At this point not many are: a few women, John, Mary. The disciples, admirers, groupies – everyone else – has run off. The loud majority are busy trying to humiliate Jesus, not too hard to do to a man publicly beaten and nailed naked onto a cross. Jesus appears unrecognizable, defeated, dethroned, unexceptional, unworthy, powerless, wrong.
Yet there is one person with vision on Golgotha who looks through the blood and sweat and spit and dirt and sees a king – sees The King – and foresees the glory of His kingdom. His eyes are clear of any doubt about Who this is hanging next to him. He’s so completely convinced of Jesus that he echoes the voice of every prisoner ever granted an audience with a king, begging, “Jesus, remember me when you come into Your kingdom.”
This man with a clarity of vision that recognizes royalty covered in filth, identifies the depth of his own sin. Awful things he has done, things worthy of a most painful execution. Like Joseph in prison pleading to Pharaoh’s forgetful cupbearer, “when all goes well with you, remember me.”
But Jesus bears a different cup! A cup full of forgiveness and mercy, overflowing with His own blood. Remember? He cannot forget. We are engraved on the palms of His hands.
So this man, this condemned prisoner, this heinous repentant sinner, is the first soul saved by the King whose blood pours out next to him. “Truly I tell you,” Jesus replies, “today you will be with Me in paradise.”
Jesus slams open the door to paradise with His own body and this sinner walks right in. Bam! First one home.
“Nooooo,” we think, “he can’t be first. It’s too easy, and he’s too late, too bad, too guilty.”
Good thing we’re not in charge of paradise, it would be empty.
Jesus said, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.” John 3:16-17
We do our best to insulate our nice clean religious selves from the very ones Jesus died to save. We say, “Lock them up. Keep them out. Push them down. Don’t let them in.” But paradise isn’t a democracy and the Ruler wasn’t elected, He died to reign.
The criminals, the lost, the hungry, the poor, the sick, the vile, the violent, the forgotten, the broken, the addicted, the rejected, the lonely, the children, the aged, the thirsty, the guilty – sinners all – these are the ones Jesus died to save. These are the ones He loves. We can only hope to be counted among them: forgiven.
Are you with Him?
Repent (turn around and face Jesus) + Confess + Believe = Paradise. Bam!
~ Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with Him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified Him there, along with the criminals—one on His right, the other on His left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up His clothes by casting lots. The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at Him. They said, “He saved others; let Him save Himself if He is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.” The soldiers also came up and mocked Him. They offered Him wine vinegar and said, “If You are the king of the Jews, save Yourself.” There was a written notice above Him, which read: this is the king of the jews. 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.” Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with Me in paradise.” ~ Luke 23:32-43