One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” -Luke 23:39-43
“It was an accident.” “It was only a joke.” “I guess I made a small mistake.” “If they hadn’t first, I wouldn’t have.” “I know I messed up, but that’s not who I am.”
All of these phrases (and many, many more) have come out of my mouth as I’ve found myself confronted in my sin. My face flushes, my heart races, I sweat. What can I do to get out of this situation? If only I could explain my sin away or pass the blame to someone else!
Two criminals hung on their crosses next to Jesus. One mocked Christ, proclaiming him too weak to save himself. The other, in a moment of repentance, recognized the truth. He really was a criminal. He really deserved to die. And instead of declaring his own innocence, he recognized Christ’s innocence and asked not to be delivered from his cross but to be forgiven in eternity.
What does Jesus do? Does Jesus fret and say, “If only you could have been baptized, you could count on that for your salvation?” or “If only you could do some good deeds from now on—and they might one day outweigh your sins?” No. Jesus declares the man’s repentance and proclamation of faith in Christ to be enough. Does this sound too good be true? Can we really trust that forgiveness from our sins does not rest on our religious observances, volunteer service, well intentions, or dedication and devotion?
The truth is, you and I are more like the thief on the cross than we realize. We don’t have the ability to right our wrongs or crawl out of the hole we’ve dug for ourselves. We’re guilty and deserving of our punishment. But it is also in that place that we can fully realize our utter need for Jesus.
Prayer: Jesus. I am a sinner. I have said and done things. I have hurt people with my words and actions. Other times I passively neglected to do the things expected of me. I am guilty of my sin. My only hope is not in my ability to fix my situation or to become a better person. My only hope is in you, the innocent man who died for me. Thank you.