Only an 11th hour confession that transformed a bandit and took him from being eternally condemned to finding solace with Jesus.
Regardless of what you have done and whom you have been, if you can see what the thief saw; if you can do what he did; then you will be where he is.
In this encounter I am struck by the incredible example of Jesus’ mercy towards ALL people…even those who seem most undeserving.
We know little of these two men who hung on either side of Jesus at Golgotha other than they were referred to as bandits, thieves, rebels and by the confession of one of them, that they were deserving of their punishment for their crimes. Mathew 27:44 tells us that both bandits were also hurling insulting at Jesus in the same way as the passing crowds, chief priests, scribes and elders but something happened while they hung there beside Jesus.
One bandit remained arrogant and vile, barking out at Jesus “So you are the Messiah, are you? Prove it by saving yourself and us while you’re at it!!” The other, had a change of heart and rebuked him, acknowledging their guilt and due punishment declaring that Jesus had done no wrong. He then humbly asks to “remember him” when Jesus comes into His Kingdom…Remember…, no expectation to be saved from the consequences of his life or special favors but to somehow be remembered.
Then Jesus does something profound that only Jesus could do. He tells Him that “Today, you will be with me in Paradise” What!! No baptism, no acts of service, no personal sacrifices or being part of the “community”, or ever taking communion. Only an 11th hour confession that transformed a bandit and took him from being eternally condemned to finding solace with Jesus.
Jesus in the agony of hanging on the cross bearing the weight of all the sins of the world, my sin, the sin done to me, shows us the free gift of eternal salvation is not dependent on how long we walk with God or all our good deeds but that when we come even, in the 11th hour, we can share in the gift of eternal life. He lived out the truth of the parable of the vineyard workers in Matthew 20:1-16. My point is not to advocate for last minute conversions. 1Cor3:12,13 warns about our life work being shown for what it is by God’s refining fire and for some of us, we escape the flames with only our lives. My point is that only Jesus knows our hearts and motives and only He can offer eternal salvation to those hearts are contrite, genuine, and sincere.
Asa recovering striver, working hard to prove my value and worth, trying to earn my place in God’s good books, I can really struggle with these passages sometimes. My sense of fairness and justice are stretched as they don’t appear to be deserving of this amazing gift but then I am reminded of my own prodigal journey to my Heavenly Father and am able to celebrate that another was snatched from the flames. One that was dead in sin has come back to life. My responsibility is to live out that gift as long as I have breath and welcome back other prodigals as Jude1:20-23 exhorts us to, showing mercy, loving well…rescuing others by snatching them from the flames. We do that as Jesus demonstrates to us here with mercy and compassion.
Really, these bandits reflect us…some of us refuse to acknowledge our guilt and look for reasons or circumstances to hold onto our rebellion against God and our preferred way of living, some of us however, humble ourselves and are able to acknowledge our sin and rebellion, confess them and be welcomed into the family of God.
We are saved by the cross and we can enter paradise. The lesson of the story of the first human being to look to the crucified Jesus for salvation. You don’t have to be good enough. You don’t have anything to offer. You don’t have to qualify. You just have to trust him to forgive and to save. Not because we are good but because He is good!!
The Promise of these passages is a promise made to each of us.
It is about an unrestricted access of grace that lies before us.
Jesus refuses to treat us as we deserve to be treated.
There is always hope, and redemption is always within reach
Regardless of what you have done and whom you have been, if you can see what the thief saw; if you can do what he did; then you will be where he is. What faith. What a promise. What a privilege. What glory.
I love Alistair Beg’s quote “the Man in the Middle said I could come”. There is no way I could have ever made up for my past life and the sins I still commit…but Jesus says “Come, join me in paradise. I have made a way for you”
Click on this link to hear The Man in the Middle said I could come
This clip is from the sermon “The Power and Message of the Cross,” which was preached at Baylor University’s inaugural National Preaching Conference in 2019.