“Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, ‘If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.’ But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.’” Luke 23:39-43
Like the thief on the cross who mocked and blasphemed the Lord Jesus, so also today many speak against Jesus Christ and His Word rather than acknowledging their sins and turning to Him for forgiveness and life.
Rather than admitting their faults and failures, people find it easier to speak against the truth and reject Jesus, the Light of the World (cf. John 8:12), who shines into the darkness of our hearts and lives. It is as the Bible says in John 1:4-5: “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.”
Jesus explains this further in John 3:19-20 when He says: “And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.”
But rather than joining the world in its blasphemy and mockery of Christ, the second criminal spoke the truth and acknowledged his sin and guilt, saying to the first: “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.”
While we would not normally look to a criminal, a thief, as a role model, in this case, he is a role model for us. We look not to his example as a common criminal but to his example as a penitent sinner. He didn’t hide his sin or make excuses for it. He was honest in regard to his sin and his guilt. He acknowledged his sin and the punishment he justly deserved, and he turned to Jesus, as Jesus was dying on the cross to pay the price for the sins of the world, seeking pardon, forgiveness, and life eternal!
And what happened? “He said to Jesus, ‘Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.’”
It’s as David said in Psalm 32:3-5: “When I kept silent, my bones grew old through my groaning all the day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; my vitality was turned into the drought of summer. Selah I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I have not hidden. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’ and You forgave the iniquity of my sin.”
Jesus did nothing wrong, but He was crucified and condemned for our sins and the sins of the whole world. “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).
When we, like the thief on the cross, humble ourselves before Jesus and confess our sin and failure to obey God’s holy Law, He is gracious and merciful to us and will forgive our sins for the sake of His holy and precious blood, shed for us upon the cross.
John writes (1 John 1:5 — 2:2): “This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.”
From Jesus’ words to this dying thief, we see that He is merciful even to the worst of sinners. No matter how great our sins have been, when we look to Christ for mercy, His blood covers them all (1 John 1:7)!
We also learn the glorious truth that the very day a believer dies, if he trusts in Jesus Christ for mercy, his soul shall be with Jesus in paradise! With the dying thief, we pray, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” And on our dying day, we have the assurance of Jesus’ words: “Today you will be with Me in Paradise.”
Dear Lord Jesus, we know that You have done nothing amiss but are holy and righteous. We, on the other hand, are miserable sinners, deserving of Your eternal wrath and punishment. For the sake of Your holy and precious blood, shed for us on the cross, cleanse us from the guilt and filth of our sin and remember us when You come in Your glorious, eternal kingdom. Amen.
[Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.]
If you wish to listen to the hymns played above and see the words, they can be played and viewed at the links below. The words are also available in the Lutheran Service Book.
Jesus, I will Ponder Now
Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted
Glory Be to Jesus
Were You There