“One of the criminals who were hanging railed at Him, saying, ‘Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!’ But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.’ And he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.’ And He said to him, ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” Luke 23:39-43.
That’s it. That’s all we get about the thief on the cross. Five little verses and a whole lot of punch.
WHAT HIS STORY MEANS FOR THE CRADLE-TO-GRAVE CHRISTIAN
In one of my theology classes, my professor made the point that it’s extremely improbable that the repentant thief on the cross was only a thief. Generally, the Romans didn’t crucify for thievery alone. Now Scripture doesn’t give us any more information about this man, so I don’t want to speculate too much, but be aware that it’s likely that this man committed some worse crime than stealing.
What if you were wronged by him, either by his stealing, or something else entirely? What if you had known hurt because of him? What if you walked with Jesus, and talked with Jesus, and trusted in Him, and were there, looking on as He died? What if you heard him say to the thief on the cross, “Today, you will be with Me in Paradise”? What would you think? Would you feel cheated? Wronged all over again, perhaps? Would you conclude that there’s nothing fair about this thing called grace?
If so, you would be right. Grace is not fair. Just as much as the sinner who doesn’t repent until their last day does not deserve grace, neither does the cradle-to-grave Christian. That is something that I’ve had to remind myself time and again…that just because I’ve been under grace for as long as I can remember, does not mean that I deserve it. Just because my sins were never grounds for arrest, does not mean that they do not offend God. They do. But the good news for me and you, if you are in Christ, is that the same grace that allowed our Lord to look upon that man’s sinful flesh and say, “Today, you will be with Me in Paradise,” is the same grace that covers our sinful hearts and minds.
WHAT HIS STORY MEANS FOR THE DEATHBED CONVERT
The Biblical account of the thief on the cross shows that a late-in-life conversion (as long as it is a true conversion brought about by the power of the Holy Spirit) is just as genuine as a conversion that happens earlier in one’s life.
Christ has the power to save to the uttermost those who trust in Him (Hebrews 7:25), whether that trust first occurs when they’re four or ninety-four.
WHAT HIS STORY REVEALS ABOUT GOD
God’s grace is lavish and extravagant. If there’s one thing the story of the thief on the cross tells us, that’s it. God holds nothing back when it comes to the salvation of His own. In Matthew 20:1-16, Jesus tells a parable about a landowner who hired workers for his vineyard. Some workers, he hired early in the morning, promising them a denarius for their work. Other workers, he hired at the third hour of the day, and still others at the sixth, ninth, and eleventh hours. Finally, at the twelfth hour of the day, he paid them all a denarius for their work. When the workers who were hired early in the morning saw that those who were hired at the eleventh hour received the same pay they did, they grew angry, claiming that they deserved more because they bore the majority of the work and worked through the heat of the day.
It is not uncommon for a cradle-to-grave Christian to feel this way about a deathbed convert…to feel that they don’t deserve the same grace we’ve received because they didn’t spend their whole lives furthering the kingdom of God and standing firm upon His truth in the face of temptation. Instead, they came to faith in God at the “eleventh hour,” all to have a life of blatant sin covered by His grace.
To the ones who feel cheated, Jesus says, “Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?” (Matthew 20:15). To the ones who feel swindled, I encourage to rejoice in the great mercy God shows to your brothers and sisters in Christ. After all, it’s the same lavish mercy He shows to you.