Most people don’t preach a sermon to their fellow criminals while they are being executed. But one bad boy did. God tucked his story within the account of Jesus’ Crucifixion in Luke 23.

The two men who hung on crosses on either side of Jesus were criminals. One joined the crowd in mocking Jesus, saying, “You’re supposed to be the Anointed One, right? Well—do it! Rescue Yourself and us!” (Luke 23:39 The Voice).

But the second thief told the first one to shut up and asked him why he had no respect for God. “We’re getting what we deserve since we’ve committed crimes, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong at all!” (Luke 23:41 The Voice).

In bold contrast to his fellow thief and those on the ground spewing insults at Jesus, this bad boy admitted his sin—the first step in salvation. And then he proclaimed his faith in Jesus, declaring Him innocent of wrongdoing. That’s the same as saying that Jesus is truly and properly God. For whom else but God has never done wrong? So that criminal showed his faith in Jesus—the second step to salvation.

Finally, in what may have been his last breath, the thief turned to the Lord and gasped, “Jesus, when You come into Your kingdom, please remember me” (Luke 23:42 The Voice).

Can Jesus Do That?

How did Jesus respond?

By saying, “How dare you try to weasel your way into heaven as you hang there, receiving your just punishment”? Or, “I forgive you, but you’ll never manipulate Me into saving you by taking advantage of My kindness”?

No. Jesus promised a bad boy who repented, declared his faith in Jesus and asked Jesus for a favour, a place with Him in paradise.

No Fair!

This story kind of messes with my sense of fairness.

Jesus granted salvation to a criminal that even the corrupt Roman government thought deserving of execution.

That thief had never followed Jesus a speck in his life. Yet as he’s dying, he turns from his sin and rasps out a simple statement of faith. And Jesus grants his request.

How is this fair?

What about those of us who have followed Jesus since we were children? How does Jesus’ willingness to forgive a thief make us feel?

Different Past. Same Future.

It should make us rejoice.

Because we were all in the same bad way before we surrendered our lives to Jesus and became Christians. We may have sinned in different ways. But we all sinned. We all needed cleansing by Jesus’ sinless blood. And all of us who have made Jesus our Lord will enjoy the same future—forever with Jesus. Jesus paid the same price for my husband, Kevin—whose worst sin is losing his temper while fixing our porch railing—as He paid for that very bad man hanging next to Him as He died. 

So, if Jesus’ magnanimity bothers me, it’s my problem. I need to get over it and welcome any kind of sinner, whether he said one tiny cuss word or stole jewels from the Queen, into the family of God.

And instead of getting miffed at Jesus’ mercy, when I get to heaven, I’m going to thank that (former) thief for showing me how big the heart of God is.

All About the Thief

Read Luke 23:39-43

• Who: a sinner crucified with Jesus

• When: 33 AD

• Where: Jerusalem

Illustration: Woodcut by Gustave Doré (1832-1883), courtesy of The Doré Bible Gallery

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