33 When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing. 35 And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” 39 One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” [NRSA]
For me, this passage gives me great hope.
As a sinner, that there is a means through Christ to find forgiveness, even when there is little time to do any good works. We notice that the first thief does, that opens salvation to him and is not offered to the other thief: He gives witness or testimony of who Jesus is.
The act of faith that the thief on the cross communicates who Jesus is to the world and confessing his guilt and Jesus’s innocence. It is not a complete catechism or a full theology, but his words tell of his experience and prospective of Jesus from his personal experience.
There is comfort knowing that for those who are grateful and willing to share their testimonies that Paradise is waiting for them. This opens assurances about death, life-after-death, and judgement. For those looking for a more literal interpretation, there is not a much clearer witness that straight from the lips of Jesus, that this confessing AND professing sinner has found Christ, proclaimed Christ, and will join Christ that very day.
The Pitfall, for those not on death row or death bed
There are those who see the last-minute timing as a loophole for “Last moment confessions.” The thief gives us the temptation to think about living life by our own rules and cashing in on the technicality of the last-minute confession to get into heaven.
It’s good to know that possibility is there but think of the years missed out living as a Heaven-bound citizen.
The Other Fellow
I would draw your attention to the one who is lesser known in this trio of characters, the second thief, the third person in the scene. He sees Jesus, He hears the other fellow’s confession of faith and testimony. He hears Jesus’s invitation and yet we have no recorded conversation from the third person.
If we knew someone was handing out vacations to paradise, and all one had to do was proclaim Jesus, this third person, still is silent and misses the invitation and hospitality of God’s grace in Jesus Christ.
The point being that when Christ is near, just as we know when we gather for communion, or celebrate a baptism, our we are feeding, clothing, or visiting the oppressed, and Christ is near, would be reasonable to double check-in.
Doubt About our Faith?
Have you ever had the question of doubt about our faith? Its natural in our broken world, when we see evil reign over us to questions where God is. When we stop asking Jesus are we saved, then we run the arrogant risk of backsliding. I concept of Wesley’s that we can forget our faith by not growing our relationship with God, thus Wesley’s introduction of sanctification and perfection.
Bottom line, when I get to the place where I no longer need to be sharing my witness of Christ, then I have forgotten the power and hold that Christ has on me. Don’t be like the third person and remain silent when tickets to paradise are being handed out by Jesus.
Rather than living life as one lost in the weeds of when, when Jesus’s sacrifice can become salvation for us.
There is another temptation that some hold about verses like this one, that we make the declaration that we have already accepted Christ and therefore this example is best for someone else.
To this end, I have homework for you this week.
I invite you to write a thank you letter to Jesus:
This might be in addition to my list of I am thankful for my family, my home, my friends,
The letter I’m inviting you to write is a “I am thankful to God for what Jesus has done, what the Holy Spirit has done, what the father has done in my life.
- This list might include things like, I am thankful that Jesus is/was with me through my grief.
- That Jesus helped keep me strong in the face of temptation over ____
- That the Holy Spirit guided me through a time I could not see on my own.
- I thank God for helping me find a job, find fellowship in friendship of a, b, c.
- I am grateful that the Holy Spirit gave me the right words when I was asked to help.
- I am thanking for that Jesus died for my sin, and be specific about those struggles
- I am thankful
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