October 25, 2010

Nameless But Notable VIII: A Righteous Criminal

"One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: "Aren't you the Christ? 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, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise." Luke 23:39-43

Two sides to the same coin. Two sides of mankind. The lost and the saved. The reprobate and the redeemed. The mercy-minded and the malefactor. One of these criminals would be taking his punishment into the next life, the other, as Christ said would be with Him in paradise. The condition of the heart. Even on their death beds, even in their foxholes some refuse to give mercy to others and to have the mind and heart of Christ. It is the searing of a lifetime of sin and evil. They are case-hardened by the world until their exterior allows nothing in unless it is more harsh, unmerciful our unyielding then they are. Just as the criminal said, "Don't you fear God," he said, "since you are under the same sentence?" This criminal realized that this man's heart had back slid so far that he was literally incapable of even realizing the power and might of God and being capable of fearing it or being in awe of it. This is a very numb and calloused person.

So what changed the heart of the one criminal who was most certainly hardened by the world also as he too had ended up on a cross like the other? Something had changed him because now, in these verses, there is a clear delineation between the two. One is caustic, sarcastic and divisive and the other willing to give the benefit of the doubt, give mercy and forgive? Was it the graceful manner in which Jesus endured His suffering? Was it the guilt brought on by a slow painful and torturous death. Was it the reflection of his sinful deeds in contrast to the innocent man that you see before you on the other cross knowing that He had not deserved this death for anything He had done?

When you are nailed to a cross or held bondage by anything good or bad you can become a prisoner to to that "thing" or you can become a prisoner to your own mind. This is the problem with many today. Their sins and transgressions hold them hostage. Everyone has forgiven them including God but they have not forgiven themselves and released their soul from self-inflicted slavery. In this way they are still slaves to their sin. Sad really. This man was not held to any additional penance in this situation. What did Jesus say. Apologize some more? No! He said, "today you will be with Me in paradise". If you have baggage, doubt, fear...let it go! Accept Christ once, continue to repent when you do something wrong and stop beating yourself up over and over.

Of course I am speculating at this point but is it possible that this thief in his misdeeds over the last 3 or 4 years had "gotten wind of" or heard the words of Christ? And now...just now, they had finally sunk in right at the very end? It isn't a matter of when you are saved but that you are saved. It is not a matter of when you first heard the message but a matter of when it finally sank in and you responded to it in a positive manner. Regardless, it is clear the Holy Spirit began working on this criminal's thoughts.

In contrast to this we have people that see this story and think "I have all the time in the world to make the decision to turn to Christ, that criminal knew death was near so he panicked and quickly repented to save himself". Do people that say these types of things or think about them really have that kind of time? To those reading this that have not found Christ and formed a meaningful relationship with Him I ask one question. How do you know that driving home today or walking across the street you will not be struck dead by a car, lightning or even from a stroke? What makes you so sure?

In the end the only thing we know for sure about this criminal is that he died that day and he entered glory with Christ...heaven. A place where Christians see their destiny and as believers, they look forward to a perfect relationship with Jesus Christ. In the end this righteous criminal made that same decision that we made but he made it in the "nick of time" to guarantee his salvation. As Christ alluded to though in the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, the order and the timing is not important, the saving is. As long as you "git' er done" before you're done in. As Jesus said, "...the last will be first, and the first will be last."

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