“Jesus answered him, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise’” (Luke 23:43).
Jesus died between two thieves.
One man wanted nothing to do with him, but the other man wanted to be forgiven. Let’s take a look at that second thief.
Was any man ever in a more desperate situation? Brutally crucified, he is dying in agony for crimes he had committed. He is a guilty man justly punished. He deserves to die and he knows it. By sundown, he will be dead.
His case has been tried, the judgment announced, the sentence carried out. All purely legal avenues have been exhausted. This man is as close to death as you can be and still be alive. Now at the last moment he makes one final appeal to the Supreme Court of the Universe: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (v. 42).
I submit to you that here we have the most amazing example of saving faith in all the Bible. Jesus is hanging next to him, a bloody mess, a sight awful to behold. His feet and arms are nailed to the cross, ropes hold his body upright so it won’t fall off. Every movement is agony, every breath torture. Beneath him and behind him the howling mob screams for blood. They jeer, they hiss, they curse, they spit, they roar like wild hyenas. They cheer as he coughs up blood, they shout with approval when someone aims a rock at a piece of tender flesh. It is garish, hellish, brutal and inhuman.
Somehow this thief saw Jesus at his weakest moment, and he believed in him. He is a crucified sinner trusting in a crucified Savior. No man ever looked less like a king than Jesus did that day, yet this man saw him as he really was.
Jesus’ answer is simple and clear: “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). What a day this was for that misbegotten criminal. In the morning he’s in prison, at noon he’s hanging on a cross, by sundown he’s in paradise. Out of a life of sin and shame, he passed immediately into eternal blessedness.
Remember that two thieves were crucified with Jesus that day, but only one believed. As J. C. Ryle put it:
One thief on the cross was saved, that none should despair; but only one, that none should presume.
This very bad man was saved at the very last moment. Thank God it is so. He had lived an absolutely rotten life, yet he died a Christian death. It happened by the grace of Jesus Christ.
Over two hundred years ago William Cowper wrote a famous hymn called There is a Fountain that includes a verse about the dying thief. To my knowledge, this is the only hymn that mentions this man:
The dying thief rejoiced to see,
That fountain in his day.
And there may I, though vile as he,
Wash all my sins away.
All that God wants from us . . . and all that he will accept . . . is simple faith in his son, Jesus Christ. When we place our faith in the Lord Jesus, in that very moment we are saved.
The question is simple. Are you ready to die? You have nothing to fear if you know the Lord. You are not ready to die if you don’t. Do you know him? What will you do if you don’t know him?
Thank you, Lord Jesus, for making a way for sinners to be saved at the very last second. With all my heart, I am trusting you as my Lord and Savior. Amen.