Mark Johnston, Connections Pastor
One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Luke 23:39-42)
Today, we look at the Jesus’ reply, the second statement he made on the cross, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (verse 43)
The compassionate side of me loves this sentence. For one, it shows that a simple acknowledgment that Jesus is the Son of God got this man into heaven. After arguing with his cohort over Jesus’ innocence, he makes the simple request to Jesus, “remember me when you come into your Kingdom,” acknowledging that Jesus is holy and who he said he was. Jesus, though in great agony, responds with compassion, and offers the man eternal life, despite his sins.
But the part of me that still thinks i have to ‘do something’ to be in God’s good will looks at the thief on the cross, the pattern of sin that had defined his life up until this point and says ‘it shouldn’t be that easy.’ Those of us who grew up in church, and led relatively moral lives (at least on the outside) sort of despise the fact that this guy ‘slid in under the wire’ and that his ‘deathbed confessional’ was enough to get him into heaven.
But that’s the God we serve. His rules. His way.
Those of us who are irritated at the ease with which this man ‘slips in’ are, much like the Pharisees, saying ‘we keep (part of) the Law, so God should love us more than some wretched sinner’ We fail to see that any sin, any failure, any leaven in the bread is an abomination to a holy God.
Isaiah 64:6 says “We have all become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.”
Our ‘good enough’ is good for nothing—it is only through the sacrifice of the Son that we can be reconciled to God.
So, let’s celebrate the thief on the cross today, church…his realization that Jesus is who he said he is and that faith alone through God’s grace alone is what allows all of us into Paradise.
- Do you struggle with a ‘works-based’ salvation? Does your human mind find the idea ‘too simplistic’ that it’s by grace through faith alone that someone can be saved, and still feel that you have to ‘do something’ to earn your salvation? (Romans 10:9 and Ephesians 2:9 both put that idea to rest.)
- Is there someone in your life, who, much like the thief on the cross, has been written off by society, or worse, by the Christian community? How can you share the Good News with him that Jesus died for both the righteous and the unrighteous? (1 Peter 3:18)