High against a darkened sky, the instrument of torture is hoisted, bearing its thorn-crowned victim. The ropes are released and, as the timber drops into place, cruel iron spikes tear the flesh of the Son of God. While this tragic event takes place, there is an exchange of words that have a deep meaning for us today.
One of the two criminals hanging alongside curses Him: “Some Messiah You are! Save Yourself! Save us!” But the other quells his ranting: “Have you no fear of God? You’re getting the same as Him. We deserve this, but not Him—He did nothing to deserve this.” Then he says, “Jesus, remember me when YOU enter Your kingdom.” Jesus replies, “Don’t worry, I will. Today you will join Me in paradise” (Luke 39-43, The Message).
The two men who were led out with Him to be executed are described in the Bible as thieves, robbers, transgressors, malefactors. The literal meaning of malefactor is “doer of evil.”
In the face of death the one criminal called out, “Jesus, remember me!” And through His pain Jesus assured him, “You will be with Me.”
Here we have the request of the dying sinner and the response of the divine Savior. To every person who truly repents, who asks forgiveness for past wrongdoing and calls upon Jesus, “Remember me,” He responds, “You will be with Me.”
Jesus is the negotiator between man and God. He is not only God’s means of reaching men; He is man’s way of reaching God! The Son of God came to earth to seek and to save what was lost. Salvation was His mission. God entered our world in human form so that He might reach and teach, serve and save. “He poured out His life unto death and was numbered with the transgressors. For He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12b).
We don’t know anything about the thief’s background. We know nothing of his past life, his pedigree, his status. Had he been in the crowd when Jesus taught and counseled? Had he repented of his sin while in jail awaiting crucifixion? But of this we are certain: he recognized Jesus the redeeming Son of God and upheld Him when so many others disregarded Him. He realized that he was companioned with the King of Kings, who was returning, to His Kingdom. Raising his voice above the clamor of the spectators he cried out to Jesus, and Jesus received him. He was the last person to be saved by the Savior at the end of His journey as Godman.
That man wasn’t religious. There was not time for him to become religious. He likely had not been baptized or received communion. He probably had not tithed his income. But he entered into a relationship with Jesus, the Son of God. He had not the benefit of traditional religious ritual but he was the beneficiary of sovereign grace. In those dark moments it dawned on him: “I am the sinner; He is the Savior!”
Any fear he had of dying was superseded by an overwhelming desire to acknowledge his sins and connect with Jesus. How many have there been who have been “born again” into the Kingdom as the close of their earthly life drew near. Far better it is to enter into a relationship with Jesus while there are still unspent years for spiritual growth and witness. God will never withhold His unconditional redeeming love at any stage of life. How great is that?
Think of it. He was the lowest of the low. He took from others that which was not His. If “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God,” this sinner was eons away. But when suspended on a cross he called upon Jesus. The dying Savior closed the gap and welcomed the thief into a relationship with Him. In that moment faith replaced his failure. One of the two most despicable men on the place called the Skull had a massive transformation.
Even as Jesus endured agony on the cross, He heard the sinner’s plea. Even though His bleeding hands were pinned to the cross-bar He reached out with compassion and assurance. “You will be with Me!” One thief rejected; the other received.
The dying thief was representative of us all. The promise of Jesus is representative of His compassion for us all. Billy Graham wrote, “We know that Jesus was the only person in history who was born without sin, who lived without sin and who died without sin.” And yet, He took upon Himself the sin of us all! “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
To any and all who say to Jesus, “Remember me,” God’s Word informs: “You will be with Me in paradise.”
The most convincing proof of God’s love for mankind is that He sent His Son, Jesus the Christ, to show us how to live and to die so that we might have everlasting life. On the cross it was as if Jesus had committed every sin ever committed by every person. Although Jesus was never guilty of any of those sins, God laid our sins on Him. He became the divine scapegoat so that we might be forgiven and redeemed. Jesus bore the punishment we rightfully deserve. There is mercy in God’s love that is greater than our transgressions.
The Savior died for you! He gave His life for the whole world, but if only you could have been saved He would have done it just for you.
Do you see yourself on that sinner’s cross adjoining the Savior’s cross? Do you recognize Him as your only hope of salvation? In your distress and anguish can you call to Him, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” And do you hear Him respond, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with Me in paradise.”
Dear reader, you are near to the Kingdom. Seek, find and follow Jesus. He wants to be your Savior and Lord of your life.
The thief was a wicked sinner, but when he called out to Jesus he was assured of forgiveness; he was saved by grace. The thief “saw the light,” acknowledged his sin and his Savior. There is nothing of greater value than our relationship with Jesus. The thief brought nothing to the cross but gained everything. The most awful day of his life became the most excellent day of his life.
By Lt. Colonel William D. MacLean