We are coming up to Remembrance Day when we remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice and gave their lives. In countless churches around the world you will hear the familiar words “We will remember them.”
Millions will stand in silence for two minutes and contemplate the sacrifice made by so many that we might be free.
Remembering people has been something humanity has done for thousands of years and perhaps one of the most significant was the thief on the cross alongside Jesus two thousand years ago when he said “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Of course there were two thieves being crucified that day and the second mocked Jesus saying “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” Other people and even rulers of the day were standing round the cross also mocking Jesus saying “He saved others: if He is really the Son of God, if He is really the Christ, the Messiah let Him save Himself.”
Why did one man mock and the other seek to be remembered? The first thief had a healthy respect for Jesus and knew that he held the key to eternal life.
It’s only when we realize that God is a God of amazing power and The One we will, one day, have to answer to, that we want to know more about Him and we begin to learn of the amazing love He has for us.
The other criminal had no hope of salvation. Even facing certain death he belittled and mocked Jesus because he had lived his life respecting and fearing no-one; “I did it my way” so the song says.
So many people live their lives in fear of the wrong things. They fear what other people think more than the fear of going against what God wants of them.
Among the lessons we learn from the thief is that he had no doubt he had done wrong and deserved punishment. He was dirty, impure and guilty.
Slowly the thief’s curiosity takes his mind off the pain in his body. He begins to care. He cares about this peaceful martyr. When he looked at Jesus he became painfully aware of his own sin. The next thing this thief says is “Jesus remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”
He had faith to know that death wasn’t the end and that Jesus had a Heavenly Kingdom. He was sure of it. It is amazing that this common criminal had more faith than those who had been with Jesus all through His ministry.
The last and most important lesson this thief has for us is that it’s never too late to turn to Christ. This was a man who had definitely not lived a good life. He was a criminal – a thief – one who took other people’s property. He was in his last hours on earth and he turned to Christ. Jesus didn’t say to him “I’m sorry it’s too late. I wish you could have come to me earlier.” It’s never too late, but it is a dangerous game if you wait to the last minute. Jesus told the thief “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” He didn’t say some time in the future; He said today.
A dying thief on the cross recognizes who Jesus is and says “Put in a good word for me” and Jesus says “Consider it done!” Whatever could this man offer in return? That’s the point; Jesus’s love does not depend on what we do for Him. In the eyes of the King you have great value because of who you are. You are valuable just because you exist – simply because of who you are – That’s grace.
Max Lucado puts it like this:
“It makes me smile to think there is a grinning ex-con walking the golden streets who knows more about grace than a thousand theologians. No-one else would have given him a prayer, but in the end that was all he had and in the end that was all it took.