This is the last post in this series. The story comes from Luke 22:39-43:
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.”
It’s very possible both these men believed in Jesus. The books of Matthew and Mark call them rebels and revolutionaries. It’s possible they were some of the men that had hoped in Jesus as their Conquering King, that they were among the crowd that witnessed his miracles or welcomed him triumphant into Jerusalem. What a rude awakening it must have been to see their Savior strung up there beside them.
In this simple scene we have a literal picture of “sharing with Christ in suffering.”
The obvious response to suffering is that of the first thief. Doubt. “Are you really God? Are you really powerful? Why won’t you save me?”
But the second thief gets it. Whatever we suffer, we deserve worse. Jesus suffered undeservedly. He took on our sentence to be with us, though it meant terrible suffering. Knowing that, how can we reject being with him where he leads us, simply because it requires that we suffer?
I used to think that the penitent thief got a pretty sweet deal. All he had to believe was that Jesus was innocent and he gets “in.” I didn’t realize he was professing faith in a God who would not only let him be crucified but let His own Son be crucified. He believed before there was a resurrection. He believed though he thought it wouldn’t save him. He believed in the face of great offense.
In this series I’ve talked a lot about disappointment, buried dreams, suffering and sacrifice. The reason I can be bold despite doubt and open about pain is because I believe at my very core that it will all be worth it.
The thief didn’t know that being crucified would be the best thing that ever happened to him.
“Now if we are children, then we are heirs–heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory” (Romans 18:17).
I believe God sent Jesus to the cross. I believe he sent the thief to the cross as well. As if, in the midst of the pain, in the midst of the mockery, to remind Jesus what he was doing this for.
“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save those who are lost” (Luke 19:10). “For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame” (Hebrews 12:2).
And Jesus does what he does best. He snatches the captive from the jaws of death. He pulls him back from the very border of hell and issues him a passport to heaven.
You may have noticed in my other posts I frequently bring the conversation back to Jesus, often using something he said to makes sense of things. Well, I love this story because it makes some sense of him.
THIS is my Jesus. Let me tell you why I love him . . .
Because with the hardest thing any man has ever had to face ahead of him, he still sees the man hanging next to him. Because at the very moment when God does not save him, he is still saving others for God. And because when he walked victorious into glory . . . he did it with a thief walking by his side.
It will all be worth it — not because we will be in paradise, but because we will be with him.