The Way of the Cross: Insulted (Luke 23: 39-43)

As we prepare for Easter, past and present Pepperdiners contribute reflections on Jesus’ journey to the cross. Today’s is from Senior Religion major Jordan Smoak.

Luke 23:39-43 Jesus promises his kingdom to the good thief

Growing up I had a close circle of friends, with whom I would often watch the TV show Friends. In the show the friends make fun of each other as they work through their quirks and insecurities. In real life my friends and I began to act as those on the show, and our conversations became more and more peppered with put-downs for each other. Although this was funny in the show it began to hurt in reality. For a while it was like we forgot whom we were talking to, and lashed out towards each other. It is easy to slip into the cycle of cutting others down to build yourself up.

But sometimes it only takes one person to speak up and give us some perspective of what we are saying. I remember a Church trip when one of my friends, being clearly emotional, pulled us all aside. She went on to tell us that she had been giving us a real hard time lately, but that she was sorry and wanted to be deliberate about saying how much we meant to her. After that it was like a wave of relief ran through our group, we all admitted that we really did Love each other and that we would try to be better about expressing that through our words.

Since that time I try to keep perspective when I talk to others. Even nowadays I have to remind myself “Don’t you know whom you are talking to? This is a Child of God. Made in his very image!” If you are like me and have words of affirmation as one of your top love languages you understand how speaking kindness into a dreary situation can bring solace.

Sometimes we forget that words can hurt. The physical suffering on the cross was excruciating in the truest sense of the word. But I think we forget about the terrible verbal abuse Jesus also had to endure. His broken body was put on display on a shameful symbol between two guilty people. The sign of His charge “King of The Jews” invited ridicule from the many passersby. They heaped insults on Him in probably multiple languages. On the cross Christ is caught in the midst of people who only want to torture Him with their words. I cringe when I imagine how they tried to humiliate Jesus.

Even one of the other crucified people challenges Jesus to save Himself and the rest of them by escaping the cross. It is ironic that by enduring the cross Jesus will save Himself and save those that are guilty. When we hear this story we know now that what seems to be the ultimate tragic moment is really the greatest turning point in the history of God’s relationship to man. With that in mind, I want to call out to the scoffers “Don’t you know whom you are talking to? This is the Son of God who humbled Himself in the form of a man!” But, what I want desperately more than that is to call out to Jesus and offer some kind words of relief. I am glad the other man on the cross was able to do just that. First this man rebukes the crucified scoffer, admitting that they are being punished because they are guilty but Jesus is innocent. Turning to Jesus, the man speaks kindly to Him with a desperate plea. Christ responds to the man with infinitely more comforting words-the promise of paradise.

I imagine these comforting words carried power in this seemingly hopeless scene. I wonder if this conversation and Jesus forgiving his tormentors affected the centurion who later confessed that Jesus was the Son of God. Jesus spoke to other people while on the cross but this exchange with the man on the cross is particularly encouraging to me. The man on the cross is guilty and worthy of punishment just as I am. His plea for Jesus to remember him is also my plea. I can only imagine how that man was comforted as he spent the rest of his time on the cross. God has an uncanny ability to breathe hope and relief in the midst of the worst suffering. The Lord comforts me through these kind and encouraging words from the cross.

Jordan served as an intern for University Church of Christ Campus Ministry during his time at Pepperdine, and supported Ascend, one of our Student-Led Ministries. He plans to attend Princeton Seminary after graduating this Spring.

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