The Repentant Criminal

Remember Me

Remember me, LORD, when you show favor to your people, come to my aid when you save them, that I may enjoy the prosperity of your chosen ones, that I may share in the joy of your nation and join your inheritance in giving praise. Psalm 106:4-5

Have you known people who gave their lives to Jesus just before they died? Do you wonder if deathbed or foxhole faith experiences are valid? We have the example of a man and the word of Jesus Christ to verify that last minute confessions of faith can be enough.

We don’t know the names of the men crucified on either side of Jesus. They are called criminals.* At first, both of them joined all the other people who mocked Jesus–the chief priests, the teachers of the law, the elders, and many who passed by (Matthew 27:44).thieves_on_the_cross

Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

And when one criminal said, “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” the other one could no longer join in. “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” (Luke 23:39-41).

Then he turned to Jesus and entreated, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:42-43).

By faith, he received Jesus’ promise of mercy and grace. His faith wasn’t based on sight. He saw a man whose body–bloody from numerous beatings and the crown of thorns digging into his head–would soon be dead. The criminal’s faith wasn’t based on the opinions of others. Most of the religious leaders hadn’t believed Jesus to be “Son of God” or “King of the Jews.” All His disciples had run away except the one who stood by the cross. The criminal heard Jesus ask that disciple to care for His mother.

The criminal believed in life after death. He believed Jesus would soon be crowned in a kingdom not on this earth. He hoped God had forgiven him because he’d been included in Jesus’ prayer.

The Word of God promises forgiveness to all who repent and believe. They will receive mercy and grace even if that faith is expressed just before dying.

On what is your faith based?

DIG DEEPER:

Read Isaiah 53:1-12. This passage is part of a series of depictions of God’s Servant. Although the servant isn’t named, this description has been identified as a picture of the life of Jesus. How do verses 9-12 depict his death with criminals?*

Read Luke 23:32-43. Three crosses, three choices: willing to suffer to bring life to others, want my body to be saved now, or want my soul to be saved eternally. When you face physical pain or difficult circumstances, which of these will you choose?

Read Matthew 6:9-13. What words in this prayer given by Jesus to His disciples can be heard in the words of Jesus and the criminal on the cross beside him?

For another devotion on this unnamed hero, see Ash Wednesday.

Nancy J. Baker

* The word used to describe the two men crucified with Jesus meant “a wrong-doer, criminal, evil-doer, malefactor, or robber.” https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/Lexicon/Lexicon.cfm?strongs=G2557&t=KJV.

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