When you read the gospel of Luke, you see how concerned God is with the lost and the broken - the not perfect. Luke's account of Jesus' ministry is full of His seeking and saving - whether it's the 1 sheep gone out of 99, or one prodigal son. Luke's Jesus is full of forgiveness, and easy to get to know.
Now He's one among three men - in agony nailed to crosses, one spewing hatred, one seeking forgiveness, and the other weeping blood with the power to cancel all sins. Jesus' story began in filth and squalor, with outcasts to share the scene. No surprise then that here at the end, His companions once again are the least of society - thieves.
Jesus hadn't had kind words for thieves before -
10 The thief's purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give life in all its fullness. John 10:10 (NLT)
Those two are usually at cross-purposes. But today they met at the cross.
Jesus had already spoken words of forgiveness. Now anything He said was coming through a constant struggle just to breathe - so each took a bit of the strength He had left. And one thief spent his reserves in a rant against Jesus. True to the very end to what he was, he asked Jesus to prove His worth by freeing Himself - and them besides. He saw no need to hold back anything he felt. If he couldn't figure a way to save himself, then why not go out cursing everyone else.
But in this awful place, within this tortured time, a faith began as one man took stock of his life. We aren't told how he got here - what went on in his youth, the wrong turns, the bitter reverses - or whether he ever did any one thing good.
What we are told is that he has measured himself and found himself lacking. Lacking by man's rule of law, and lacking in faith in God. Yet even as he saw how far short he fell of perfection, a belief began to grow that he was in the presence of One Who was. he says to the other thief -
"Don't you fear God even when you are dying? 41 We deserve to die for our evil deeds, but this man hasn't done anything wrong." Luke 23:41 (NLT)
And then he does something remarkable.
Having heard no sermon, having received no tract, having done no act of charity, and certainly having given no offering - he asks one thing of Jesus.
"Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom."
And just at that moment, all the wheels of justice come to a sudden halt. All the momentum of a life spent in crime, all the bitterness and hatred of failure, everything in his whole life pauses as Jesus replies,
"I assure you, today you will be with Me in paradise."
Today! With Jesus! In paradise! Old life ended in agony and shame.
New life begun - Today!
Can I ask you a question?
Which kind of thief are you?
I don't mean to be harsh, just the opposite. Because that hill Jesus was on isn't very different than the land we live on. You know that at the moment Luke records, the area around the cross was populated with only two kinds of people. Same as the world is inhabited by today.
There are those who are blind to any need of a Savior, and those who have faced up to the facts of just how much they have failed and just how perfect the Man on the middle cross is. Nothing has changed. You are either blind to who you really are, or you know.
At this point maybe you think such guilt by association is weak. Maybe you have never filched a Brach's candy "sample" from your local supermarket, or "fudged" a little on that 1040A. And maybe when you compare yourself to a Hussein or a Hitler, or even a bank robber, you feel pretty good.
But just because you've never been caught in a crime doesn't mean you are exempt from the human condition. "All have sinned and fallen short" includes, well, all. You. Me. Everyone.
Good enough, is not good enough for God.
Have you ever stolen the smile off a child's face, who cannot help but grin at the incredible joy of life - by harsh words like, "Will you cut that out and straighten up"? Or maybe you've crushed the dreams of a teenager when you said, "You'll never amount to anything. You are just like your ____ ." Then too there's the puncture of a vision, the deflation of a hope with, "we've never done that before and it will never work."
There are all kinds of ways to steal. Steal hope. Steal joy. Steal peace. And yes, steal stuff.
We are all thieves. We all have sinned and fallen so, so, short. We aren't almost perfect, and even if we were, we'd be lost in our sins. Good enough- isn't.
On a cross next to ours though, hangs a man eager to hear from us. A man Who even here, at life's very extremity, is still seeking to save the lost.
Today! With Jesus! Today!
You can find peace with God... today.
Own up to who you are, ask Jesus for forgiveness and courage and power to change. Commit right now to turning away from sin and selfishness and decide to follow Jesus as Lord of your life.