Give me what I Deserve! But Are you sure that’s What you REALLY Want?

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)

deserve

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.

Good News

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!”

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

Will There Be Criminals in the Kingdom?

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

“In Him Was Life; And that Life was the Light of Men” But, Was It Really?

Of the baby born in Bethlehem, John said, “In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.” (John 1:4-5, NIV) Men have been misunderstanding Jesus since the time he was an infant. Apparently it is really easy to not understand Jesus… and one of the easiest ways to do that is to assume you already know, and to avoid really looking at him.

I mean, all of us know something about Jesus. Perhaps because you’ve heard a parable or two, you’ve never taken the time to look at his entire life. (But wait, there’s more!”) People often look at small snapshots of Jesus without ever watching the whole movie. (Or, without reading the whole book.)

See the Whole Picture

Some folks assume that Jesus must be like people who say they know him, and that can be like looking at a diamond through a broken microscope. The spectrum of behavior from folks who say they follow Jesus can be both incredibly varied and incredibly misleading. Jesus Followers (or those who merely claim to follow him) range from misguided religious nuts to sincere believers who make mistakes, still live in the flesh, and yes, still commit sins… It’s very easy, if you are skeptical, to look at the Church—the imperfect, stumbling, bumbling followers of Christ– and decide Jesus is not for you.

Or it’s easy to avoid looking at him closely because you think he is like “nominal” Christians, who may not actually be connected to him at all. So many people say, “Yeah, I know about Jesus, I know about his teachings”, when all they have done is given a cursory glance at what he said, or listened to a secondhand account (yeah, like this one) of what he said.

Factual and Actual

But I would say to you and to anyone who encounters the actual Jesus of the Bible, the rabbi who gave the Sermon on the Mount, the teacher who confounded the Pharisees, or the healer who healed, the same man whose birthday we celebrate every year at Christmas,  that John’s description of the Word is accurate and applicable. Use the “It’s a Wonderful Life” template, and let’s pretend Jesus had never been born… How different would the world be today? How much has his teaching and his sacrifice influenced the affairs of men?

life

It certainly influenced John. After 3 years of walking daily with Jesus, of watching him heal and listening to him teach, and after having meals and walking along the road and going to parties with him, he understood who Jesus was, and he captured it perfectly here in his introduction: “In him was life.” To Jairus’ daughter in Luke 8, Jesus was life. When Mary questioned him just after Lazarus died, he said, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believes in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.” To Lazarus in John 11, Jesus was life; and to the thief on the cross beside him in Luke 23, Jesus was life. To Stephen in Acts 7, even as he fell beneath the stones, Jesus was life. Saul of Tarsus, better known as the Apostle Paul, said, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Phil 1:21)

Ripples on the Pond

To me, in the 20th century as an insecure teenager, Jesus was life. As an adult who could be living in Pottersville instead of Bedford Falls, Jesus is life. The life of a Jewish Rabbi from over 2,000 years ago has reached out to me. His influence is undeniable, not because I’m so good but because without him my life would have been a train wreck. Here’s the Question you should be asking yourself: have you REALLY investigated Jesus of Nazareth? Do you know what he taught, have you truly looked at what he was about? John says that “in him was life, and that life was the light of men.”

I would suggest that there is indeed darkness in this world, and that the darkness not only doesn’t understand Jesus, it doesn’t want anyone else to understand him either. To those who understand Jesus and discover life in the Word, John promises illumination in the darkness. He promises the ability to see new things, to grow, to stretch outward and upward to life-giving rays of hope! I hope you investigate. I hope you understand. You know who said, “I am come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly”? Yep. But don’t take MY word for it. You can read it all yourself. And you should.

Would You Say This About Your BFF?

He walked with Jesus every day. John talked with him along the way;
He heard what Jesus had to say. He ate with him. John watched him pray.
He saw the things that no one sees, saw him confound the Pharisees!
He heard him preach and saw him heal, and decided Jesus was for real.
Then, finally, he wrote a book. It’s short. Go read it, take a look–
A book I heartily commend, John’s own account of his best friend:
He wrote this down, and it’s worth saying again:
“In Him was life. He was the Light of Men.”

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