One of the criminals hanging in crucifixion blasphemed him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Then save yourself and us.” But the other one rebuked him: “Have you no fear of God, seeing you are under the same sentence? We deserve it, after all. We are only paying the price for what we have done, but this man has done nothing wrong.” He then said: “Jesus, remember me when you enter upon your reign.” And Jesus replied, “I assure you, this day you will be with me in paradise.”Luke 23:39-43
Is this life that we are living all there is to life? Or is it a time of preparation for our eternal life? The two thieves on the crosses next to Jesus highlight the importance of this question. As we approach our death, our attitude towards eternal life makes itself clear. If we have acted our whole lives as if there is no after-life, then the most important thing at the moment death approaches is prolonging our earthly life. The wicked thief is here, using whatever he can to motivate Jesus to save him from the grim reaper.
If, on the other hand, we live in knowledge that there is an after-life, then at the end of our lives we are focused on going to the right place, since we are going to be there forever. The good thief sees his earthly life ending and asks Jesus to save his eternal soul.
When we see Jesus on the Cross, it is a vision to which we must respond. Either he is what he says he is, or he is an utter fool. If he is a fool, he deserves to be mocked for his weakness. But what if we don’t see as well as we should? If we have let the habit of sin persist to a great extent, it prevents us from seeing clearly. So we are like the wicked thief, encountering the font of justice, and mocking him.
But if we see even in a limited way who he really is, he will offer us the healing power of his love. When our eyes are no longer clouded by the habit of sin, we see more clearly that he is King of All and Lord of the Universe. What looks to some to be a loser in life – dying a despicable death – is the king of eternal life, the victor over sin and death.
Both thieves recognize the power of Jesus, one more fully than the other. The good thief recognizes that He is the Son of God, made Man. And that he is going to his eternal glory at the right hand of the Father. Both thieves know Jesus is no ordinary criminal on the Cross. The one who does not see clearly mocks him for his worldly weakness, but the other acknowledges his eternal kingship. One will not ask for help, while the other asks for salvation. We need to remember that Jesus gives us ultimately what we truly want.
Jesus, by his obedience – even unto death on a cross – turned this dark day into Good Friday. Jesus made this day of disaster the day death was defeated. He continued to offer himself to anyone seeking salvation even as he himself was dying. That’s how much he loved those thieves, and he loves you and me just as much.
Call out to Jesus. Receive salvation.