“And Jesus said to him, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.'” -Luke 23:43
It was dusty, and a slight wind was blowing. He stumbled along slowly under the weight of his cross. This man was a criminal condemned to execution by crucifixion. As he reached the spot where his cross would be staked into the ground, he tried to resist. This was brief, though- he was too exhausted. Looking around at the others he was going to be crucified with, he spotted Jesus of Nazareth. The criminal thought to himself, “What’s he doing here?”
Today is Good Friday, the day we remember Jesus’ crucifixion. Though He had committed no crime, Jesus was executed by the Romans. Two criminals were his companions. The people were mocking Him, the soldiers were mocking Him, and even the criminals on either side were mocking Him (Luke 23:15-16, Matthew 27:44). Everyone thought that Jesus’ mission was a failure. On the night of His arrest, the disciples had fled (Matthew 26:56). Those He had taught were shaking their heads as they walked past the cross (Luke 23:35).
Yet, this thief had a change of heart. He recognized that Jesus was the Messiah.
As he watched the soldiers divide Jesus’ clothes, as he heard Jesus cry out to God, this thief gradually grew silent. He was watching Old Testament prophecies being fulfilled before his eyes. As the other thief again mocked Jesus, this thief suddenly spoke up. Luke 23:40-41 states, “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.'”
But the thief doesn’t stop there: “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 23:42-43).
Yesterday in chapel, the preacher said something that indicated the significance of this thief’s change of heart: “Nothing puts the principalities and powers of hell to shame like granting eternal life to someone at the gates of hell.”
“So,” you might be wondering, “what is this all about?” Way back in Genesis, Adam and Eve disobeyed God (Genesis 3:11). Because God is holy, this disobedience (called sin) separates all of us from Him (Romans 6:23). Even worse, all of us have sinned (Romans 3:23, Romans 5:12). No amount of good things we do… going to church, giving money to help people, or living the best lives we can…can be a bridge over the enormous chasm that separates sinful man from a holy, righteous God (Ephesians 2:8-9). Sounds like we’re stuck, right?
But wait, there’s more! Jesus, God in the flesh, lived a sinless life (2 Corinthians 5:21, 1 Peter 1:18-19) and died in our place so that we could be right with God and spend eternity with Him (Romans 5:6-12).
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” -John 3:16-17
The only way to spend eternity with God is to accept Jesus’ sacrifice for your sins (John 14:6, Acts 4:12). If you reject the gospel, you remain spiritually dead because of your sin. Because God is holy, you cannot spend eternity with Him. The author of Hebrews clearly warns that there is no escape for those who reject the gospel (Hebrews 2:3).
How can you be saved? “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). All that is required is that you believe that Jesus, being who He said he was, took your sin debt upon Himself by dying on the cross. You are trusting that when you die, God will see that you are covered with the blood of His Son.
Jesus demonstrated His power over death and sin by rising from the dead three days later! He alone can save.
On the day of Jesus’ crucifixion, two thieves were crucified alongside Him. Both were guilty. Both deserved to die. Both did die. But only one trusted in Jesus for his salvation. We will spend eternity, in heaven with God or in hell apart from Him, with one of the thieves from that day.
Which one will it be?