39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 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.”
We know from Matthew and Mark’s account that both of these criminals were mocking Jesus at one point in all of this, and as they are in their suffering and their agony is growing, something happens to the first criminal. He goes from mocking to pleading with Jesus that if he is really the Christ, then not only should he save himself, but also he should save them, but Jesus has no intention on getting off that cross alive, and I am sure this inaction even fueled the first criminal’s mocking even more.
However, that mocking does not go unchallenged. All of sudden the second criminal goes from joining along in the mocking to rebuking the first criminal for his statement about Jesus having to save them from their punishment.
What has happened to cause this change? It is clear that the Spirit of God has effectually opened the heart of this second criminal to see this Jesus no longer as a fellow criminal, but as the Lord of Glory. The reason that we can say that a change was evident is because of what is found in his statement to Jesus. He said do you not fear God, since we are under condemnation. He recognizes that he will soon stand before a holy God, and he is dying a sinner.
And he recognizes that not only is he a sinner, but he is receiving the just punishment of his reward. A sinner cannot stand before a holy God and it go well for them, and so he is rebuking the other criminal because he is saying “why are you talking like this, do you not know what we are about to face after we die in a few hours? This man is innocent, but we are not and we are in trouble if something doesn’t happen”. Now that is having your eyes opened.
And so the Spirit opens his eyes and reveals to him that the only hope he has to not stand in judgment is on that cross right next to him. And he opens his mouth to the Lord and says, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
That is the perfect picture of repentance and belief, and it is not met with silence. Jesus looks upon that man and promises “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Today! Not in a thousand years. In paradise! Not in a temporary waiting place. To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. That was Jesus promise to the thief and it is his promise to you today.
If you repent and believe, and say I know I am a sinner, and I know I deserve the cross, but Jesus please let me come into your kingdom. I believe in you Jesus! You are the only way, you are the only hope. And your life bears fruit of that belief. Then let this truth reign in your heart. That when death comes a knocking, you can sing with acclamation, Today I will be in Paradise with my Lord. That is Jesus’ promise to a thief and it is his promise to us.