Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, ‘If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.’ But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Assuredly,
I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.’ —LUKE 23:39–43
Will Graham’s Devotion:
The cross means different things to different people. For some, it’s merely a pretty piece of jewellery. To others, it’s a decoration for their home. To Christians, it’s a symbol of the sacrificial love of Christ and His conquering of the grave.
To criminals under Roman rule in the first century, however— and to those who witnessed the punishment—the cross was a symbol of torture, incomprehensible suffering, cruelty, death, and humiliation.
As we know, Jesus was not alone when His cross was lifted and dropped into place. “Then two robbers were crucified with Him, one on the right and another on the left” (Matthew 27:38).
Imagine the situation: Jesus was the epitome of innocence. He had never sinned (2 Corinthians 5:21), and yet He was arrested, wrongfully convicted, beaten, and hung on the cross. And now, as if that wasn’t enough, He was positioned between two thieves who—despite their similar predicaments—mocked Him as well (Matthew 27:44).
Something changed, however. As the three were nailed to their respective crosses, one of the criminals told the other to stop mocking Jesus. As he hung dying, it seems that he had realised a few things. They’re lessons we can learn as well.
First, the criminal had a correct view of reality, of himself, and of Jesus. Speaking of their condemnation and execution, the one thief told the other, “And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.” (Luke 23:41). He saw himself as a criminal who was rightly condemned. He knew he was a sinner, and Jesus was innocent.
The second lesson we learn is that this criminal had a correct view of life after death. In the midst of being executed, clinging to life, he believed that his soul would continue to live after he died. Many people today live as if this life is all there is and that physical death is the end. The Bible, however, says that your soul lives forever and that it will abide in one of two places— Heaven or Hell (Matthew 10:28, Luke 12:5, John 3:1–21).
Finally, we see that this criminal had a correct view of salvation. He saw himself as totally helpless. He could do nothing to improve his odds in life or save himself. He was now bound to death and could not escape. Yet he cries out to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom” (Luke 23:42). He wanted to offer the last thing he had to give (his soul) to Jesus. He realised that Jesus was the Son of God and that he wanted to be a part of Christ’s kingdom.
The criminal on the cross knew who he was and who Jesus was, he knew that his soul would continue after he died, and he knew that Jesus was the Savior. He could do nothing but cry out to Jesus and place his faith in Him for his salvation. And to this Jesus replied, “Today you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).
Have you seen the world through the eyes of this condemned criminal? Do you understand your need for the Savior, and— more importantly—have you cried out to Him for forgiveness, for your salvation?
If not, now is the time to surrender your life to Christ. If you have made that decision, I encourage you to not miss the opportunities God puts in front of you to share that same hope with those around you. Jesus saved the criminal on the cross, and He desires to save each of us as well.
Dear Jesus, I’m not that different from the criminal on the cross. I, too, have sinned and have been condemned, but I have found the promise of eternity as I call on Your name. The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life. Thank You for the hope I have in You. In your name I pray, amen.
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