Do you have all your Christmas shopping done? Are your travel plans all laid out and are you starting to pack your bags? It’s Christmas!
It is important to look at Christmas from a different perspective. While people are the recipients of gifts, it is essential to think about this – “Why did Jesus come?”
The Bible tells us there are many reasons Jesus gave for why He came to our world.
- To fulfill the law – Matthew 5:17
- To Preach – Mark 1:38
- To give His life as a ransom – Mark 10:45
- To seek & to save the lost – Luke 19:10
- To give people abundant life – John 10:10
- To accomplish what the Father gave Him to do – – John 17:4
- To testify to the Truth – John 18:37
- To demonstrate His Righteousness – Romans 3:25-26
- To save Sinners – 1 Timothy 1:15
- To defeat the power of death – Hebrews 2:14
The bottom line is crystal clear – Jesus came to address sin and defeat its grip on people the world over.
While the birth of the Savior is also the beginning of His time on earth, it is necessary to also recall what happened at the end of his life. It is equally important to review some conversations with those at the scene of the cross.
Christ’s second utterance from the cross marks the first glorious fulfillment of His prayer for His killers’ forgiveness. Generously forgiveness was bestowed, even to the most unlikely of recipients.
You will recall how both thieves on their own cross mocked the Lord. Yet, one of the two thieves had a change of heart. What prompted the change is not mentioned. Perhaps the thief heard and was touched by Jesus’ prayer for mercy, realizing that it applied to him. Whatever prompted his turnaround, it was a tremendous miracle.
The power of forgiveness is powerful, isn’t it?
The man was undoubtedly one of the most thoroughly degenerate people on the scene. He had been a career criminal, one whose life had been devoted to thievery and mayhem. The deep-down, bad-to-the-bone wickedness of his character was shown by the fact that he used his dying strength to join in the taunting of Christ. Obviously, he knew of Christ’s innocence because the repentant thief finally rebuked his cohort, also a thief, saying, “This man has done nothing wrong” (Luke 23:41). Clearly, he recognized who and what Christ was, and repented,
His taunting turned to silence, and the silence turned to repentance, and the thief’s heart was utterly changed. As he studied Jesus, suffering all that abuse so patiently—never reviling or insulting His tormentors—the thief began to see that this Man on the center cross was indeed who He claimed to be. The proof of his repentance is seen in his immediate change of behavior, and his words, as his derisive insults turned to words of praise for Christ.
Notice the change. First he rebuked his partner in crime: “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong” (vv. 40–41). In saying that much, he confessed his own guilt, and he also acknowledged the justice of the penalty he had been given. He affirmed the innocence of Christ as well.
Next he turned to Jesus and confessed Him as Lord: “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom” (v. 42).
That confession and plea to Jesus as Lord and King was immediately followed by some of Jesus’ seven last sayings: “And He said to him, ‘Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise’” (v. 43).
No sinner was ever given more explicit assurance of salvation. This most unlikely of saints was received immediately and unconditionally into the Savior’s kingdom. The incident is one of the greatest biblical illustrations of the truth of justification by faith. This man had done nothing to merit salvation. Indeed, he was in no position to do anything meritorious. Already gasping in the throes of his own death agonies, he had no hope of ever earning Christ’s favor. But realizing that he was in an utterly hopeless situation, the thief sought only a modest token of mercy from Christ: “Remember me.”
His request was a final, desperate, end-of-his-rope plea for a small mercy he knew he did not deserve. It echoes the cry of the publican, who “was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’” (Luke 18:13).
For either man to be granted eternal life and received into the kingdom, it had to be on the merits of another. And yet in both cases, Jesus gave full and immediate assurance of complete forgiveness and eternal life. Those are classic proofs that justification and forgiveness is by faith alone.
Jesus’ words to the dying thief conveyed to him an unqualified promise of full forgiveness, covering every evil deed he had ever done. He wasn’t expected to atone for his own sins, do penance, or perform any ritual. He wasn’t consigned to purgatory—though if there really were such a place, and if the doctrines that invariably accompany belief in purgatory were true, this man would have been assured a long stay there. But instead, his forgiveness was full, and free, and immediate: “Today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”
That was all Christ said to him.
But it was all the thief needed to hear.
He was still suffering unspeakable physical torment, but the misery in his soul was now gone. For the first time in his life, he was free from the burden of his sin. The Savior, at his side, was bearing that sin for him. And the thief was now clothed in Christ’s perfect righteousness. Soon they would be in Paradise together.
The thief had Christ’s own word on it.
And, you can, as well. Trust Christ to forgive you today.
No regrets for that trust.
Just ask the thief who received his answer to his humble, genuine prayer.