There are so many important days and dates in our personal lives. The day we graduate, the day we marry, the day our children are born, and of course, the day we accept Christ. And arguably, the most significant date in history was April 3, 33 AD – the day Jesus Christ was crucified on the cross. Because of our faith in what happened on that date, our “forever” has been determined.
Just before noon on April 3, 33 AD, a fascinating conversation took place at the cross between Jesus and two thieves who were crucified with Him. Perched upon their crosses, two thieves made two very different choices that day. Both faced death, but oh how differently they died. Both looked at the man in the middle, but oh how differently they viewed Jesus. And because of how each viewed Him, that day their eternal destinies were decided. Their “forever” was determined.
There are so many thrilling moments in history I wish I could have witnessed. But when it comes to the cross, I’m not really sure I wish I could have been there. Yet one of the things that makes the cross so captivating is the dialogue that we hear.
Jesus was crucified with two other men. This detail was prophesied by Isaiah 700 years earlier, that the Messiah would be “numbered with the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12).
We do not know their names or their crimes. We simply know they were criminals, robbers.[i] They must have been among the worst, because no one was crucified for petty theft. They were brutal men who used violence to take whatever they wanted. They were guilty and they knew it. One even admitted, “We are receiving what we deserve” (Luke 23:41). Their crime was so heinous it called for capital execution. They were not just condemned to die, they were dying! And in spite of that, they insulted Jesus too. They chimed in and hurled insults just like everyone else.[ii] And yet, God’s grace was offered to two men who absolutely did not deserve it.
The first thief finished life as he lived it – calloused and scoffing. “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!” (Luke 23:39). Being nailed to a cross must not tame the tongue. His speech was just as abusive and slanderous as those on the ground. To the bitter end, he was hard and tough, and died a skeptic and a cynic. Sadly, he was so close to the cross, but so far from Christ.[iii] He missed it. He failed to see what was right there in front of him.
The second thief saw it. He began to look at Jesus. He studied Him. Something in Jesus’ eyes touched something in his heart. One author writes, “Slowly the thief’s curiosity offsets the pain in his body. He momentarily forgets the nails rubbing against the raw bones of his wrists and the cramps in his calves. He begins to feel a peculiar warmth in his heart.”[iv] His heart was softening. He was humbled, even repentant.
He was so moved that he could not stand the ridicule of the first thief. He couldn’t take it anymore. Pinned to a cross, this second thief defended Jesus. Crucifying this man in the middle just didn’t make sense. Perhaps He was the Christ.
He managed to argue through his pain, “Do you not even fear God?” (Luke 23:40). Oh he hadn’t most of his life. His entire life was a waste. But as the minutes ticked away, facing his Maker was about to become a reality. So he had to admit, “We are receiving what we deserve” (Luke 23:41). This was his first step of faith. He admitted his sin. That’s always the first step of faith. This thief took responsibility for his pathetic life. He knew whose fault it was – his! He knew he was getting what he deserved.
But as for Jesus, “This man has done nothing wrong!” (Luke 23:41). You would have expected Peter or James or John to come to Jesus’ defense, but this thief? What a statement of faith from a convicted criminal! With his dying breath, he acknowledged his faith. He could see the purity and holiness of Jesus. It became so very clear. Jesus was sinless. He witnessed what Paul would later explain. Jesus “knew no sin” but became sin “on our behalf” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Then this thief dared to wonder, “Oh should I ask Him?” “Would He if I asked?” The thief whispered the name. “Jesus.” “Jesus, remember me.” Perhaps he begged between painful gasps for breath. Perhaps tears rolled down his grimy face. But surely he asked with total trust in those eyes of Jesus. He dared to ask, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” (Luke 23:42). “In spite of what I’ve done, in spite of what you see, is there any way you could remember me?”[v]
Then the most amazing words come from the cross. With one sentence, eternal destiny was altered. Jesus said, “Truly I say to you” – or in other words, “I promise you with all My heart” – “today, you shall be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).
When? “Today!” Where? “Paradise!” With You? “That’s right, with Me.” Can you believe it? Jesus promised this man, with his last-minute faith, Paradise. He promised heaven. What a moment! The greatest moment in that poor thief’s life came at the last moment.
With simple faith, that thief’s eternity was settled. And through simple faith, yours can be too.
Some people try to delay it. Others try to ignore it altogether. But eventually a decision has to be made. At the cross, each of us faces a personal choice. You have a choice. You have a decision to make. Perhaps you’re still thinking about it. That’s great. Keep grappling with your faith issues. As you do, know that God loves you more than you can imagine and He can’t wait for you to decide. As you think about it, is there any reason why you wouldn’t accept Christ today?
One thief was so close to the cross, but so far from Christ. He missed what was right there in front of him. Don’t let that be you! You are so close. Salvation is right here in front of you. Don’t miss it. This could be your moment. This could be the day when your eternal destiny is decided.
[i]. See Matthew 27:38.
[ii]. “The robbers who had been crucified with Him were also insulting Him” (Matthew 27:44).
[iii]. Max Lucado, No Wonder They Call Him the Savior (Portland, OR: Multnomah Press, 1986), page 125.
[iv]. Max Lucado, Six Hours One Friday (Portland, OR: Multnomah Press, 1989) pages 124-125.
[v]. Ibid., page 196.