The Humble Get Heaven
Read Luke 23:33-34, 39-43 (ESV)
And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments…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 for 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.”
When you compare the two criminals’ responses to Jesus being with them on the cross, what was it about the second criminal’s reply that Jesus accepted?
Early in Jesus’ earthly ministry, Jesus gave the greatest sermon of all time—The Sermon on the Mount. His opening lines were the Beatitudes or the “Blessed are the…” statements. But in today’s passage, we read about the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry. He is on the cross, dying for the sins of the entire world. But it is so interesting to me that if we look closely, we see some of the Beatitudes that we studied a few weeks ago in action during Jesus’ conversation with the two criminals.
The NIV says the first criminal “hurled insults” at Jesus (v.39). He challenged Jesus to prove Himself and openly mocked Him for being passive and not stepping in to save them all. But the second criminal rebuked the first for his irreverence and lack of respect for God. He understood that they were convicted criminals. They were guilty as charged and were now receiving just punishment. He knew he had done wrong and he was prepared to accept the consequences. He also knew that Jesus was innocent and was being punished unjustly. Further, he recognized Jesus as the Messiah and the only one who could ultimately save him.
He didn’t ask Jesus to work a miracle to get him off the cross, spare his life, and free him of his legal issues. Instead, he humbly, yet boldly, asked Jesus to remember him when Jesus ushered in His kingdom.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). The second criminal knew that he was spiritually bankrupt. He needed God’s help. He couldn’t save himself.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). He seemed to regret his sin and understood that he deserved to be punished for them.
“Blessed are the meek…Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…” (Matthew 5:5a,6a). The second criminal was humble and had a correct understanding of who he was in comparison to Jesus. He understood that Jesus was the only one who was truly righteous. He knew Jesus was not guilty and was being wrongly punished.
And yet, this man was also bold enough to ask Jesus to remember him in heaven. And Jesus’ response? “Today, you will be with me in paradise” (v.43). In other words, your’s is the kingdom of heaven, you shall be comforted, you will inherit the earth, your longing for true righteousness will be satisfied!
True to His Word, Jesus accepted a convicted criminal on the basis of his faith, humble submission to Jesus, and dependence on Him for salvation.
Friends, Jesus’s earthly ministry is bookended with teaching about humility and a right understanding of who we are vs. who God is. As James 4:10 says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” The man who was prideful and spiteful was condemned for his sins. But the man who was humble and submissive to the Lord, was given mercy, grace, and eternal blessings. “Toward the scorners he is scornful, but to the humble he gives favor” (Proverbs 3:34).
Lord, I know that I am a sinner and yet, You were wrongly accused and suffered on the cross for my sake. I am broken-hearted over my sin. I understand that without You, Jesus, my sin separates me from God. I humbly long for Your righteous, Lord. Please remember me and bring me into Your kingdom. Amen.
~ Pastor Nat Crawford
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