The gospels contain seven statements that Christ made from the cross. Jesus’ second statement, made to a criminal was, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).
We need to begin reading at Luke 23:32. There were actually two criminals crucified with Jesus; one on either side of Him, and by cross-referencing Matthew 27, we find that both of them initially ridiculed Jesus. However, in Luke’s Gospel, one of them, recognizing something in the demeanor and deportment of Christ, began to change his opinion. Consequently, he rebuked the other criminal and in Luke 23:42, he implored Jesus saying, “remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
The text reveals several things. First, the diversity of mankind. This account proves that the same sun that melts the ice hardens the clay…or in this case, the same Son who appealed to one criminal repelled the other; one repented while the other continued to ridicule.
The Savior’s gracious nature is also displayed. Not only did Jesus not take this thief to task for his previous defamation of His person, but He generously promised the man hope for the future. Immediate hope…not by and by, but here and now – “today”. Jesus asked for nothing from the man. The sincere, simple faith that the man had in Him sufficed. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).
The late John R Rice, Baptist pastor and prolific writer, tells the story of a dying man that he visited many times. The man had little time or use for Christ in his life, but Rice wanted the man to believe in Jesus before he died. So each day, just before he left he would ask him, “Is there anything I can do for you?” The man would simply ignore him and Rice would leave. However, after several visits the man in exasperation exclaimed, “There is nothing you can do for me! Unless there is some way you can undo what I have done in life!”
Rice explained to him that he couldn’t undo anything, but Jesus could undo and forgive everything. He related the story of the thief on the cross to him. The man was deeply affected. He confessed his sins, invited Christ into his life and died shortly after.
There were two thieves, one on either side of the cross of Christ. The one, remaining inflexible and unrepentant left this world without hope…and without Christ. The one on the other side of the cross found in Christ a source of grace and forgiveness and left this world with hope…and with Christ.
Which side of the cross are you on?