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The Thief on the Cross

Much of the world will take time to celebrate Easter and the resurrection of Jesus Sunday, March 31. When Jesus was crucified on the Friday before the resurrection, he was not alone; two other men hung next to him. One of them is commonly called “The Thief on the Cross,” and I’d like to share his story.

I was at a banquet in Michigan when the speaker, Josh McDowell, a famous Christian author, spoke for the first time publicly about the sexual abuse he had suffered between the ages of 7 and 12. The abuser was his father, a wicked and brutal drunk, he said. When he was a teen, if his father was drunk when friends were coming over, Josh would literally tie him up in the barn. Yet, as his father lay on his deathbed, Josh shared God’s plan for salvation with him one last time, and this time his father received Christ as his savior.

Some people would argue that it doesn’t seem right that a person could live such a wicked life and seemingly sneak into heaven just before death. And yet the Easter story reminds us of someone else who did exactly that.

While Easter is the Sunday Jesus rose from the dead, Good Friday is the day we remember as the day Jesus was crucified. As Jesus hung on the cross, there were some things he said, including “Father forgive them for they know not what they do;” “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me;” “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” and finally, “It is finished.”

Jesus was not the only one on a cross that day. On one side of Jesus hung a condemned criminal who foolishly mocked Jesus while they were hanging on crosses to die. But on the other side of Jesus was another condemned criminal who rebuked the other criminal when he said, “Don’t you fear God, 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,” in Luke 23:40-41.

Some people have said it wouldn’t be fair for God to forgive this criminal who had lived a life of debauchery.

But when he asked, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom,” in Luke 23:42.

Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”

I have a friend who is a highly successful attorney who didn’t become a Christian until later in his life. When asked about his salvation, he humbly replied, “I’m just a thief on the cross Christian.”

There are some encouraging lessons to ponder from the story of the thief on the cross.

He was saved without delay.

He was saved without merit. There was nothing in his life that earned him salvation. It was a free gift from God that he received because he believed in Jesus.

He was saved by Jesus and Jesus alone.

He was saved to show that even the worst of us can be saved by faith in Jesus.

He was saved to show that each of us is responsible to decide to accept or reject God’s offer of salvation.

He was saved to show the magnitude of Jesus’ love for us. While he hung in agony and humiliation on a cruel cross, Jesus still cared enough for a wicked criminal, who deserved to die for his crimes, to reach out to him to save his very soul.


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