Yesterday at church God used one line of a worship song to point me to the thief on the cross who acknowledged Jesus.
Luke 23:39-43 says – 39 Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, “If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.” 40 But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” 43 And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”
And God showed me Lesson #1: You aren’t too lost, too old, too busy, or too unknown or unseen to start today. So choose today to start, to be, to do, to believe, to try, to forgive, to go, to talk, to dream, to learn, to grown, to change, to love, to let go, to forget. Today is the day to start anew and to make a new decision.
So I was thinking about this driving into work this morning, and I let my mind linger on the thief on the cross next to Jesus. Just a few verses of Scripture and only three sentences of dialogue. Yet as I thought about him, Jesus starts pointing out more lessons from the brief appearance of this thief.
This morning I realized that, for the thief, the only thing Jesus could change for him was eternity. He couldn’t change the past or undo the bad choices he had made. There was no way for the thief to go back and remake his choices. Jesus couldn’t relieve him of his present suffering of being crucified. He was suffering the consequences of his wrong choices. So Jesus did what He could in that moment of “today”. He forgave his past transgressions, He acknowledged his repentance in the present moment, and He assured him of salvation for eternity.
No, the thief’s suffering didn’t end. Yes, he died the horrific death on the cross. But he died confessing the Lord as his Savior and was rewarded with eternal life in Paradise.
Lesson #2: The thief made his dramatic change at the end of his life, when it was too late to make amends to people and do better. His life seems to have been one bad choice after another, leading to a life of crime. He could have chosen to be a better person who contributed productively to society. He could have lived an upright life. He could have followed Jesus and taught other people about Him. He could have been a voice of truth instead of the fingers of selfishness. But at least the thief saw himself for who he really was and was ready to change, even if it was in his final moments.
And why? Lesson #3: The thief recognized Jesus for who He was, the sinless sacrifice. The thief knew without any doubt that Jesus did not deserve to be on that cross. That should be a pointed reminder to us as believers that Jesus is evident in us. People should see and recognize Jesus when they see us. But honestly, how often do we have Him on display? How often do we choose a soft word over a harsh retort, a silent tongue over a quick comeback, thoughts of forgiveness over thoughts of vengeance, or a peaceful spirit instead of a stirred up fleshly soul? I feel like I am often more guilty than others of all these things. Because it’s easier to recite the list of bad things people have done. It’s easier to be mad. It’s easier to be unmoving.
And then Lesson #4 hits you between the eyes. Jesus wasn’t any of these things with the thief. He didn’t remind him of all his wrong choices. He wasn’t mad at the sinner for waiting until the last minute to turn his life around. He wasn’t unmoving and uncompassionate with him. Jesus accepted him where he was, saw his genuine heart, and forgave him instantly – changing the course of his eternity.
Who knew there were so many rich truths in just a few verses of God’s Word? God did. And He’s willing to share them with us to their fullest when we’re open and ready to listen.
How about you? Is God showing you anything about the thief on the cross?
Marie Fremin, 5/11/15