Last Words: “Truly I Tell You, Today You Will Be with Me in Paradise.”

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Too often we pass by Christ’s words to the dying thief on the cross as if they are nothing more than a temporary respite to pull us away from the shock of the main action—a quick breath before we turn our attention to the agonizing last minutes of our Savior’s life. 

Yet, Jesus’ statement to the thief is much more than that. Linger there with me for a few moments. 

Then one of the criminals hanging there began to yell insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

But the other answered, rebuking him: “Don’t you even fear God, since you are undergoing the same punishment? We are punished justly, because we’re getting back what we deserve for the things we did, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

And he said to him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:39–43

These twelve words spoken by our dying Savior drip with the goodness of God and His heart toward salvation. Through these words, the life of the dying thief was changed instantly as he received grace, hope, and eternal security. But Jesus’ words didn’t just change the life of the thief on the cross over two thousand years ago, they are still changing our lives today

By Grace Alone through Faith Alone

We don’t know much about the thief on the cross other than the fact that he was exactly that—a criminal being crucified alongside Jesus. The other Gospels don’t tell us anything other than the fact that this thief, before his encounter with Christ, took part in mocking Jesus along with his fellow convict (Matthew 27:44;Mark 15:32). 

Yet at some point, while hanging on his cross, this thief changed his mind about who Jesus is. Take a look at his words to the other criminal, “Don’t you even fear God, since you are undergoing the same punishment? We are punished justly, because we’re getting back what we deserve for the things we did” (Luke 23:40–41). The thief perceives his own guilt and recognizes that he deserves to die because of his deeds. 

Then he makes a statement regarding Jesus, whom they both had previously mocked, saying, “But this man has done nothing wrong” (v. 41). Here, he confesses with his mouth that he believes that Jesus is who He claimed to be—the Son of God. 

Finally, the thief addresses Jesus, who is hanging on a cross beside him, and humbly asks, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom” (v. 42).

Did you catch it? The statements made by the thief contain all of the elements of salvation! He perceived his guilt, knew that he deserved death because of his wrongdoings, and then prayed to Christ to receive forgiveness. 

And Jesus, being rich in mercy, because of His great love, tells the thief on the cross, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (v. 43). 

There are no caveats to Jesus’ statement. The thief on the cross was not saved by any good he had previously done—he was being executed because the evil he had committed in his life far outweighed the good. He could not be baptized—his body was nailed to a tree. He had no time to do good works—he died shortly after his conversation with Christ. He did not join a church or partake in communion. All the thief did was repent and believe. That is all the Lord requires.

Hope and Security for What Is to Come

What hope Jesus gave to that thief! “Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Not because of anything that the thief had done or anything that he could do, but because the blood of Christ, shed on the cross, paid for not only the thief’s sin but the sins of everyone who calls on the name of the Lord for salvation. 

This thief, who was completely undeserving, experienced salvation by grace through faith, and immediately his reality went from agonizing death to eternal life with Christ. That is the hope of the gospel.

Not only did the thief on the cross receive hope, but he also received security. The thief’s salvation, like yours and mine, was personally secured by the word and actions of Jesus Christ. 

Jesus said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise” (emphasis added). If there’s anyone that we can trust to be true to his word, it’s the Lord. The thief did not have to worry about whether he would be in paradise with Jesus; he only had to trust that Jesus had made the way.

It’s No Different Today

Friend, it’s the same for you and me. Through Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection, we can receive the very same grace, hope, and security that the thief on the cross received.

Are you striving to earn the favor of God?Rest in the finished work of Christ on the cross. His grace is enough. Serve Him. Enjoy Him. But know that the pressure is off because your standing with God has never been about what you can do for Him. It has always been about what He has so graciously done for you.

Do you feel like you’ve messed up too many times to receive grace? The thief on the cross lived a life of sin until his final moments, and Jesus did not refuse him. There is no sin so big that it cannot be covered by the blood of Christ. God’s grace is not dependent on what you used to do or what you can do now. It’s only dependent on His unchanging love. He will not turn you away. 

Do you feel hopeless?You may be feeling the excruciating pain of life right now, and that is hard, but know that the sufferings you are facing now cannot compare to the glory that is going to be revealed to us when we are with Christ. When you have no other hope to cling to, cling to the hope of the gospel—it will never let you down. When you feel like you can’t cling, rest in knowing that the Lord will never let you go.

Have you never received the life-changing, saving grace of God?The Lord’s heart for sinners is the same today as it was over two thousand years ago when the thief hung next to Jesus on the cross. He stands ready and willing to give you His grace. All you must do, like the thief, is admit that you have sinned, recognize that you deserve death and eternal separation from God because of your sin, and believe that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died, was buried, and rose again taking the punishment for your sin so that you can become right before God. It’s all grace, friend. We can’t earn it and we don’t deserve it, but the Lord will graciously and abundantly give you this gift if you ask for it.

The next time you feel needy, be reminded of Jesus’ words to the thief on the cross. Let their significance sink deep into your heart, and rest in the grace, hope, and security found in Jesus.
 

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