One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:39-43).
As mentioned before, both of the thieves that were crucified next to Jesus initially began to ridicule him. However, one of the criminals had a change of heart and he even began to criticize the other guy for his ongoing abuse.
If you think about it, the repentant thief had amazing insight. First, he understood that Jesus was sinless. He said, “we deserve what we’re getting, but this guy has done nothing wrong.” That man also understood that his soul would live on after he died. He verbalized his faith, that there was a heavenly kingdom that people could go to and he understood that Jesus ruled over that kingdom.
At that very moment, Jesus didn’t look very much like a king. By all outward appearances, Jesus’ hope for a kingdom was over, because his enemies were taking his life. It’s incredible that a condemned man was able to see beyond the present shame of Jesus to his coming glory!
In fact, here’s a fascinating thought: that this guy actually had more insight about Jesus than most of the religious leaders of the day! By saying, “Lord remember me,” he was expressing his faith in Jesus. Obviously, this man had made some bad choices during his lifetime, but at the end of his life, he made one good choice, to place himself into the hands of Jesus.
It’s like Jesus was saying, “Hey, we’re hanging out now, in less than favorable circumstances, but starting today, why not hang out with me in paradise?” Paradise was a place for righteous people who had died, a place of joy, rest, and blessing. It eventually became synonymous with heaven itself. The crucified man hadn’t lived a righteous life, but he wisely called out to the Righteous One, Jesus Christ. And while others were rejoicing at the death of this criminal, Jesus was willing to grant him eternal life because of his repentance and faith.
This whole narrative reminds us that even hardened convicts can change. Our Lord could have written this guy off because of his sinful past, and he could have questioned his sincerity, but instead, Jesus listened to him and accepted him. This whole narrative reminds us that people can change and it’s never too late to get your heart right with God.
Rather than focus exclusively on his own pain and his own problems, Jesus tuned into the cries of this man’s heart. Jesus, the friend of sinners, kept showing his heart for the lost, even to the moment he died.
This repentant man couldn’t be baptized or attend a church service to demonstrate his faith. All he could do was appeal to Jesus, in faith, and Jesus rewarded him with the gift of everlasting life.
Lord, you are the God of all grace and we worship you today. We are amazed at the love you showed to the thief on the cross and the wonderful love you’ve shown to us in Christ. Whenever we’re tempted to be prideful let us always remember that if you didn’t reach out to us, we would never be able to know you. Thank you for the gift of eternal life!
How does this story impact your view of God and his grace?