Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise”.
You don’t have to look very hard to see the world we live in is one lacking justice. Pick up a paper and read about the royal commission, asylum seekers, political corruption, civil war, religious persecution … the list goes on and on. As we read the paper and watch the news, the natural and right response from us, the public and from the media is to demand justice. When we look at the evil acts perpetrated by those unknown to us, it’s easy to cry out for justice.
But what happens when that cry for justice turns on us? When we face the consequences of our actions would we still demand that justice be done?
This is a question faced by two men who hung on crosses beside Jesus. Both convicted criminals. Both being punished for their own actions. Both seemingly without hope. Yet they have two very different responses to their situation.
The first criminal doesn’t ask for justice. He does just the opposite. He joins in with the rulers and soldiers who have been mocking Jesus. He too hurls sarcasm at him – ‘if you’re really some kind of king, prove it. Save yourself!’ But he goes one step further. “Aren’t you God’s chosen king? Save yourself and us.” His cry isn’t for justice. His cry is for Jesus to save him from justice. He demands injustice.
The second criminal is different. He knows his crime and he knows he is getting exactly what he deserved. And he recognises Jesus’ innocence. He knows that on the cross next to him is no ordinary man. He is a man to be feared, because he is also God, and he is suffering innocently.
But then, he too cried for injustice. He turns to Jesus and says ‘remember me when you come into your kingdom’.
This request is outrageous. This man is a criminal. He’s been judged by human authorities and they’ve hung him on a cross to die. This man knows that he’ll be judged by God and that he doesn’t deserve any mercy. Yet he dares to ask Jesus to remember him.
When you stop and think about what he’s asking for it’s quite amazing. A criminal is talking to the king of God’s people, and asking him to keep a place for him in God’s kingdom.
Jesus’ response is even more amazing. “Today you will be with me in paradise”. Yes, I will remember you. Yes, you will have a place in my kingdom. How is it possible that in this 11th hour confession this criminal has found some kind of favour with Jesus?
The answer is found in the biggest injustice of all – the death of an innocent man. Jesus’ death was a huge injustice, but not an accidental one. It was intentional. It was willing. And it was motivated by love. God’s love for his people, his desire for them to be reconciled to him and his knowledge that reconciliation would be impossible without him stepping in to act. So he stepped into the world in the person of Jesus, and dies a death that he didn’t deserve, so that when someone cries out ‘Jesus, remember me’, he can answer ‘yes, you will be with me in paradise’.
This is a tremendous promise to the criminal on the cross. But it’s not just for him. All of us are in the same position as the criminal. We may not be judged by our peers, or be hung on a cross, but we will all stand before God and will all be found wanting. We will face the same choice the two criminals faced. Join in the mocking and demand temporary salvation, or recognise Jesus as the king who is able to provide eternal salvation.
The criminal’s words from the cross are more than a confession of his crimes. He has come to believe and declare that Jesus really is the King of the Jews. He confessed his need for forgiveness and turned to the only one who is able to meet that need.
Will you do the same?