His lungs were collapsing, his back was covered in blood from the lashings he received earlier, and the crowd was ridiculing him below. His limbs were straining to lift his body up enough to breathe, which was becoming more and more difficult to do.
He had been on that horrid cross for hours, now. Blood and sweat dripped into his eyes from the wounds inflicted by the crown of thorns, but he could not brush them away because his outstretched hands were nailed into the wood.
And yet, amidst all of this tortuous pain and humiliation, Jesus loved someone else during his suffering.
Not to be immature, but Jesus is #goals.
There were two prisoners on their own crosses on either side of Jesus. These prisoners were also nailed to their own crosses, struggling to keep their bodies upright long enough to catch as many gasps of breath as they could.
Then they heard the voices of the Jewish rulers below. These rulers said to each other, "He [Jesus] saved others, let him save himself if he is the chosen one, the Messiah of God."
One of the prisoners became bitter and reviled Jesus, saying, "Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us." I predict everyone by then had heard of Jesus healing the lame, blind, and deaf. I'm sure these prisoners knew about Jesus raising three people from the dead (the most famous being Lazarus).
The other prisoner rebuked the first prisoner and said, "Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal."
Woah, let's take a second here to acknowledge this prisoner's humility. Whether he gained it on the cross by realizing how his decisions had led him to that painful death or he realized it while he was in prison - this man was enlightened. He recognized how he deserved this pain due to the pain he had inflicted on others. He also recognized how the holy man on the cross next to him, Jesus, did not deserve the same fate... and yet, there Jesus was.
It's as if the prisoner pitied Jesus (out of love) for being treated unjustly... for being treated as something Jesus was not.
Then the prisoner said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."
Jesus had just been handed over by one of his own disciples to be murdered by suffocation on a cross AFTER being beaten, scourged, humiliated (they stripped him of his clothes), forced to carry his own death instrument up a hill, and sneered and jeered at for hours.
Jesus had no place on the cross, and yet there he was, fulfilling his mission in life to rid the world of the power of sin - death and ultimate separation from God.
If I had been in Jesus' shoes, I'm not sure if I would've even responded to this person. But Jesus did respond.
Do you know what Jesus did next in the midst of his biggest trial?
He replied to the prisoner, "Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise."
Usually, when I meditate on this story, I focus on the prisoner's luck. He is the only person during Jesus' ministry who was guaranteed a spot in heaven while on earth.
This prisoner, this man who probably committed some pretty horrible crimes to end up with a death sentence in the Roman empire, was granted admission into the kingdom of God BY JESUS, the SON OF GOD.
Usually, I would chalk this story up to the simple fact that "It is NEVER too late for someone to believe in Christ." I would use it as a catch-all phrase that loses its significance because it doesn't hold the depth of the situation in it unless it is fully explained in detail (like I'm doing now).
But there is more to this moment than mercy.
Let me ask you some questions. When you are suffering (from a physical injury, a spiritual disconnection from God, or a biological issue of some sort), do you focus on others' well being during that suffering?
Do you assist others during their trials with your whole heart and forget yourself in the process?
Do you love even when you are hurting so much inside, you can hardly breathe, sleep, or focus on the daily tasks?
I know I'm not good at suffering well. But I look to Jesus as an example to live by and like, and if he loves like that, I want to love like that. I want to love others even when I am not the happiest person because of such and such reasons.
So while you are making your way through flu season, trying to keep the kids motivated with school, or trying to remind yourself that working is beneficial for you (even though you're miserable right now), remember to love others for the sake of loving others.
I'm asking you to do this even if you don't believe in Jesus Christ. Why do I say this? Because we can all agree, loving others is the most rewarding and satisfying experiences one can ever do.
So go on out there and shower some love on the people in your life! Be brave and love!