Studies show that God treats two out of three people unfairly. It’s true and I can prove it. Before I do, ask yourself if you think you’re being treated unfairly or not. Then ask yourself if you’d like God to treat you more fairly.
The support for my claim comes from a study of Luke 23 in the Bible. In verses 39-43, we read about three people, two of which are treated unfairly. It’s not subtle, either, but a very blatant, unfair treatment.
Person #1 Is Treated Unfairly
The first person who’s treated unfairly is Jesus, God’s own Son. The second criminal recognizes this. Jesus has done nothing wrong (Luke 23:41), yet he’s getting the same sentence of condemnation as those who were criminals (40). The criminals deserved their punishment, but not Jesus. Yet he was given the same punishment as the two common criminals. That’s not fair. In fact, Jesus’ punishment was infinitely worse than that of the criminals’. Though a saint, Jesus was punished as a sinner. Second Corinthians 5:21 says, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God.” God the Father made God the Son to be sin, even though God the Son had never sinned. The Father punished his Son as if he were a sinner, so that we might be treated as righteous saints.
Or again, “Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him [Jesus]” (Isaiah 53:10). The Father’s will for Jesus’ life was for it to be crushed, even though he did nothing to deserve it. Again, “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.”
God treated Jesus unfairly by rewarding his perfect obedience with punishment. Why did he do this? “He was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.” God punished Jesus so that we could go unpunished. God punished Jesus so that we could be healed.
Person #2 Is Treated Unfairly
The second person who was treated unfairly was the second criminal. In Luke 23:39-43, we learn that there were two criminals who were crucified next to Jesus. The first mocked Jesus; but the second expressed devotion to Jesus. He said to Jesus, not even expecting a response, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (42). The second criminal knew that he didn’t have the slightest chance of getting into Paradise when he died. If Adam and Eve were kicked out of Paradise for just a single act of disobedience (see Genesis 3), then what chance did this criminal have, who had lived a lifetime of disobedience? He did not have what it took to enter into Paradise; but, at least he could ask Jesus to remember him when he got there.
In his request, the second criminal reveals his heart’s openness to Jesus. He recognized that Jesus was a perfect person, having never done anything wrong. He also recognized that Jesus was a King, for only kings possess kingdoms. This criminal’s heart was open to Jesus’ rule, if even for these last moments of his life.
Jesus, dying of asphyxiation, did not owe him a response, either. He barely had enough breath for himself, let alone for some run-of-the-mill thief. Can you imagine, were you the second criminal, suddenly hearing the raspy voice of Jesus, respond to you and say, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (43)?
Today? Today? That day was the worst day of the second criminal’s life—it also happened to be his last day! On what had been the worst day of his life, he would experience the best day of his life? By the end of that day, a common, dirty criminal would be walking hand-in-hand with Jesus into Paradise. That’s not fair, either—that’s grace.
God did not treat the second fairly by forgiving his sins and allowing him passage into Paradise.
Person #3 Is Treated Fairly
Finally, by now you’re wondering who it is that God treated fairly. God did not treat Jesus fairly by punishing him; nor did he treat the second criminal fairly by giving him Paradise. There is a character, however, in these verses, whom God treats fairly.
God treated the first criminal fairly. In those days, some criminals were punished by crucifixion, which was the “just reward” for certain crimes. The first criminal was getting exactly what he deserved, and he knew it. This criminal had lived a life of sin and was receiving his due punishment.
Romans 6:23 puts it this way, “For the wages of sin is death.” The “wage” that a sin earns is death. At then end of a day of sin-work, our just wage is death (thankfully we don’t get paid bimonthly!). Human sin, which corrupts the world, needs to be dealt with, in order to maintain order and goodness. If it’s not dealt with, then the goodness of God’s creation is bankrupt. Just like we’d never allow someone to steal large sums of money from our bank account without dealing with it, so could God never allow sinners to rob the created order of its perfection. Our good God must maintain the goodness of his world.
The first criminal not only gets what he deserves, but also he closes himself off to God’s solution. He is in the presence of the solution for his sins, and he closes his heart to it. There’s an organization that I work with who ships boxes of food to starving children all over the world. They recognize that each day, 18,000 children die from starvation. Out of these 18,000 kids, 40% of them are from India. However, none of their shipments of food go to India. Why? Because the leaders of India (who are not starving), don’t want the charity. They tell this organization that they don’t have a problem and that their food is not the kind that they want. All the while thousands of children die each day in India from lack of food; yet the food is at their doorstep.
The first criminal is in the presence of a feast, yet he closes himself off to it. He doesn’t want Jesus’ charity; he doesn’t think that there’s a problem. Yet he’s about to die and be cut off from the source of Life for all eternity. And if you close your heart off to God now, it will remain that way forever, long after your body passes away.
You’re soul is hungry, admit it. Will you close yourself off to Jesus and remain separated from God forever? Or will you turn to him and trust, allowing his dying love for you to melt your heart. “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in Paradise!” Romans 6:23 ends like this, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Eternal life is not a “fair” gift, but a free one. Our lives can never “earn” this gift, but it must be given to us at the cost of Another. Jesus Christ was unfairly punished in order to pay for our free gift, which is given unfairly to those who make him their King, not to those who close themselves off to him.
Are you sure you want God to treat you fairly?
© Samuel Kee, 2013