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The Thief's Encounter with Jesus on the Cross

And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Luke 23:42

Watch Week Three, Day Three

The Thief's Encounter with Jesus on the Cross

It’s the eleventh hour. My life is coming to an end, and it’s not how I thought it would be. It’s painful, inglorious, shameful. My consequences hover over me like a dark cloud. I’ve been foolish, been caught, and now my bones ache with regret. The punishment is almost too much to bear. I look to my left and there is another like myself, his head hung in defeat, the life slowly draining out, and a look of despair on his face. But the man on my right is different. His face is etched with pain, and He wears a crown with long thorns buried into His scalp, but there is quiet strength about Him. The crowd gathered below has come to watch us die, yet the quiet man beside me seems to have garnered the full attention of the soldiers and onlookers. Many have been jeering Him and insulting Him since His cross was raised and settled into the ground. Strangely, He has offered no disparaging reply, and no plea for mercy. Who is He? What did He do?

an unlikely group

Very little is known about the men who hung beside Jesus atop Golgotha. They were sentenced by Roman law to die by crucifixion, and the gospel writers call them criminals without mentioning their crimes (Luke 23:39, Mark 15:27–32, Matthew 27:38–44). They did not know it, but they were part of the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy when he wrote that the suffering servant would be “numbered with transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12). Even Jesus, before His final visit to the Mount of Olives, said that He must be “numbered with the transgressors” in order for Scripture to be fulfilled (Luke 22:37). It was no mere coincidence that they joined the Messiah as He finished His work on the cross.

a simple faith

What is striking, however, is the difference between the two men. One of them joined in the derision of the watching crowd and insulted Jesus: “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” (Luke 23:39). But the other had heard Jesus’ call to the Father to “forgive them, for they don’t know what they do” (23:33–34). He witnessed the ridicule of the crowd and soldiers as they spewed contempt upon the “Christ of God, his Chosen One,” “the King of the Jews” (vv. 35–37). He determined that Jesus was innocent even as he proclaimed his own guilt (v. 41). But when he spoke to Jesus, his faith in who Jesus was became evident. He truly saw Jesus, and he acknowledged Jesus’ kingship (v. 42). He did not ask to be saved from his immediate circumstance; he made no demands, but instead asked to be remembered. It was that simple, that brief, but genuine faith exercised in the darkest hour changed his eternal destiny. Just moments from death he heard those words of life from Jesus, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise” (v. 43 net).

What were the circumstances surrounding your first encounter with Christ? Reflect on the simplicity of the criminal’s faith. What did it involve? What changes do you need to make in your own life in order to respond to Christ with faith in the darkest days? Finally, rejoice in the certainty that Jesus knows you and loves you—in spite of all you’ve done and could ever do. When your faith in Him is true, He will remember you too.


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Daily Question

Through your encounters with Jesus, how has He shown you that He remembers you?

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