One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:39-43 NIV)
The passage above is one of the most meaningful stories in the Bible for me. This story gives us hope for others and hope for ourselves. There are two verses in Acts that help me understand more deeply why Luke 23 gives us hope for others.
And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us… (Acts 17:26-27)
This says that our loving God is both Creator and Genius and orchestrates every single life that has and ever will be in existence to have the most optimum chance of finding and receiving His wondrous love. He has created us, knows us and our lives to the finest details, and understands what would be most appealing to it. Luke’s account of this “penitent thief” (as known in the Christian world) gives us all hope that all of our loved ones who have yet to accept His love, are on a life course that will cause them to come face to face with the greatest translation of God’s love spoken to their hearts.
God loves our loved ones much more than we do and is infinitely more concerned about their spiritual condition. Luke’s writings in these two passages gives us hope for our loved ones who have yet to find and except the Love of God. However this hope stretches beyond those currently living and to many who are not.
In my youth, I lost a large number of friends to tragic circumstances. One of the most devastating events was hearing the news of my friend Jerry’s death at the hands of his brother. Jerry had been out drinking and smoking weed with his older brother and two cousins. He smoked the last of the marijuana, and when his brother found out became enraged, pointed a handgun at Jerry’s head, and pulled the trigger. Panicked, Jerry’s brother and two cousins pushed him out of the car and into a gutter where he laid bleeding to death for three hours. Even worse, news was that people who lived in the nearby apartment complex heard Jerry’s moan for help, but thought it was a prank and closed their doors and windows to silence the noise.
I was with Jerry hours before he left that night. The thought of him lying in such pain, physical and emotional, haunted me. Thoughts of “what if” flooded my mind, and questions of why no one went to see if he needed help when they heard him was agonizing to my heart. The Lord comforted me during that season, but into my young adulthood, the memory of the event still brought pain.
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One early morning I came across Acts 17, and it brought great peace to my heart. Those verses specifically tell us of God’s promise to give each of us the ultimate chance to receive His love. I believe the last three hours of Jerry’s life, even though he was in severe pain, he wasn’t alone. I believe our good Father spoke to Jerry through His Holy Spirit and gave Jerry hope. I believe I will see my friend again, someday when I go to be with the Lord, because I believe my friend called out to the Father in his greatest hour of need.
In Luke 23, the “thief” in his greatest moment of need, with a repentant heart asked our Savior for help. He didn’t pray the perfect prayer, he wasn’t led down the Romans Road, he simply cried for help. What a glorious, merciful, gracious, and redemptive God! The icing on the cake is our God is also generous! Not only does the “thief” find Jesus willing to forgive him, but Jesus also says “today, you will be with Me in paradise.”
This is the glorious message of the Gospel. Our sin deserves judgment, but Christ’s sacrificial love is more powerful. The blood of Jesus wipes out our mistakes and allows us to enter into the Kingdom of God as co-heirs (Romans 8:18)! And Here is the hope for every believer: While this gives us hope of a future, it also gives us hope for the present.
There aren’t any “thieves” in Heaven, nor are their any adulterers, liars, etc. The blood of Jesus wipes out our sin and RESTORES our identity as righteous people!
We should no longer identify ourselves by our past mistakes and sins. Our identity needs to be seen through the sacrificial blood of Jesus…we are God’s righteousness! (2 Cor 5:21) The former thief is now a righteous saint who will reign with Christ for all eternity!