One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since 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
On the cross, Jesus reveals a huge truth when he invites the criminal hanging next to him into Paradise.“And [the thief] said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ And [Jesus] said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise’” (v. 43). This man didn’t know religious jargon, but his confession is raw and authentic. He speaks in defense of Jesus, saying that he is innocent of the punishment he and the other criminal deserve. Yet, Jesus still hangs in the same place they do. This confession is a beautiful presentation of the gospel. Spoken by a man unworthy of the inheritance of Christ. His offense had to be among the worst if his punishment was death on a cross. The severe contrast of the two criminals is nothing but a posture of heart and the grace of God. Their reputation, infliction, and condemnation is the same, but Christ changed one man’s eternity.
Have you ever prayed for terrorists? Do you know drug addicts? Have you watched cyclic homelessness? What about pimps and prostitutes? A subtle lie has infected evangelicalism. It’s that someone can be too far gone to be saved. I realized this when I had a friend pray for a family member of mine. I sat in awe as she passionately pleaded for God’s mercy to be lavished upon my loved one. Her faith invigorated my own, even though at the time my hope for my family member’s salvation was extinguished. Honestly, I had stopped praying for them altogether. The infection of this lie dulls our hearts and minds. We choose to reside in the welfare of apathy rather than the dangerousness of compassion. The root is nothing more than hope deferred and rotted.
I grew up hearing that sin can’t be ranked because God sees it all as rebellion. It seemed simple. But a murderer can not simply be equated with a liar. It doesn’t seem natural, right, or moral to equate all injustice. However, no matter our sin when God considers those who believe in Jesus, the Father see us as the blameless Jesus. That truth that defeats the lie. If everyone who believes is seen in Christ, then we should boldly pray for the worst sinners. Because if they believe, they too will be justified by the blood of Jesus and seen as righteous in him. There is no boundary of too far and no unforgivable sin. We are blameless because of the Son before the Father. This justification is our victory and invites us into the very presence of God. We bear no weight of sin. Victory is ours and it’s for all. We can pray for the biggest sinner hoping to hear, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Nothing Outweighs Grace
Christ resurrects hope when we least expect it, when we least deserve it, and even when we seem to be out of time. Every story of the gospel’s work in the life of a sinner may not be told through a lifetime. It may be told in a short few minutes, or even seconds. The thief on the cross is delivered within moments of his death. He confessed with his mouth and believed in his heart (Rom 10:9). Therefore, he was justified and saved. But Jesus etched his story forever in the Gospels. This man may have wasted away his life. He may have killed and stolen and abused people. At the end of the day, he was rescued from the captivity of his sin. And in the last seconds of their lives, Jesus resurrected hope for this hope and so for all sinners. If God can save this man, then none of us are beyond hope. This man may not have had a lifetime to share the Good News of Christ, but his testimony lives.
When my friend prayed for the salvation and sanctification of my family member, it felt as though she showed me an empty well within my heart, but as she prayed, she began pouring water into the well until it was overflowing. Her prayer filled me with a hope that I had lost, but even more, she led me to the throne so that I could pray myself. God rescues us when we admit our insufficiency, just like the criminal hanging next to Jesus. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” (Rom. 15:13). The simple part of salvation is that we don’t do it. God alone through Christ alone uses the Holy Spirit alone to change the hearts of people. No sin outweighs the grace of God. My advice is this, don’t be afraid to ask for prayer. Even more, ask someone to pray over you and let the hope in their voice and the power of the Spirit remind you of the truth. Also, if you know someone who is lost or hurting, approach them and offer a prayer. The timing of God is not accidental, but absolutely providential. Trust and believe that Christ’s gift of salvation can be offered to anyone.
Chelsea Vaughn (@chelsea725) has served a ministry she helped start in the DFW Metroplex since she graduated from college. She received her undergraduate degree at Dallas Baptist University in Communication Theory. She does freelance writing, editing, and speaking for various organizations and non-profits. She hopes to spend her life using her gift for communication to reach culture and communities with the love of Jesus.