Earlier this week, I considered this verse from Luke’s account of the crucifixion:
Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying,
“If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.”
I still can’t get over the audacity displayed by this dying man.
Demanding that Jesus, God made flesh and dwelling-now-dying among us, prove Himself…
after He had already proven Himself time and time again.
He was proven from even before He was born by the events surrounding His birth – dozens of precise details that were predicted hundreds of years beforehand.
He proved Himself by His words – truth spoken and wisdom shared that was so profound, so unheard of, that even as a boy he had the religious leaders marveling. He spoke of forgiving sins. He spoke of being One with the Father. He spoke of a God who invites worship in spirit and in truth.
He was proven by the testimony of others. A certain cousin named John the Baptist comes to mind – the one who declared Jesus “the Lamb of God” who had come to take away the sins of the world.
The witness of the shepherds comes to mind – a rough and ragged bunch, the lot of them, but how their faces must’ve glowed as they recounted their personal visit from multitudes of angels.
The testimony of the woman at the well comes to mind, as she ran back to town, urging that the people come and meet a Man who knew about all she had ever done.
And this dying criminal dares to cast taunts toward this God-Man: “If you are the Christ…”
and it all started with one little word.
Contrast this with a statement made by another man Jesus encountered:
“Lord, if You are willing,
You can make me clean.”
Ahh, now this “if” is one I can get on board with. And judging by His response – “I am willing. Be clean” – Jesus did, too.
These words were spoken by a leper – one of society’s outcasts with a sealed fate and a hopeless existence.
Until one day when he dared to approach Hope Himself. Not brashly. Not presumptuously. Not with entitlement or conceit or even the slightest bit of demand.
With one simple, humble request, he put the ball in Jesus’ court (where it always belongs anyway) and acknowledged His lordship as well as His power.
Notice the difference when I rearrange the very same words spoken by the leper:
“If you are Lord, you will make me clean.”
Not a single word was added to the diseased man’s statement. And yet contempt replaces humility. Condescension replaces honor.
All because the wrong “if” replaced the right one.
It turns out, that was precisely the dying thief’s problem. He wasn’t asking whether Jesus was willing; he doubted that He was able. Derided His power. Denied His very Godhood.
And what about you and me, dear fellow Christ-followers? Is our “if” one of submission? Or does it reek instead of suspicion?
Do we demand that God prove Himself by jumping through the hoops we’ve set up for Him? Is our belief in Him conditional, based on whether He behaves the way we expect? Or whether He deals with us in the way we desire?
I urge you to resolve with me today to echo the prayer of the leper – and incidentally, that of our Savior:
“Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me.
Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”