Crucifixion was the most brutal, painful and humiliating way for a person to be executed. It was reserved for the worst criminals. It created a public spectacle and, no doubt, served as a deterrent to any who might be inclined to oppose the Roman government. The authorities revealed how much they hated Jesus and how threatened they were by his message by putting him between two thieves. We realize that these two criminals were more sinister than our idea of a common thief. They were more like terrorists, men guilty of undermining the government; otherwise, death by crucifixion wouldn’t have been the penalty. On one side of Jesus is criminal #1 who hurls insults at Jesus saying if you are really the Son of God, why don’t you save yourself and save us. He shows neither remorse nor respect. On the other side is criminal #2 who rebukes criminal #1 for not showing any fear of God. Criminal #2 recognizes his wrongdoing. He knows that he has committed a crime and deserves punishment. He humbly asks Jesus to remember him when he arrives in his kingdom. Jesus responds with hope for the hopeless…TODAY, you will be with me in paradise.

Ps 103:10-12; Mk 15:39; Lk 23:32-33, 39-43; Ro 5:8, 6:23, 10:13; 2 Co 5:17, 6:2; Eph 2:8-9; Js 2:10

Anyone who belongs to Christ is a new person. The past if forgotten, and everything is new. (2 Co 5:17)
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Ro 6:23)
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. (Eph 2:8-9)

Spiritually speaking every person is like one of these two criminals in the eyes of God. Criminal #1 is arrogant and unrepentant. In his pride he insults Jesus and has no respect for the possibility that God is hanging on the cross next to him. He neither acknowledges his wrongdoing nor asks for forgiveness. Many people in today’s world are not so different from criminal #1. They are dismissive of God, the Bible and all that God’s word teaches. They prefer to go it on their own and do what they see as right in their own eyes. They do not think of themselves as being bad or sinful. They just follow their heart and do their own thing. There is a total absence of fearful respect for God. Then there’s criminal #2 who is humble and repentant. He acknowledges his sin and accepts his punishment as justified. He realizes that he needs mercy; he needs a savior. He reaches out to Jesus in this dark hour and receives forgiveness, grace and the promise of eternal life. Both men were in the exact same situation. Both were equally guilty and equally deserving punishment. They both heard and saw the same things in their final hours. They were both in the presence of Jesus, but only one saw his sinful self in the light of Jesus’ perfection, sought forgiveness, and was given life anew!

How do you share Jesus with someone like criminal #1? What does it take to change a heart that is dismissive and arrogant toward God? How might your life be the only gospel someone ever sees/hears? How important is your Christian witness? How does the secular idea of following your own path undermine the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Being inclusive is very important, but the notion that all religions are created equal doesn’t comply with Biblical truth. How do you handle Biblical truths that step on the toes of inclusivity? How difficult is it to live a Christian life at your work, in your neighborhood, with your friends? Explain.

Pray for God’s light to shine on your heart and uncover the prideful areas where repentance is needed. Who in your life needs to acknowledge God’s love and forgiveness? Pray for them. Ask God for opportunities to share his love. Remember eternity depends on it!

Search me, O God, and know my heart. Try me and know my thoughts. Show me if pride is keeping me from your grace and forgiveness. Keep me on the path to eternal life in you. In Jesus Name I pray, Amen.