One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied,
“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”Luke 23:39-43
Hanging next to Jesus on that unlikely throne is an unlikely saint. He is a convicted thief deserving nothing more than punishment by death. And yet, we would be hard-pressed to find a greater act of faith recorded in all of Scripture than his request from the cross.
He himself is dying on a cross. And the one who would be king is dying right next to him. He has every reason to despair, to give up hope. But instead, he chooses hope over despair. He chooses in the last moments of his life on earth to place his trust in this most unlikely king. And in that moment, he goes from a convicted thief to a great saint. A saint whom we remember tonight. And whose prayer has become our prayer.
They say that every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future. This thief shows us that vividly. He is a sinner with a past. And now he is a saint with a future.
And his simple, heartfelt prayer teaches us that there is truly no time in life when we need to abandon hope. Regardless of how bad things look in our life, hope is always near, because Jesus is always near. If a thief dying on a cross can find hope by turning to Jesus, then so can anyone.
In times of great despair, there is no more beautiful prayer than this simple one, spoken by a thief while dying on a cross: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
And there is not a more beautiful and hopeful response than the simple one spoken by a savior while dying on a cross: “Truly, I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Take time in silence to place yourself on the cross next to Jesus and offer this same heartfelt prayer.