“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.[d]” 43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23.40-43
It’s a beautiful exchange and goes against every conceivable model for discipleship. For in one moment, without baptism, without years of training, without being confirmed or following the catechism, Thief No. 2 was saved.
Now Thief No. 1, the one who shouted along with the rest of the crowd, ”Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us?” missed the boat. He was jeering, mocking, “hurling insults” at Jesus. He was unconvinced that Jesus could actually save him and so did not call out for help. Rather, he made fun of him, tested him, disrespected him while hanging next to Jesus on the cross.
Thief No.2 rebuked Thief No.1 saying, ”We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” And then he does something that breaks all the molds, as I mentioned before, it wasn’t in the play book — he asks for mercy moments before his execution and being granted it by Jesus was just guaranteed eternal life.
Could a contrast between two people be more drastic? Could a word of hope be more clear? Thief No. 1 was stuck in his ways, living in his sin, paying the price for his wrongdoings. But Thief No. 2, he was remorseful, believing in Jesus, seeking salvation to the only one who could saved him by saying — “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And Jesus, in reply says, ”Today you will be with me in paradise.” What a beautiful exchange.
No reason says we must wait until our ”death bed” before we begin living for Jesus. I discovered him as a teenager and he has shaped every moment since. Sometimes those moments have been failed experiments in my own fleshly desires, but others have been wonderful displays of a loving relationship with a God who came down and draws near to his people.
Have you confessed your sin? Have you asked for mercy? Have you called out to the Christ who is calling out to you?
“O Lord God, in the seconds before your execution, you granted that which you were dying to accomplish — eternal life! You defied the odds and overcame death. You rescued the weary, redeemed the weak. You gave hope to all who don’t live perfectly. Thank you Lord for saving us! Thank you for helping us to believe, for pursuing us with your grace, for making a way for us to know the Father in Heaven. Come Holy Spirit, help me find strength in my time of need. For you are good and your love endures forever.” Amen