Last updated 11/29/2007 at Noon
The sinless Son of God was executed on a cross, hanging helpless between two hardened criminals. At first, as the irate crowd jeered, “the robbers who were crucified with him also heaped insults upon him” (Matt. 27:44). But then one of the thieves experienced a radical change of heart. He confronted the other criminal, reminding him that as partners in crime they fully deserved execution, pointing out that “this man has done nothing wrong” (Luke 23:41).
The dying man didn’t stop there. He went on to plead with Jesus for help. His request was abrupt and to the point, but it contained within its nine short words one of the most beautiful and unsolicited confessions in the Bible: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom” (Luke 23:42).
Through some sort of revelation or understanding, this man with the sordid past recognizes Jesus as Savior and King and realizes that faith in Him would provide his only access into God’s eternal Kingdom.
The Savior’s response is equally memorable: “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise” (verse 42). This guilt-ridden criminal received a great deal more than he had bargained for. He asked only to be remembered, but Jesus promised to be with him. This was more than the promise of a distant future in a far off kingdom. But today he would experience the glory of paradise with God – who was now dying to save him.
Jesus regularly does more than we ask. The apostle Paul pointed out, in fact, that he “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” because his power is working in us (Ephesians 3:20-21). The thief was a man who lived only to please himself, literally almost to his last breath. Then simply by placing his destiny in the hands of Jesus, he experienced “immeasurably more” than he requested or could ever fantasize would happen to him. Immediately following his last rasping breath, he would find himself in the place of blessedness, where he would be “at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8).
We are sometimes confused about what God expects from us. From an earlier church experience or some religious culture or our families, we begin to believe our salvation is dependent on our compliance with the expectations formed in these circles. But the thief on the cross was never baptized. He didn’t attend regular church services. He didn’t deposit money in the offering plate every week. He undoubtedly performed many more bad deeds than good deeds. All he did was admit his sin, acknowledge who Jesus was, and ask the Savior for help.
This year, after the presents are opened and the tree and all the lights come down, Jesus says, Remember me! I am able to give you immeasurably more than you will ever find under a tree.