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October 17, 2021 | Doug Sauder
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“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”—Luke 23:42 (NIV)
“Guilty!” It’s a term most commonly used in court to declare someone responsible for a crime. When someone receives this verdict, they may be sentenced to serve time in prison. And depending on the severity of their crime, they may even be sentenced to death. One place they’re not sent to, though, is paradise. Today, we’re going to read about the criminal who was sentenced to paradise by the ultimate Judge.
As Jesus hung on the cross for the entire world to see, He was surrounded by two criminals. Now, unlike Jesus, who was completely innocent, these two men were rightfully convicted and sentenced. The Greek word used here for criminal (kakourgōn) was generally used to denote a thief, someone who forcibly took from another. How fitting that Jesus, who came to give salvation and eternal life to all who would receive it, was crucified surrounded by men who took from others.
The interaction between Jesus and the criminals is quite the stark contrast. One of the criminals “hurled insults at Him.” The Greek word used for insult (blasphémeó) was a very strong term that essentially meant to speak evil, to profanely slander. He mocked and spewed pure bile at Jesus. The other thief was remorseful and repentant; he was broken, accepted his fate, and acknowledged his guilt. He rebukes the first criminal, saying, “Don’t you fear God . . . 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” (Luke 23:40–41 NIV).
You see, there are generally two responses to consequences and suffering: 1) We rail against God and others, placing the blame on anyone but ourselves or 2) We acknowledge our mistakes, our sinfulness, and cry out for mercy. The contrast between these two men shows us the condition of their hearts and the kind of heart we must always have as we approach Jesus.
The second man not only feared God, but he also took responsibility for his sins. He knew they were both getting what they deserved and he accepted his punishment. This is the truest test of humility before God, when we can look at ourselves honestly and clearly acknowledge that we’re sinners in need of saving, undeserving of salvation, and unworthy of God’s presence and favor.
And when we see ourselves in the proper light, we can begin to see Jesus in all His glory. This thief didn’t see the beaten, bruised, broken criminal everyone else was seeing . . . He saw the face of God as he looked into the eyes of our Savior who was hanging there for him—and us!
So, what does he do? He simply says, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42 NIV). There is something deeply touching and completely arresting about this appeal. It was full of trust. The criminal didn’t ask for riches or to be seated at His right or left hand.He didn’t ask for an earthly rescue. Rather, this man was content to simply be remembered by the King. And with the tenderness and compassion only found in Jesus, our Lord said, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43 NIV). In this indescribably beautiful moment, Jesus exchanged this man’s guilt for a peace and hopeful expectation that cannot be explained. He declared to this man, even as he hung there dying for his crimes, that this was not the end of his story. In fact, the greatest chapter was about to begin as Jesus shared the most glorious and beautiful spoiler alert ever, telling Him that very shortly they would be in paradise together!
Both men wanted to be saved from death, but the way they sought salvation made all the difference in the world. In your life, always remember to approach Jesus with the same kind of humility as this dying thief. And when you do, you can be sure that He will always respond with grace, mercy, and love!