From the night he was born until his last moments on earth, Jesus seemed to be meeting people. Many of these encounters were life-changing; perhaps none more so than his last earthly encounter: with those crucified alongside him.
Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. 33 When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. … 38 There was a written notice above him, which read: this is the king of the jews. – Luke 23:32, 33, 38
Unbelievably it seems to us, people used to gather to watch these barbaric executions! The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.” 36 The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar 37 and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” vss. 35-37
Three men that day shared a common fate, but they were markedly different. Jesus was the sinless Son of God, dying for the sins of the world. The other two were being punished for their crimes, but that’s where their similarities ended.
One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 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.” vss. 39-42
How would Jesus respond? Neither man had much time on earth left. The thief had no time to rectify his misdeeds; no opportunity to make restitution or demonstrate by his actions that his repentance was sincere. Jesus had little time and even less strength to be able to spell out in words God’s wonderful plan of redemption. What could he say?
Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” vs. 43
That was it! Here is the perfect demonstration – if we needed one – that salvation is by grace alone, through faith; and our deeds – good or otherwise – are quite irrelevant. Here also is a reminder – if we needed one – that while we are very unwise to leave our decision to follow Jesus to the last minute, Jesus stands ready and waiting to receive those who are truly penitent. Don’t stop praying for that family member or friend who shows little interest in or inclination to consider Jesus! Circumstances change. And so do our attitudes as the end of this life draws closer.
PRAYER: Father we thank you for your grace which sent Jesus to live among us, and allowed him to die so we might be reconciled to you. Thank you for this reminder of your great love for sinners. Thank you that when our time on earth draws to a close we have the prospect and promise of eternity in paradise with Jesus. Please continue to draw to yourself those we love who are not walking with you. Amen
SONG: Rescue the Perishing by Islington Baptist – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m_e4RXHF6Yk