for breath, wracked with pain, he managed to say to Jesus, “remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
There is no arguing that Jesus was courageous. Even his executioners recognized it. But what of the criminals? Only one chose to see past his guilt to the courage of Christ. Only one had the courage to see past his own painful circumstances. Only one chose to shout over the crowd instead of with it. Only one received these words from Jesus, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
We are the criminals! The Bible makes it clear that we are all guilty of sin. In the scene in Luke 23 there are only two criminals on crosses, but everyone there, except Jesus, was guilty. The Pharisees were the accusers, the soldiers drove the spikes, even Jesus’ followers had fled, and the crowd that gathered to watch cast insults. In that situation, a courageous criminal saw Christ and called out to Him for salvation. Are we willing to see past our circumstances to the salvation found only in Christ. Not just for eternal salvation, but also for the daily dose that gives us courage to rise above our circumstances; the courage to call out to Christ Jesus.
This Easter, focus on the cross of Christ. Remember the story of how our sins put Jesus there and took His last breath. Remember how God turned His back on Jesus so that He would not have to turn His back on us. Remember the courage of Christ. But, this Easter, remember the criminal’s crosses too. For in them we find the only two options available to us. We are criminals, but will we follow the crowd or take courage and call out to Christ?