Three men were crucified, enduring the excruciating agony of this most inhumane death sentence.
One was Jesus, the King of the Jews (Matthew 27:37).
The other two were criminals (Luke 23:39), accused, tried, and found guilty of robbery (Matthew 27:38, Mark 15:27).
Jesus hung between the others (John 19:18) where each of the criminals had equal access. They could each see Him. They could hear Him. They watched as Jesus died.
“Those who passed by derided (Jesus), wagging their heads and saying, ‘You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.’ So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, ‘He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, “I am the Son of God.” ’ And the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way. (Matthew 27:39-44, ESV)
Did you catch that? Both robbers reviled Jesus. Both chimed in with the crowd, saying, “If you are the King of the Jews...”
But something changed in the heart of one criminal. He heard... he saw... he wondered, “what if He really is the King?”
First, he challenged his buddy, “Do you not fear God, ... we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong” (Luke 23:40-41, ESV).
Then he spoke directly to the Man on the center cross. “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42, NKJV).
He seems to have some keen insight... and spectacular faith! “Lord... kingdom... remember me!”
This is when Jesus spoke the second time from the cross... the second of the seven sayings of Christ...
“Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43, ESV).
Listen to what Jesus did not say...
He didn’t say, “sorry sucker... you’re too late! You missed the boat! Deal with it!”
He didn’t say, “there are a few things I need to know... What church did you attend? Were you baptized? Did you do enough ... were you good enough ... did you earn it?”
He didn’t ask, “aren’t you one of the dudes who just mocked me... derided me?”
Jesus didn’t say that. He said something akin to, “I love you! I forgive you! So, let’s go to heaven together ... today... you can spend eternity in my glorious presence!”
The robber didn’t deserve it. Neither do we. That’s why they call it grace! Amazing!