The way the thief by the side of Jesus on the cross got into paradise looked too easy. I’m assuming you know the story.
There were these two criminals who were crucified along with Jesus. And when one of them asked Jesus to go with Him to paradise, He said yes. And just like that, this criminal got to go to paradise. The fact that this fellow, who must have lived most of his life in rebellion, self-indulgence and in defrauding others, should get such a free pass into paradise does not go down well with my sense of justice. “And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:43 NLT.
And that’s all it took for this criminal to be justified. All he had to do was ask for mercy, and it was freely given with no thought of all the wrongs he had done all of his life.
How does he get into paradise so easily? Although the Bible does not give us details of his life, it’s easy to imagine how much evil a man condemned to death must have committed. I can imagine that there would be many families in the community who were grieving their loved ones killed or even raped by this man. Who knows how many lives were destroyed by this criminal or how many were left in financial wreckages because of his crimes. Yet all that was forgotten as Jesus said, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Just imagine how you would feel if you were one of his victims and found out about this exchange on the cross – that this man who had hurt you so much and for whom you desired justice was going to get off scot-free? Grace is so shocking and unbelievable to human reasoning. Grace is scandalous! The criminal gets off scot-free!
Yet grace is amazing! The criminal gets off scot-free! And this is such good news for ‘criminals’ like you and me. Just like that criminal on the cross, I too am a criminal. The details of my crimes may differ from his (and my self-righteous mind may try to explain away my sins as not being as bad as his), yet in all purpose and intent, I’m just as guilty as that man was. And this is the same for you too, my friend. You and I have sinned against the Holy God. We have walked in rebellion, in self-indulgence and in defrauding others. Yet this is what God’s Word says: “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:7-8 NIV
This is the message of Easter. The Holy One died and rose for us – the ‘criminals’ – and through His death and resurrection secures a new beginning for us. Christ Jesus died for our sins and rose up again for our justification. A great exchange happened on the cross for you and me! “He (Jesus) was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” Romans 4:25 NIV.
Alleluia! Grace is shocking! Grace is scandalous! Grace is amazing! The criminal gets off scot-free!
If we turn to the Saviour like our fellow criminal did on that day and ask Jesus to forgive us and have our lives, we too (all of us!) can experience this amazing grace.
Glory to God! We are justified! Christ was raised from death for our justification. There is therefore no longer any condemnation for us ‘criminals’. Now His resurrection has secured for us the power to live a new life. “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” Romans 6:4 NIV.
What more can I say? Grace is amazing, and as my fellow criminal, I will be forever grateful to the One who loved me and set me free. I will live for Him and serve Him with my all out of the overflow of my gratitude. Thank you, Jesus!