"One of the criminals who were hanged railed at [Jesus] saying, 'Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!' But the other rebuked him saying, 'Do you not fear God, because you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds. But this man has done nothing wrong.' And he said, 'Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.' And he said to him, 'Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.'" - Luke 23:39-43
These two criminals represent man's potential responses to Jesus and his death. The first mocks Jesus, questions whether he is the Messiah, and challenges him to save himself from the cross. The second rebukes the first, questions why the first doesn't fear God, reminds the first that both of them are guilty of death and suffering justly, and recognises Jesus has done nothing wrong. The second also recognises Jesus is the King and that his kingdom is coming. He obviously believes there is life after the death for both Jesus and himself. He wants to enter Jesus' kingdom. This is great faith. Jesus appreciates his faith and promises him paradise and, by implication, eternal life.
We learn a lot here about the proper attitude we are to have toward Jesus. We are to: (1) reverence God; (2) admit our just guilt; (3) acknowledge the perfect sinlessness of Jesus; (4) realise he is the rightful King; and (5) long to be part of his future kingdom.
Death is not the cessation of existence but the separation of the human soul and spirit from the human body. We will never cease to exist. Immediately after death, believers in Jesus receive an intermediate body and await the resurrection body promised so often in the New Testament. Christians don't perish, they sleep and then wake up.
The second criminal will be with us in Jesus' kingdom, and we will get to meet him and talk with him about what it was like to be on that cross next to Jesus.
Father, so much depends on our attitude. Please correct our attitude to fear you, to acknowledge Jesus as King, and to long for his coming kingdom. May we not be afraid of death, because Jesus has conquered the grave. Thank you for the change of heart of this criminal, and that this episode is recorded in Luke's gospel. All glory to you today. In Jesus' name, amen.
- Jeff Coleman