39 One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!” 40 But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” 43 And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”
And then we take a good long look and realize that we are being ungrateful for God's gift, which we don't deserve and can't possibly earn, and then we repent, like the guy on the other side.
Mark Driscoll has done extensive study of crucifixion, and if you have any interest, I recommend that you read about it in the sermon Jesus' Crucifixion and Death. It's not easy reading, but it really drives home what Jesus went through to bear the burden of our sins.
The following is an excerpt talking about Thief #2, the repentant one:
And lastly, one who comes to faith is the sinner at the side of Jesus. And as others are mocking Jesus, he says, “Have you no fear of God? Do you not know who this is?” He rightly proclaims the sinless nature of Jesus. “This man has done nothing wrong.” And then he says, “But I have.”
See, this is where Christian faith begins. It begins with an acknowledgment, an honest assessment, “I’m a sinner. I’m a sinner.” You can’t blame it on your parents. You can’t blame it on your culture. You can’t blame it on your genetics. You can’t blame it on your personality type. You’re just a sinner. I’m a sinner.
We sin in our thoughts. Aren’t you glad people can’t see what we’re thinking? We sin in our words. Have you said or typed something you really regret? We sin in our deeds. Have you done things you weren’t supposed to do? We sin in our motives. Do you do good things, but just to manipulate others and get praise? Do you get angry and upset when people don’t compliment you for the good things you did? We sin through commission. We do stuff we’re not supposed to. We sin through omission. We don’t do things we’re supposed to. We’re all sinners.
Some say, “Christianity is too easy. All you need to do is just tell God you’re a sinner, and tell Jesus you’re sorry.” You know what? It’s not easy. It’s hard, because it requires humility. We come to God not with hands full of all that we’ve done. “Here’s my life. Here’s my performance. Here’s my resume. Here are my good deeds and my bad deeds. Please put them on a scale and weigh them.” That’s not how it works. God doesn’t have good and bad people. He has perfect and imperfect. That’s why Jesus says, “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” There are only two categories. Perfect—one person is in that category: the Lord Jesus Christ. And imperfect—everybody else. And the key is to acknowledge, “I’m a sinner. I’m in the guilty category. I’m among those who have broken God’s law.”
And here’s the truth, as well, friends. When we sin, it’s not just breaking God’s law; it’s breaking God’s heart. God is not just an impersonal force or a law by which we are judged. The Bible reveals him like a Father who cares. I’ve got five kids. I could tell you right now, if my kids do something that is sinful and harms them, it is a violation of the laws that I have, as their father. It’s also a devastation to the heart that I have as their father. Some of you need to know that your sin is not just breaking rules, but breaking the heart of God.
And this man acknowledges that. He says, “I’m guilty. I deserve it. They’re crucifying me, and I’m not even going to defend myself. But this Jesus, he’s done nothing wrong. He’s without sin. He’s not like us.” That’s right.
So he looks at the Lord Jesus, and you’ve just got to see this moment. Jesus is on the cross, and do you know what Jesus is not thinking about? Himself. He’s thinking about the people who are killing him. “Father, forgive them! Father, they’re going to go to hell for what they’re doing! Let’s forgive them. I’ll die right now, and that can be their forgiveness!”
And he’s having a conversation with a man at his side. “Jesus, forgive me.” Jesus looks at him and says, “Truly, truly, I say to you.” Jesus says, “I tell you the truth.” Do you know that Jesus tells the truth? Don’t question what Jesus says. Don’t look for alternative explanations to what Jesus says. He says more than forty times in John’s gospel alone, “I tell you the truth.” Jesus tells the truth, and he says, “I tell you the truth. Today, just a couple of minutes from now, you will be with me in Paradise.”
What hope there is in this! A thief, a sinner, who knew that he deserved the consequences for his actions and believed in Jesus was redeemed right then and there for his humility and repentance. There is nothing that is so bad that it cannot be forgiven, but we have to truly repent and have faith, and then we have the promise from God that we will one day be with Him in Paradise.
Tomorrow's scripture focus: Luke 23:44-46