Will There Be Criminals in the Kingdom of Heaven?

Jesus of Nazareth was crucified between two criminals. They were two different men with different attitudes, and two different outcomes. Their story, however, leads me to one conclusion. Someday, there will be Criminals in the Kingdom of God.

criminals

Men Suffering From the Same Condition

“One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him. He said, “Are You not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God? You are under the same sentence of condemnation! And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds. But this man has done nothing wrong.” And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when you come into Your kingdom!” And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:39-43, NASB)

This is another snapshot of an eyewitness report about Jesus, from another unlikely place. After he was unjustly tried and condemned, Jesus was taken to Golgotha. There he was crucified between two other men. They were both criminals who apparently had qualified for capital punishment. (Matthew calls them “robbers” but since theft did not warrant such a severe penalty, scholars say they must have been insurrectionists or repeat offenders. Luke calls them “criminals”.)

Two Criminals, Two Approaches

One of them taunted Jesus skeptically and challenged him to save them from crucifixion. The other observed his behavior and declared that Jesus was guiltless. Three crosses: one man in the middle, two opposite opinions on either side. It’s a telling reminder that two people can see the exact same thing and disagree about what it means. One criminal looked at Jesus and exercised skepticism, demanding proof and instant gratification. “Save yourself and us!” He saw opportunity to make a getaway, but that was it. He was in effect demanding that God approach him on his own terms.

The other criminal was also hanging on a cross, and was in the same condition as the skeptic. He didn’t have long to live, and here he was being crucified next to the “King of the Jews”. However, he somehow exercised faith. He saw Jesus as he truly was, able to wield authority. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom!” He never read Hebrews 11:6, but he applied it anyway. “Without faith it is impossible to please God.”

Hmmm… I wonder where those two guys are today. Come to think of it, where are YOU are today? Are you skeptical? Do you need instant gratification? Do you sometimes look at how difficult your circumstances are and shake your fist at God? Or do you say, “Lord, remember me”? No matter how tough things get, don’t lose faith. The King established his kingdom, and he has promised us a place in it. Therefore, remember Hebrews 10:23: “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.” As one hopeful criminal to another, I’ll see you in the Kingdom someday!

Criminals in the Kingdom

When Christ was being crucified,
There were two thieves on either side.
One mocked him, but the other cried,
“Remember me in Paradise!”
Jesus heard his dying plea
While paying for his penalty,
And told him, “Son, you soon will be
In paradise today with me.”
If into heaven he was let–
A sinful man with much regret–
Because the King forgave his debt,
Then perhaps we’ll make it to heaven yet!
The only way to heaven is to bring
Our sin before the gracious, loving King.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Why Faith? Why Doesn’t God Give us Indisputable Proof?

The Bible talks a whole lot about FAITH. Have you ever wondered why it places so much weight on having faith? Does that mean we can’t rely on empirical evidence? Does faith have to be blind? The common definition of faith is “confidence or trust in a person or thing.” ( https://www.dictionary.com/browse/faith ) So, why doesn’t the Bible offer us indisputable proof of God’s existence and His plans? The writer of Hebrews goes so far as to say that having a relationship with God depends on that word: “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6, KJV)

Why Not PROOF?

Faith, when it is active, doesn’t require proof, validation, satisfaction, victory or blessing. It is in ITSELF these things, and offers complete comfort and peace to those who exercise it. But I have always thought Christianity would be a lot easier if there was “God-in-a-box”. I’m talking about empirical proof that you could carry around and just show people.

Indisputable Evidence

Think about how easy evangelism would be. You’re sharing the good news with someone, and they say, “I’m just not sure I believe all that stuff”. Well, you open up “God-in-a-box” and SHOW them, and they’d have to say, “Oh, I see now. You’ve got God, right there. I guess I have to believe.” Scientists could analyze it and find conclusively that yes, indeed, God exists. No more arguments about who God is, or what God is like. No more atheists. If we just had “God-in-a-box”, the world would be 100% converted in whatever time it took for everybody to look into the box and see the proof.

proof

Kind of a silly thought, I know, but also a fascinating one. Why is it that we can’t just PROVE the existence and nature of God in an irrefutable way? How come the Lord of the universe set things up in a way that allows for so much interpretation and ambiguity? Put simply, I look at it like this: God requires faith so that we have a choice. God could have given us undeniable proof and created us as automatons who are programmed to follow His every whim, but He didn’t. He created a universe in which we have free will to the fullest extent possible, where we could even choose to perceive him or believe him—or not.

By definition, if you could PROVE the existence of God, there would be no need for faith, and no real possibility for us to love Him of our own accord. Only by allowing us to reject Him did he give us the power to accept Him. He grants us the ability to have faith so that we can truly experience love.

Is Testimony True?

Second, God allows faith so that we have a journey. As God has revealed himself and men have responded, there are thousands and thousands of stories about changed lives and new directions. Abram left Ur to go to the place God would show him; Moses led a nation out of slavery; Paul did a 180 on the road to Damascus; and more recently, Brian Welch, Albert Pujols, Eric Metaxas, and many others speak movingly about their faith in God and their new direction on the website I AM SECOND ( https://www.iamsecond.com/ ). The changes in these many lives are fueled by faith which provided a platform from which to embark on a new journey in life.

proof

Finally, God gives faith so that we can live out a dream. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Faith enables us to take evidence and convert it to hope. It empowers us to take hope and convert it to action. True faith ALWAYS results in action (see James Chapter 2). There is no such thing as passive faith. It’s like the old expression, “put your money where your mouth is.” If you really believe something you won’t just talk about it, you’ll invest in it with your time and resources.

