Recently, I was pondering the thief upon the cross. What changed his disposition as he hung there? Luke’s gospel cites that this man, who had been ridiculing Jesus, suddenly stopped and rebuked the other thief. Then, turning to Jesus, he said, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom” (23:42).
According to Luke’s chronology, this radical change came to the thief after hearing Jesus cry, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (23:34).
Could it be that this thief—guilty, tried, and justly hung—suddenly realized that the Innocent One on the cross next to his had in His power the ability to forgive sins? Was it the sound of Jesus’ voice as He cried out? The Gospels record that His voice held power, authority, and grace. Did the thief grasp those qualities when Jesus cried out? Maybe it was the demeanor of Jesus as He hung upon the cross. Unlike the typical victims of crucifixion, Jesus did not rail against His enemies or the injustices of the government. He did not indict man or writhe and scream in agony. There was no bitter antagonism in His cries, nor did He play the victim even under torment.
As He hung upon the cross, Jesus was majestic, regal, controlled. Although He had been beaten, bullied, bludgeoned, and berated, He was still appealing. Men watched. His torment was repulsive, yet He held their gaze.
What changed his perspective? Was it the sound of Jesus’ voice? Was it the words He spoke? Was it Jesus Himself? Was it the compassion of Jesus toward His tormentors, even in death?
Jesus turned to this repentant thief and promised him—in those last hours—Paradise. The suffering would soon be over, and this guilty man would be walking the streets of gold because he recognized the divinity and righteousness of Jesus and cried out to Him.
The Person of Jesus is visible to every man and woman. The Gospels record Jesus’ words, demeanor, and compassion. It is possible for everyone to read this account, and like the thief upon the cross, be moved by the Person of Christ. Today, because of the cross, every person who cries out to Jesus for forgiveness and remembrance can walk the streets of Paradise with Him.
To me the greatest promise afforded that thief was not paradise but companionship: “You will be with Me” (23:43). Such is the promise that Jesus holds out to anyone who will gaze upon the cross and behold the Son of Man dying in his stead.