Jesus was crucified between two convicted criminals—and those criminals both heard the words of Christ, yet they responded very differently. The first dying man regarded the cross as a contradiction. He concluded that because Jesus was on the cross, He was no Savior. So he ridiculed the man on the middle cross: “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” (Luke 23:39). But the second man saw the cross as confirmation. He recognized that because Jesus was on the cross, He must be the Savior.
This once hard-bitten criminal had seen and heard enough of Jesus in His final hours to conclude that He was innocent of any crime. And the Holy Spirit had opened his eyes to realize that his predicament was far greater and different from what he had formerly thought. Not only was he being punished justly, receiving the condemnation his sins deserved, but his punishment would extend into eternity if he lacked the forgiveness of which Jesus spoke.
Following this realization, the condemned man made a humble request to Jesus for what he knew he didn’t deserve: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Presumably, he had processed the evidence, concluding, If this man is the Messiah, then He’s the long-promised King. If He’s that King, then He’s going to have a kingdom—the eternal kingdom of God. And when He reaches His kingdom, then perhaps He will remember me when He arrives there.
Jesus’ reply is wonderful: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Not only did Jesus promise that this man—even this man—would go to heaven; He also emphasized the immediate nature of that reality for this dying man: “today”! We may imagine them finishing their conversation not hanging on crosses at Calvary but sitting in the kingdom of God.
This criminal offered nothing and asked the King for everything. And He said yes. This should never fail to strike us and reassure us, for you and I are in the same position as that criminal. We have nothing to bring to Jesus, as though our deeds might be the key that opens the way into His kingdom. All we bring is all that the criminal brought: our sin. But that is why Jesus hung on the cross: so that we might bring our sin to Him and that He might take it and bear it. That is why Jesus’ promise to the criminal is also His promise to every believer who dies: “Today you will be with me in paradise.” Let that knowledge be your joy and fuel for your praise today. One day, you—even you—will be with your King in paradise.
Devotional material is taken from Truth For Life: 365 Daily Devotions by Alistair Begg. Copyright © 2021, The Good Book Company, thegoodbook.com. Used by Truth For Life with written permission.