Jesus died on a cross between two criminals, both of whom deserved the penalty of death. Scripture doesn’t specifically tell us what they did, though some accounts call them robbers or thieves. The implication is far more than petty theft. At the very least, they were violent bandits, and possibly insurrectionists. Given the fact that Barabbas was imprisoned around this same time for insurrection and murder, it’s possible that they were his cohorts. Yet, the crowd preferred the release of Barabbas, and the crucifixion of Jesus, who was innocent and blameless. As Jesus hung on the cross between these two criminals, one hurled insults at him, while the other recognized his guilt and asked Jesus to “remember him.” Both guilty, both deserving of death, yet the one who reached out to Jesus was given this promise: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” In death, this criminal found everlasting life. Not because of any good works he had done, or because he attended church, not because he gave or was a nice person. He didn’t clean up his act, nor was he religious. He had time for nothing except to recognized Jesus as the Son of God and believe on him. As a result, he received God’s grace and forgiveness.
Scriptures – John 3:16; James 2:10; Romans 6:23, 10:13; Luke 23:32-33, 39-43; Ephesians 2:8-9; Psalm 103:10-12
Verses – One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us! But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Lk 23:39-43) God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. (Ep 2:8-9)
Thought – Spiritually speaking every one of us is like one of these two criminals in the eyes of God; which one are you? Criminal #1 is arrogant and prideful. Even though he knows he’s dying, he has no respect for God. He’s hurling insults at Jesus with no concern for eternity. Many people have no time or respect for God. They don’t really believe that there’s a heaven or hell, and if there is, they might as well spend eternity with their friends in hell. They think believing in God is for the weak who can’t handle life on their own. On the other side, criminal #2 was repentant. He acknowledged his crime, recognized his guilt, and realized that his punishment was deserved. He showed fearful respect for God and for the certain death he was facing. He said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” This statement acknowledges Jesus as the Messiah. His repentant heart received a response that guaranteed eternal life with Jesus in paradise. Are you like criminal #2? If you recognize that you are a sinner in need of God’s grace and forgiveness, you can receive his great gift. There’s nothing you can do to earn it, and you certainly don’t deserve it, but it is yours for the asking! Jesus alone can turn certain death into life everlasting.
Questions – Do you strive to live in God’s presence? Have you ever felt the need to earn your salvation or to earn forgiveness? What causes people to have this mentality? How do you describe grace? In simplest terms, how do you explain humanity’s need for God, salvation, and forgiveness to someone?
Response – If you haven’t acknowledged your need for forgiveness and asked Jesus to be your Savior and Lord, do so NOW! If you are a believer who has drifted away from God’s presence, call upon His name and repent. Renew your relationship with Him. If you need a resurrection in your life, pray and ask God to give you hope, strength and new life.
Prayer – Dear Jesus, thank you for living a sinless life, for dying to save me, for offering me forgiveness and new life by defeating sin, hell, and the grave. I look forward to living with you in paradise forever. Until then, may my life honor you in word and deed. In Jesus Name I pray, amen.