A person of faith will think differently, act differently, and dream differently. It might be surprising, but I’ve never really been a big “pie in the sky when you die by-and-by” kind of guy. I have always thought that the greatest thing about eternal life is how it performs TODAY.

What’s There to Lose?

You may say, “This God stuff is silly. We die and that’s it.” You might be right. So then, even if I’m 100% wrong, and we both end up in the grave, what did I lose? I still gained comfort, wisdom, and a quality of life I never dreamed possible. But if the faith I place in God is justified, and I’m right, then, WOW! What did I gain? If you ever stop and think of what heaven could be like, it is mind–bending. And it would be a shame to miss an eternity filled with God’s glory just because you were waiting for more evidence.

Somewhere, sometime along the way, God has revealed Himself to you. He has given you glimpses of His creativity, his character, his Word, and his impact on others. But He will never PROVE himself to you. He is waiting for you to step out in faith, and Hebrews says He is waiting to reward you if you diligently seek Him. Believe it. Bet on it.

Your Choice, Your Privilege

God did not make robots who could not think on their own,
But men who had to find their way to Him by faith alone…
Sure, He could have forced mankind to find Him and accept Him;
He could have offered iron-clad proof so no one could reject Him.
Instead of proof, He gave us all the privilege to believe,
To come to him by Faith, based on the evidence we receive.
Many may ignore Him; there are times when no one sees Him;
Just don’t forget: without Faith, it’s impossible to please Him.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

The Substance of Hope, or How Faith Changed the World

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good testimony. By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.” (Hebrews 1:1-3, NIV).

The Substance of Faith

The author of Hebrews says that faith is “the substance of things hope for.” If you dissect the syllables and break down that word, it comes from “sub” (under) and “stance” (from stand), or that which stands under a thing. Knowing what stands UNDER a thing will often help us to understand the thing ITSELF. Looking closer, the Greek word for substance is hypostasis, which referred to the underlying state or condition of a thing. (Makes sense, right?) It was also a legal term used in real estate transactions because it indicated there was an underlying legal document (the title deed) which provided proof of ownership and possession.

Faith is basically our deed of trust, giving us ownership of hope, and a reasonable expectation that God will do what He promised to do. The things which we CAN see are a down payment towards the things we CAN’T see. Creation points us towards faith and proves God’s reliability, because it demonstrates that all visible things were made by the One who is not visible.

God does what He does. You can believe or not believe. You can choose to ignore the evidence He placed about himself into creation—the vastness of the universe, the delicate balance of the earth hung in orbit, the intricacy of a cell, the seasons, a flower, and the canvas of the sky every day—or you can allow it to stimulate faith.

substance

If you follow God by faith, the writer of Hebrews says, it will change your life. The elders obtained a good testimony by their faith, and Hebrews 11 goes on to discuss the stories of those who believed, and changed not only their own lives but human history as well… Faith is a big deal, ya’ll, but here’s the thing: God will never MAKE you believe.

Which Side of the Conundrum are You On?

It’s an interesting intellectual conundrum, but God did not make himself provable because He has given us a choice. An empirical God (one with substance that could be proven physically) would remove our will from the equation; we’d have no choice but to accept Him and worship Him. So the loving God preserved our choice by withholding PROOF and giving us EVIDENCE. That way we can decide how we feel about Him.

Everyone can be skeptical about a God who painted portions of His self-portrait into a chosen people, an Exodus, the Pentateuch, a shepherd-king, the Psalms, the prophets, history (His Story), His Son, the Word, and into relationships throughout every generation… You can dismiss the people of faith as irrational, and you can live your entire life ignoring God. Mankind doesn’t have to seek God or engage Him in any way. You don’t ever have to have faith in God…

It’s Really YOUR Choice

So, if you decide that faith in God is not for you, there are things you will never understand about God. You won’t understand the paradoxes that exist between His kingdom and ours: serve to lead; be humble to be great; love your enemies; die to live… You will never know about the substance of His character, His generosity, His wisdom, or His love. You won’t discover the presence of a loving Father who provides comfort to those who mourn, peace to those who worry, and a home to those who wander. And, oh yeah, your world will never change; it will never stretch beyond the boundaries of what you see or know empirically.

But if you search for God, He promises that there is something in it for YOU. Hebrews 11:6 gives makes this awesome claim: “whoever comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him.”

But Does Faith Work?

Looking back through history, faith has changed the world time and again. Abraham left home to start a new nation because he believed God; Moses became one of the great leaders of all time by faith. The early church emerged with radical impact because of faith. Faith in the resurrection changed the hearts of men, and those men changed the world. The Roman Empire was built by men of action and ambition, but faith outlasted it and toppled it. This world is full of men and governments seeking the means to impose their will on other men; God’s kingdom, based on faith, will outlast them all.

Wherever you come from, wherever you’ve been, whatever you believe or think, ask yourself this question: what is the substance of the things you hope for? Hebrews says if you seek God in faith, He will be pleased and He will respond to you. Seek in faith today. Be rewarded forever.

The Evidence of What We’ve Yet to See

Faith is what we hope for based on what we cannot see–
Like holding grapes, anticipating wine.
We see the universe and wonder how it came to be,
Inferring a Designer from design.
God is not empirical, or a theorem you can prove,
His substance is much more than what is taught;
He says that faith will find Him, and the mountain can be moved,
But it’s your choice to live by faith, or not.
You can live by intellect, observe God and critique Him;
Or You can get to know Him, if by faith you truly seek Him.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread