“Let this Messiah, this king of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him. Mark 15:32
At times I have difficulty grasping the love of God. As I consider the road to Calvary, emotion overwhelms me. I picture my Jesus anguishing on His knees in Gethsemane, sweating drops of blood. I see fists pounding His flesh, a thorny crown beaten into His head, lashes repeatedly stripping skin and bloody tissue from His back.
He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. Isaiah 53:7
While His own people spit at Him and mocked Him, Jesus silently bore the weight of a cross—a punishment due us but not He who carried it—and stumbled up the hill to Calvary. There, angry soldiers pounded nails into His hands and feet, pinning Him to that cross. The ground beneath Him stained crimson by the blood of earth’s Creator, at last Jesus proclaimed, “It is finished” (John 19:30).
It might be easy for us to blame the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, but the truth is, you and I put Jesus there as much as they did. Our sin nailed Him to that cross.
These words from Sidewalk Prophets’ song You Love Me Anyway pierce my heart each time I hear them.
I am the thorn in Your crown, but You love me anyway
I am the sweat from Your brow, but You love me anyway
I am the nail in Your wrist, but You love me anyway
I am Judas' kiss, but You love me anyway
. . . I am the man that called out from the crowd
For Your blood to be spilled on this earth shaking ground
Yes then, I turned away with this smile on my face
With this sin in my heart tried to bury Your grace
And then alone in the night, I still called out for You
So ashamed of my life . . .
But You love me anyway
I am a blessed recipient of that grace, of that incomprehensible love. For 26 years I rejected my Lord and King, yet still He welcomed me with open arms the instant I opened my heart. Words cannot express my gratitude over His pursuit of this prodigal. He intersected my life, pierced my blindness with His glorious truth, and inscribed His Name upon my heart. In light of His revelation, I had nothing to offer Him but myself, and He gladly received me. Only later did I realize that “me” is all He ever truly wanted.
History records another recipient of grace whose life—and death—offers irrefutable hope of redemption through faith in the Son of God. The story of the crucified thief who joined Jesus in paradise unravels any theory that Jesus welcomes us based on the good we’ve done. Even the thief declared,
“We are punished justly for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man [Jesus] has done nothing wrong.” Luke 23:41
I’d like to shift our focus to his next words, however.
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Luke 23:42
Perhaps you have never considered this thought before: How did he know? How did he know that Jesus would, indeed, come into a kingdom? His eyes witnessed the same things Jesus’ Disciples saw that sent them running in fear and believing it was over. Jesus hung battered and broken, struggling for His next breath and nearing His last. Death hung immanently, yet the thief knew that Jesus would one day reign as King, and he entrusted his life to His care. How did he know what even the Disciples could not yet understand?
I’d like to suggest that our friend the thief had an encounter with glory. God sent His Spirit to open his eyes and enable him to see. In John 6:65, Jesus said,
“. . . I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”
Our opening Scripture today reveals that as our thief first hung on the cross beside Jesus, he did not recognize Him as the Son of God. He joined the crowd and the other thief hurling insults at the King of Kings.
Jesus performed no visible miracle from the cross to change his opinion. He only heard His fervent prayers to the Father and listened to Jesus speak of forgiveness. But as the thief heard the words of Christ, God pierced his darkness with the light of truth, allowing a once blind man to see that Jesus was everything He claimed to be. He suddenly knew that death would not hold this King of the Jews. And with a repentant heart, our thief emerged alone from the crowd in defense of Jesus, abandoning the hateful mockers to proclaim His coming kingdom. All doubt erased, this man stood certain of what his earthly eyes could not see.
“ . . . blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” John 20:29
Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:43
Have you had your encounter with glory, dear one? Do you know beyond reason and doubt that Jesus’ kingdom is coming? Or are you still trying to convince yourself based on what others have told you?
You can know, beloved. Jesus longs to reveal Himself to you, to invade your darkness with His truth-baring light. All He requires of you is a seeking heart. He’ll do the rest.
“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord. Jeremiah 29:13-14
The forgiven thief possessed the only thing he needed to draw God to Him that day. He had a repentant heart that sought the truth, so God faithfully showed up to reveal it in time for him to enter into paradise. Then our thief made the choice to believe. How like our Lord to come after the one lost lamb and carry him safely into the fold!
And what of the rest of the mob? Some people just like the darkness (John 3:19). The others simply didn’t care.