Luke 23:43 “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
As he hanged on the cross, the Jewish rulers continued to mock Jesus. “If he really is the Christ, the Chosen One, let Him save Himself.” The Roman soldiers continued the mocking, placing an inscription over his head that declared, “This is the King of the Jews.” They offered him sour wine which would have numbed his pain, but increased his thirst and emphasized his frailty. The men who were crucified beside him beside him joined the fray. They mocked him too, one of them jeering, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself, and us!”
Until one had a change of heart. The thief, hanged beside Jesus said,
Luke 23:40 – 42:
“Don’t you fear God…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.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
We don’t know much about this man. But there are some things we do know:
He was probably a Jew. His words, “don’t you fear God?” reveal that he was at least familiar with the Torah. Whatever his crime, he believed his punishment was fair. He was also familiar with some of Jesus’ teaching. His reference to “the kingdom” – of which Jesus often spoke – suggests that he understood that the mocking inscription, “This is the King of the Jews” was accurate.
This convicted criminal saw in Jesus an innocent man.
Together they endured a humiliating, excruciating, slow death. And yet, this dying man understood that while Jesus might not save him from death on the cross, he had the power to save him for something far greater. He believed that Jesus is the King of heaven – and he understood that only Jesus could afford him entry into God’s forever kingdom, into paradise.
With his arms nailed and stretched wide open, and his feet nailed together, each word uttered from the cross required an insurmountable effort. It was an incredible effort, an incredible realization, an incredible declaration.
As he died, this man was given eyes to see. He was given faith, the incredible gift of grace.
What is grace? Grace is undeserved kindness. Grace is God’s disposition towards us. It’s His unequivocal, unconditional, unlimited response to a people stained by sin.
To the man dying a shameful criminal’s death, who had no way of making amends for a life time of wrongs; who had only hours earlier been mocking Jesus; who had nothing to offer or give Him, Jesus showed grace.
He responded, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
The Gospels record Jesus saying many shocking things. This is one of them. It is meant to shock us. Because grace is shocking. Grace is surprising. Grace defies order, it defies expectation, it defies belief.
The man on the cross could not save himself. And so He looked to Jesus and was met with undeserved kindness. Jesus willingly saved the man who could not save himself.
And it is the same for us. Our salvation is not based on what we have done, but rather on what God has done for us.
My salvation isn’t based on what I have done, but rather on what God has done for me. It’s a reminder that I constantly need to hear. My life long struggle is the offensive belief that I can be good enough for God. That my charity and service and reputation will get me anywhere close to His throne.
It’s the curse of humanity, isn’t it? Made in God’s image, our internal desire for justice and righteousness leaves us constantly striving to God’s standard. But our sin just won’t let us get there. Our righteous acts are like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). We have no way of making amends for our wrongs. We are stained by sin, far from innocent. We cannot save ourselves.
And so, like the man hanged beside Jesus on the tree, we must rest on the gift of faith by grace. The very fact that we believe is grace, and so we must rest on Jesus’ kindness to us. We must rest on His innocence and His righteousness.
And like the thief on the cross, we rest on Jesus shocking promise – that through the faith He has given us, we too will one day be with Him in paradise.
This article is available as a recording on the podcast, More Than a Cakestall, Season 3.