In part 3 of this series on salvation I want to take a look at the interaction between Jesus and the thief that was crucified along side of him.
One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”
But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 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.”
Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Luke 23: 40-43
I can’t wait to meet this man one day and give him a big hug. This petty criminal whose name we don’t even know, has been a beacon of God’s loving grace for more than 2000 years!
Think of it! Here is Jesus giving absolute assurance (and deep down isn’t every believer in Christ looking for that) that when this man dies soon, he will be with Jesus in paradise!
See, when I was younger it was the “in paradise” part that got me excited. You know, “heaven”; big mansions, golden streets, maybe the ability to fly…heaven! Now, as I understand things (slightly) better it’s the “with me” portion that captivates my attention.
Regarding “salvation”, who we are “with” is much more important than where we are “going”.
In the church circles I grew up in the focus was often on eternal destiny; Heaven or Hell? And questions posed would be along the lines of, “If you were to die tonight and Jesus asked you why he should let you into his heaven, what would you answer?”
(Of course we were all instructed in the correct magic answer so that should such an encounter ever occur, we were ready with the secret passwords.)
But what got the picture all distorted was that we were asking the wrong question! It’s never been about heaven, hell, or any place. It’s about whether you are “with him” or not. As we saw in part 2 of this series it’s about whether you are taking on (and desiring to take on) the image of God!
This thief on the cross was, in microcosm, displaying a “Kingdom of God” transformation. He:
- recognized God’s place and authority over the situation (“Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence?”)
- admitted that he has played a part in the destruction of God’s creation or “peace”. (“We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve”)
- declares Jesus is taking the same punishment as he has but stands innocent. (“But this man has done nothing wrong.”)
- recognizes his King and asks his King if he will recognize him as one of his Kingdom’s subjects (“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”)
And Jesus, even as his physical body was dying in agony, paused to recognize one of his Kingdom’s citizens and encourage his subject with the words, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Does it get better than that?
What I really love about this thief though is if we got him off the cross before he died and gave him a theology test or even a basic quiz on Christianity 101…he would have failed. That’s why this thief’s encounter with Christ is chronicled and has served as a message of grace through the centuries until today. He recognized his King and found “salvation”.
You can to!