Many of us remember and reflected on the crucifixion this Easter weekend, but did you ever think of those two men on either side of Jesus? Sure, compared to Christ these two men (“criminals” as they are labeled in Scripture) are insignificant, but there is an important lesson we can take from it. And a closer comparison to our own lives that we might be able to relate to.
According to the Gospels, Jesus was crucified between two criminals. But Luke 23 goes into more detail with Jesus’ interaction with them…
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.” (Luke 23:39-42)
Wow. What a difference between these two criminals. One was taunting Jesus while the other stood up for Him. So how did Jesus respond to this second criminal?
Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
And just like that, the man was saved. In this moment for him, there was no opportunity to “get right” with God through good works. There was no opportunity to get baptized or join a church, just one moment to confess his sin and turn to God for forgiveness. And just like that it was granted, merely because he believed in who Jesus said He was. Amazing stuff.
A lot of people think that if they correct their mistakes with good works, they might have a shot at getting into Heaven. But let us learn from what is being illustrated here. In this case, and in this moment, there was no opportunity for all that. All this man did was turn his head and look towards Jesus. He understood that he had nothing to offer God…except a belief in Him.
Dr. Tony Evans brings up a good point by further explaining that if a person’s good works were acceptable to a holy God, then Jesus wouldn’t have had to die. He could’ve just waited on you to get better. Yet on your very BEST day, you are still unacceptable to a holy God. Sincerity does not solve the standard that God places on humanity. He cannot and will not lower that standard. This is why we must come to know Jesus Christ—because He is the only standard acceptable to God.
There were two guilty men next to Him that day, but only one man was forgiven, while the other was not. In order for the pardon to be effective, the pardon must be accepted. Which side of the cross are YOU on?
How fortunate are we to have the opportunity to profess our faith to God and honor Him. So what if you screwed up yesterday—admit it, confess it, own up to it, and turn back towards Jesus. Let us not take for granted the hope through which we would have otherwise not had, had He not decided to sacrifice Himself on our behalf that day.
Nails didn’t keep Him there, love did. Remember that long after the Easter holiday fades from everyone’s memory.