Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” And the soldiers gambled for his clothes by throwing dice.
The crowd watched and the leaders scoffed. “He saved others,” they said, “let him save himself if he is really God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.” The soldiers mocked him, too, by offering him a drink of sour wine. They called out to him, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” A sign was fastened to the cross above him with these words: “This is the King of the Jews.”
One of the criminals hanging beside him scoffed, “So you’re the Messiah, are you? Prove it by saving yourself—and us, too, while you’re at it!”
But the other criminal protested, “Don’t you fear God even when you have been sentenced to die? We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”
And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:34-43)
As this man was about to die, he turned to Christ for forgiveness, and Christ accepted him. This shows that our deeds don’t save us—our faith in Christ does. Even in his misery, Jesus had mercy on this criminal who decided to believe in him. Our lives will be much more useful and fulfilling if we turn to God early, but even those who repent at the very last moment will be with God in paradise.
The dying criminal had more faith than the rest of Jesus’ followers put together. Although the disciples continued to love Jesus, their hopes for the kingdom were shattered. Most of them had gone into hiding. As one of his followers sadly said two days later, “We had hoped he was the Messiah who had come to rescue Israel” (Luke 24:21). By contrast, the criminal looked at the man who was dying next to him and said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom” (Luke 23:42). By all appearances, the kingdom was finished. How awe-inspiring is the faith of this man who alone saw beyond the present shame to the coming glory!
Is there someone you know who seems to be waiting until the bitter end to trust Jesus? Pray for him or her to know God’s tender mercy and compassion. Be a light that reminds him or her of the love of God.