There is a lot of talk these days about justice. We all want fairness and respect no matter who we are. But, do you really want what you deserve? Stop and think about that before you answer too quickly… Take this story, for example:
A Realistic Assessment
There was a crucifixion taking place, and two men were hung on either side of Jesus. “One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “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.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:39-43 NIV)
The “thief on the cross” is perhaps the last eyewitness to talk to Jesus before his death. There is a little semantic disagreement about the two thieves’ crime in the Gospels, since Matthew calls the two men crucified with Jesus “robbers” and Luke calls them “criminals”. Most scholars simply agree that they had apparently committed a crime worthy of capital punishment, and this criminal in particular supports that because he says to the other: “we are getting what our deeds deserve.”
Who Was This Guy?
Here are a couple of observations about this unknown eyewitness: Firstly, he had a realistic view of his own situation, and was honest even to the point of saying that he was getting what he deserved. Tell me, what would the outcome be like if each of us got what we deserve? What if you were judged TODAY based on what you deserve? Do you have any selfishness, anger or pride? Any secret sins or prejudices? People today try to shift the blame to society or their upbringing, but he was accountable for his actions without pointing fingers or making excuses.
Secondly, he saw something in Jesus that impressed him so much that he was convinced of His righteousness.
Thirdly, he called Jesus by name. I don’t know how much he knew of Jesus, but his direct address speaks of personal connection and faith.
Fourthly, he saw Jesus as a future king, and asked to be included in his future kingdom.
Jesus then told him, “Today you will be with me in paradise”. This is perhaps the most obvious explanation of Grace in the entire Bible. There is no doubt in my mind that this criminal was forgiven for his crimes and redeemed from sin’s marketplace into God’s kingdom. It is also comforting to know that his salvation was effective today. Jesus doesn’t describe purgatory or a waiting room for heaven.
Ask yourself, what are the dynamics behind this criminal’s redemption? He could not point to a life of good deeds. If good works were required to make it to paradise, then this conversation could NOT have happened. This criminal came to Christ “just as I am”. He had faith in who Jesus was, and acknowledged him as king. He was given assurance that he would see Jesus in paradise that very day.
Here’s the deal: NOTHING about that has changed in over 2,000 years. None of us is good enough to earn our way into heaven. Each of us stands condemned for what we’ve done; but if we come to Jesus in simple faith and ask him to be king, we will be with him in paradise. No matter who you are or where you stand today, I hope to see you there!
Be Careful What You Ask For
Do you really have the nerve to ask for what you just deserve?
Think of it before you start: what really lurks within your heart?
Are you righteous? Are you sure
That what’s within your heart is pure?
Where final justice is concerned,
I will not ask for what I’ve earned!
Just like the thief on Calvary,
I’ll ask: “Lord, Please remember me!”
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