"Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise."
This just might be my favorite exchange in all of Scripture.
The stage is set. The scene is well under way. The thief is reaping the punishment of his crime. Justice has been served.
Hanging there, bloody and bruised, this man has all but surrendered to his fate on the cross. He knows he belongs there.
And he knows the man two over from him belongs there.
But that man in the middle. There was just something about him.
He was innocent. He did nothing to deserve this most crude and inhuman execution. The thief on the far side joined with the crowd hurling insults upon Jesus.
But in his dying moment, this other thief came to a saving knowledge of who Jesus was. He hedged his bet on Jesus saying, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." (Luke 23:42)
And in one moment, the eternal destination of this man shifted from death to life. And most certainly not because of anything he earned, attended, or achieved. But rather, he acknowledged his sin, his helplessness and, most importantly, Jesus' innocence and divinity.
And in one of the most beautiful verses in all of Scripture, Jesus responds, "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise." (Luke 23:43)
Imagine observing this as a member of the crowd. You're close enough to see and smell the blood and the sweat of these dying men. And as you're straining to hear this conversation over the mocks and jeers from the crowd, you think you hear the scandalous interchange of words that a thief dare ask Jesus to remember him?!?
Never. It can't possibly be happening.
He's a thief! He's hanging up there paying the penalty of his sin. His debt is almost paid as his life literally hangs in the balance.
But he asks Jesus to remember him?!
And what's more: Jesus grants his request!
You almost want to join in the objection that this man does not deserve this pardon.
But my dear friends, this is the best news for you and for me!
Because this thief had zero chips with which to bargain. He had nothing to offer Jesus in exchange for his request. All he was able to offer up in that moment was his faith that Jesus was who He claimed to be.
AND THAT WAS ENOUGH!
And it's enough for you. And it's enough for me.
Because the way to our eternity is through faith in what Jesus accomplished through His death and resurrection. And praise God, it's not by anything we accomplish (and more importantly what we don't).
In one of the most desperate, vulnerable and raw conversions in all of Scripture, we see salvation in it's most pure form. This thief, whose rap sheet earned him a one-way ticket to the cross, comes to recognize his own depravity and Christ's divinity. And he places his faith in the person and work of Jesus in his dying breaths.
And he is granted salvation.
And it just might be my favorite exchange in all of Scripture.
Because if it can happen for this thief, it can happen for you and for me, too.