“We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong…Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Luke 23:41-42)
It is a curious thing that on Jesus’ most heroic day of His earthly existence, there was very little heroism elsewhere – especially in matters of faith.
It was a day for villains and cowards, and even those who had previously shown themselves to be great heroes of the faith faltered in those dark hours. Rather than standing by their Lord in time of trouble and danger, Jesus’ disciples fled and scattered for the sake of their own safety. His closest friends denied His name, swearing that they didn’t even know Him. The administrators of “justice” made a mockery of their noble God-given authority to uphold truth and righteousness. On that day, the masses of people cried out in anger for the blood of the Lamb of God.
But in this awful darkness, the testimony of one man shines out like a bright star in the heavens. He was not a friend like Peter, not a student or follower like the disciples, not powerful like Pilate, and certainly not “righteous” like the leaders of the Jews believed themselves to be. He was a poor, miserable criminal, justly condemned to die alongside Jesus.
During his brief time in the presence of the Word of God made flesh, this thief undergoes a dynamic change effected by the Holy Spirit. God’s Law was written on this man’s heart, and he recognized his own sinfulness. He confessed that he was being punished justly, but that Jesus was the innocent Righteous One of God. The power of Jesus’ words and His very Being enables this criminal to make one of the most beautiful confessions of faith in all of Scripture by his modest plea: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Like blind Bartimaeus, this nameless thief demonstrates remarkable faith in Jesus’ power to forgive and redeem through his humble request for mercy. And it is by this faith in God’s grace that the thief undergoes the Great Exchange; trading the punishment for his sin – the agony of death and Hell – for Jesus’ righteousness and innocence. His assurance of this comes immediately after his confession in Jesus’ words: “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
Strengthened by the example of this heroic criminal, we come before God today and humbly ask for mercy. We too cry out for the blood of the Lamb – not in anger against Him, but in contrition and repentance – asking God to be merciful for Jesus’ sake. Like the thief on the cross, we can rest assured that Jesus will remember us in His kingdom where we will dwell with Him eternally.
“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.” (Psalm 51:1-2)
Prayer: Lord, forgive my sins and remember me in Your kingdom, for the sake of Your Son, Jesus Christ, my Lord. Amen.