Providence… criminals… miracles… and me

Our current message series is exploring the topic of the providence of God out of the Book of Ruth. It got me thinking about how God orchestrates millions of details and circumstances together each and every day to achieve His plans and purposes…which is nothing short of miraculous.

The more I’ve thought about it, the more my mind has drifted toward the miracle that happened in my own life in 1973. That was the year I placed my trust in Jesus Christ as my Savior. I know that the word “miraculous” is normally not used when referring to someone becoming a Christ follower…but why not? Life transformation is a miracle.

In my next several posts, I want to share with you my story…it has to do with providence, criminals, miracles and me.

This past September, while visiting one of our church planting partners in Europe, I snapped the below photo in the Nave at the Collegiate Church of Saint Gertrude in Nivelles, Walloon Brabant, Belgium just outside of Brussels. This 11th century church stands in the heart of this quaint community of 28,000. It’s hard to miss the intended central focal point as you enter the room. It…He…definitely gets your attention.

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I stood there awhile taking in the solitude and solemnity of the place. The biblical accounts of Christ’s death on the cross began running through my mind.

Luke’s gospel account tells us, “And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.” (Luke 23:33)

Criminals were crucified with Him?

Sometimes we forget about these two men. Understandably so…given the centrality of the cross of Christ to our faith. We don’t often see them included next to Jesus in paintings or in sculpted images. But they’re not insignificant.

The gospel accounts do not provide a lot of information about them…but Luke records a brief, fascinating exchange between the two of them:

“One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, ‘Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!’ But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?
And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.
And he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ And he said to him, ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.'” (Luke 23:39-43)

I think about how fortunate these criminals were. They actually were pretty “lucky”. Do you think being crucified next to the Savior, the hope of the world was accidental…merely happenstance…or was God about to do something amazing in one of their lives?

My vote is for the amazing. This momentary, albeit dramatic, experience had massive eternal implications. One day either side of this particular day…opportunity lost.

Providence.

One saw it, the other didn’t. One responded in humble submission. The other in vile contempt. So then there’s me…you. Condemned criminals convicted justly before a righteous judge of high crimes. Sentenced to death.

I was stirred anew over my journey to the cross during my time in Europe.

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