In my study of Mark, I ran into a discrepancy of sorts that I did not know existed, yet in the end I found myself being in awe of God and his grace.
This grace was granted by God and Jesus but is not your standard Gospel message. In fact, this happens before Christ dies. This message truly testifies to the importance of reading the entire Bible closely for a more profound understanding.
The initial passage that started this adventure of sorts for me is found in Mark 15:32 which says,
32“Let this Christ, the King of Israel, now come down from the cross, so that we may see and believe!” Those who were crucified with Him were also insulting Him.
What’s interesting here is that we don’t see the usual story that’s painted in Luke, where only one of the robbers hurls insults at Christ while the other one defends him. Instead we see that both robbers were insulting him. Wait what? This account also shows up in Matthew 27:44 which says,
44The robbers who had been crucified with Him were also insulting Him with the same words.
These “same words” are also used by the people walking by and by the scribes and the chief priests, words of mockery and ridicule. So what happens to Luke’s account in Luke 23:39? This reads,
39One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!”
40But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?
41“And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.”
42And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!”
43And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”
Why is Luke’s account so much different than Matthew and Mark? There is hardly a mention of the robbers, much less the repentant sinner we hear spoken of so often. Why does John not even mention them? What’s more important is – why does it matter and what does it mean?
First I believe it’s safe to assume based on the accounts of Matthew and Mark that Jesus was indeed ridiculed by both robbers. Why does Luke speak of only one criminal who was “hurling abuse”? This requires a better understanding of the message Luke wanted to portray in his book.
As most know, the Gospels each address a different part of Christ. Matthew, the king. Mark, the servant. Luke, the miracles and healing. John, the deity. According to scholars, Luke was very interested in the healings because of his background as a doctor, but also “pointed out Jesus’ concern for the poor and oppressed”. My bible’s introduction to Luke also says, “The theme of joy is felt throughout the book, as Jesus’ coming brought joy as well as hope and salvation to a sinful world”.
If that holds true, that Luke wants to point to the hope and salvation, then Luke’s inclusion of the robber’s last minute repentance is a demonstration of sovereingty. While the other accounts have the robbers join only in a chorus of unbelief, Luke chooses to testify to the saving grace and mercy of a man who repents on the brink of death literally minutes, even seconds, after belittling the God-man. Luke found someone who was present at the crucifixion and caught something the others missed or neglected. It’s funny how Luke’s account is the only one we really hear about, but thanks be to God for his inspired work.
This shows that God is truly sovereign and he is mighty to save even the criticizer of his son on the brink of his death. I believe this testifies that our salvation truly is not of ourselves, but is all in God’s hands. We are no more deserving of grace than the robber who repented and we all deserve an excruciatingly eternal death. How difficult is our salvation that only God can make it work, and praise to Him that it is in accordance with his will that he unites sinful man with Himself.
“The Middle Man”
My fate was sealed, ‘all’s lost’, said I,
my heart was black as pitch,
as I perchance to lift my head,
I saw the far man twitch.
A thief be he, his life condemned,
my comrade in the dark,
and thus we hung, beneath the sky,
all now grim, all now dark.
To the middle now we cast our hate,
our eyes thus fixed on Him,
the soldiers truly earned their keep,
His body! Oh, so grim.
The venom spewed from our hearts black,
sly tongues, we pricked the mark,
yet, the middle Man just hung there, red,
His blood amidst our bark.
As the far man hurled his hate,
to the middle I did seek,
His outward form was bruised and beat,
yet in my heart, He now did speak.
My soul awake! Tis beauty now!
I spoke…’Remember me’,
from outstretched arms, I heard Him cry,
“Today, you shall be with Me…”