We think the wrong way about the thief on the cross, Pastor Mark Welch explained this weekend.
Someone He Could Trust Forever
You remember the story: as Jesus behaved in a gracious and forgiving way to people who were hurting and killing Him for no good reason, one thief being crucified beside Him had a change of heart. “Remember me when you come into your Kingdom,” he requested. And Jesus promised He would.
Graham Maxwell wrote that maybe that thief thought that if this Man was going to have a Kingdom, he wanted to be there. He would be a great King! He’d be Someone you could trust.
Pastor Welch stated that we normally think of this thief as a “deathbed confession,” someone who sees death approaching and only decides to repent because of it. And we think it’s great that God is able to save someone like that, but we think it must take a special effort to do so and that we are better because we repented earlier in our lives, not on our deathbeds.
How I’m Like a Pharisee
But that’s similar to the attitude that the Pharisee had in Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the Publican. A tax collector and a religious leader are both praying out loud in the temple. The religious leader loudly thanks God for not making him like this sinner standing beside him. But the tax collector just sinks to his knees and pleads with God to have mercy on him, because he knows how bad he is.
And maybe we’re like the Pharisee when we look down on deathbed confessions. The fact is that God uses just as much grace to save me as to save someone who confesses on her deathbed. We both required the infinite sacrifice of His Son.
I was an enemy of God when He saved me. Up to that moment, I had wasted my life just as much as everyone else — even a deathbed confession person. I had no chance to save myself.
Grace is never based on our good works, the Bible says, so that no one can boast. So repenting a little earlier than someone else can’t make me better than them.
The Greatest Need in the World
Finally, the person who thinks he has the least need for grace needs it most.
We all need God’s grace throughout our whole lives, every day. It’s the universal human desire. People all over the world want to be let off the hook, to be treated with mercy, with leniency. We want a judge at the moment of sentencing or a police officer standing at the window to take a deep breath and say, “You know what? You’re free to go, get out of here.”
Someone who knows they’re helpless and lost and humbly asks God for help makes Heaven ring with shouts of joy, no matter when they ask.
So don’t worry about when someone else repents or is born again. We’re all nothing without God. Instead, realize that all people, from the deathbed confession person to you, need grace every single day.
(Praise Team Leader at New Horizons SDA Church in Republic, MO)