One Out of Two

Jesus was stripped, crucified and left in public view, in constant agony, on a cross.  What a public humiliation. What a helpless and pitiful sight.  Sharing all this humiliation and agony were two criminals.  Let’s call them Criminal A and Criminal B.

Was their positioning, one on the left and the other on the right of Jesus, purely  accidental?  Or was Jesus placed in “centre stage” because his “crime” was greater than those of the two criminals?  Or, was he the “main attraction”, the one that the crowd had gathered to see, the one they were hurling insults at?

At first, the two criminals had joined the crowd in heaping insults on Jesus [Matthew 27:44; Mark 15:32].  However, when Criminal A later taunted Jesus, “Aren’t you the Christ?  Save yourself and us!”, Criminal B rebuked him.  “Don’t you fear God, since you are under the same sentence? “ he asked. “We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve.  But this man has done nothing wrong.” [Luke 23:40&41].

Now the two criminals were called kakourgos, a term used for people who committed gross misdeeds and serious crimes; and lestes, the other label applied on the two criminals, meant robbers, highwaymen and bandits.  They were no petty criminals. So what had made Criminal B change his mind about Jesus and accept him as the Son of God [Matthew 27:40] and the King of the Jews [Mark 15:32]?

Isn’t this a great mystery?  Perhaps we will get no answer until we go to Heaven and ask God, Jesus or Criminal B himself.  But isn’t the question interesting and thought-provoking?  Does the Bible provide the answer?  Perhaps.

Perhaps the change in Criminal B started without his realising it, when he saw that “a large number of people followed him [Jesus], including women who mourned and wailed for him” [Luke 23:27].  But the sight of many decent folk supporting Jesus did not stop Criminal B from joining the crowd and heaping insults on Jesus.  Herd instinct is so strong, and we easily conform to the pattern of this world.

Was it Jesus’ gentle and unself-centred reply to his supporters that changed Criminal B’s heart?  “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children.  For the time will come …. [when Hosea 10:8 would be fulfilled].  For if men do these things when the tree is green what will happen when it is dry?”  [Luke 23:28-31].  Was Criminal B impressed by Jesus’ quoting Hosea 10:8 verbatim, so that he  accepted Jesus as a holy man, a rabbi?  Could it have jogged Criminal B’s memory of all that Jesus had said and done in the past three years?

Incidentally,  is it not interesting that Jesus the ex-carpenter, dying on a wooden cross [often called a tree in his time], used the imagery of a green tree that had life in it, and a dry, dead, tree?  Isn’t it ironical that this ex-carpenter, who used to carry heavy loads of wood, could not carry his wooden cross to the crucifixion site?  Was it symbolic of the fact that it was no longer his lot to carry wood on this earth?

Anyway, was Criminal B touched by Jesus’ most unimaginable and gracious reaction at the lowest point of his public humiliation, when he was stripped and nailed to the cross?  For Jesus had prayed to God to forgive his tormentors, as they knew not what they were doing.

Or did the change come when Jesus, in severe agony,  thought of his mother rather than himself, and gave her a new son, his beloved disciple John, to replace the one she was losing?  [John 19:26].  And he gave John someone to love and care for.

But perhaps it was a combination of all these, and perhaps one or two more unknown factors, such a reflection on all the miracles and good works Jesus had publicly done, and the widely known fact that despite the closest scrutiny by the Pharisees and their spies no sin could be imputed to Jesus?  When we ourselves reflected on all the things that Jesus did and on the sinless life he led, and his wonderful teachings and prophesies, did we not come to the conclusion that Jesus really is the Son of God?

Looking at it from another angle, isn’t it wonderfully merciful and compassionate of God to bring the two criminals to Golgotha to give them a last opportunity to repent, believe in Jesus and be saved, even at the very brink of death?  So, should we hesitate to witness to our friends and relatives, and even to strangers like Criminal B, when they are close to death?  If one out of two of those we witness to are saved for eternity, how great would be our joy and the joy in Heaven!

Dr Quek and friends in BGST,

I am prompted by what I read in the recent BTW’s to respond. I have just returned from Lebanon and am excited about what I saw in Beirut. As a 50th birthday gift, my husband, Cheng Kuan, treated me to a trip to Lebanon (Liban)....

