One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him,[a] saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 4 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 4 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23: 39-43 ESV)
This man was obviously an enemy of God and of men. We don’t know what he did to deserve that death, but we know he deserved it. He said it himself: they were receiving the due rewards of their deeds. So he is on the cross, receiving the due rewards for his sins and decided to ask for eternal life.
Did he think of it when beaten by soldiers? When did he start to be filled with remorse? When he saw Jesus enduring sufferings he did not deserve? We surely won’t know what happened and when it happened before reaching heaven, but one thing we know for sure is that somehow he got faith.
So Jesus was dying on the cross, being crucified unjustly, and he knew it. He was going through the same physical pain as Jesus so he knew better than to speak to Him at that moment, especially to ask for a favor. We don’t even like to be disturbed when we are simply busy, so to be disturbed when we are doing something important, especially something that costs us, would make most of us angry. Anyway, people won’t even try to speak to us in those circumstances, even less to ask for favors when we are in pain. But that criminal did it.
He understood and believed important things that made all the difference. First, he understood and believed that Jesus was King and had authority over everything, even over sins and hell, and eternity. He believed Jesus was the Christ. Secondly, he understood and believed that God was holy and righteous, which means there was nothing he could do to satisfy Him, nothing he could have done to save himself. Even without sin, he would only be a creature and to be with the Creator would mean a lot of grace and mercy given. So he understood and believed that all he needed was God’s mercy and grace, and asked for it. He boldly went before the throne of grace and asked for what he didn’t deserve: a place in Christ’s kingdom. But to be able to ask for mercy, he needed to repent. Which means he needed to acknowledge that he was a creature and Christ was the Creator; that Christ’s rules were the only ones to be followed; that he had broken those rules; and that only Christ could make things right.
His faith led him to Christ and Christ honored it by offering him salvation. So next time, you are trying to win God by being extremely spiritual, by doing many amazing deeds, think of this man and follow his example. Live to honor God not because you need to pay to be with Him, but because He deserved it and had proved Himself worthy of all honor and glory. And just go boldly before the throne of grace, as you are, at any time because you believe Him. Faith will always be the key.