I can't wait to share the pictures we have taken of the ancient cities inhabited from the period of the Canaanites to the present day of the Lebanese. In Byblos (meaning the book) the archaeological sites were fascinating as they were still well-kept. The sites were only dug up when the French came into Lebanon in the 1920s. It is amazing that the stories we read in the book of judges and up to the book of Chronicles became three-dimensional for me when we stood at the port of Byblos and imagine how King Solomon during his reign got the Phoenicians to transport the cedar wood from the hills of Lebanon to construct the temple for God. Artists and artisans from this period and from this place would have been enlisted to help King Solomon in the construction of the temple. Examples of the artwork and the long-lasting effect of the cedar woods are found in some old castles in a place called Dier Al Kamar built in the 11th and 16th centuries. These were built by the emirs for themselves during the Islamic rule. The rich colours and the 'life' of these cedar wood is truly breathtaking.

 History came alive for me when I stood among the ancient ruins in Byblos. I can imagine the lifestyle of these early settlers. We literally went back in time to the Ammonites and the Phoenicians. In this place called Baalbek and the Bekaa Valley, we saw the opulence of the Romans when they made Lebanon their cultural and recreation centre of the Roman empire in the 4th century. Life in the Byzantine period was also well-represented.

 We also saw the fortress/castles built by the Crusaders during the 12th and 13th centuries. In the museums, we saw artifacts and weaponry and pottery recovered from this part of the world which dated from Prehistory to the present-day Islamic times.

But more importantly, I learn tremendously from what I see and  the readings from the Old Testament becomes even more personal  for me. There are more insights that I have received  from this trip in the aspect of sharing Christ and preaching the Gospel. If time permits I shall share in details and in writing the  impressions I have of this part of the Middle East and their implications for the future christian generations of our children in our part of the world.

I am pleased to read that BGST is conducting a course on “Ancient Cities” and I wish I could attend. Maybe I could send some photos of what I have taken for people who are interested to see. I plan to be back in Singapore for a brief spell in mid April. I would like very much to meet up with Dr Quek and Dr Satterthwaite to brush up on some ancient history as I plan to visit Jordan and Syria in the later part of the year. Hopefully, I will be able to share more insights into what I see. Till there, God bless!

- Bessie, 22 Mar 2004.

CHAPEL NOTES

Dr Ng Peh Cheng spoke on the topic of suffering from 2 Corinthians 1:1-11. An examination of the Apostle Paul’s attitude toward suffering is beneficial to those who are facing difficulties or experiencing unbearable situations. Paul’s response to adverse circumstances in his life and ministry can be summarized as follows:

  • Focus on God who is the God of compassion and God of comfort. He is the reliable source of support and strength.

  • Suffering is to be expected and going through it produces Christian character of endurance and dependence on God’s intervention.

  • There is a relationship between one’s suffering and comfort to others.

  • Prayer

Chapel Speaker on 31 Mar will be Rev Ng Seng Chuan.

NEWS BITS

  1. Please note the following NEW COURSES:

  • Counselling Skills: Dealing with Crisis Situations (CO231) by Mr Yam Keng Mun, commencing Mar 31.

  • Ethical Approaches to the Old Testament (OT251) by Dr Philip Satterthwaite, commencing Apr 15.

  • Youth Development & Ministry Formation (CE356) by Dr Ng Peh Cheng, commencing Apr 20.  

  • Counselling Skills: Dealing with Stress & Fatigue (CO232) by Mr Song Cheng Hock, commencing May 26.

You may view the course descriptions on this link www.bgst.edu.sg/courseschedule.htm.

  1. Change of Course Dates. Doing God’s Business (video-class) has been rescheduled to Term 3. The new dates will be 30 Jun [orientation], 14, 28 Jul and 11, 25 Aug.

  2. Gifts toward LCD projector. We thank God for two gifts totalling $7,000 received through the appeal in BTW. The gifts will enable us to get a good projector as well as to provide for a PC which is needed by one of the Faculty members. Praise God!

A BLESSED 
BIRTHDAY TO ...


Mr Freddie Ong  22/3

Mr Brian Tan  25/3

Mr Simon Liew  26/3

Mrs Tan Lee Lee  26/3

Mr Charles Ho  26/3

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