When Jesus said to the thief hanging next to him on the cross, “today, you will be with me in paradise”, no doubt the greatest sense of relief a man could ever know filled his life (though slowly and painfully slipping away) with a hope that beyond this moment there was something more. Was it Jesus’ selfless prayer “Father forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing” that tipped the scale for a condemned man? Wow! What faith, or was it?
The question for me becomes this; was his a genuine act of faith? A true belief that Jesus was Messiah, or, was it a “why not shot in the dark, an I’ve nothing to lose act of a man who really didn’t have anything to lose?
In the second message from a seven-week series titled, “Last Words”, Community Life Church co-pastor Randy Wade demonstrated how all the ingredients of saving faith are present in this dying man’s plea and the far-reaching implications of just what that means for you and me today.
Brief as this moment may have been, in these final tics of life’s clock, the repentant thief simply fell on God’s mercy? No long discourse on his part, no attempts at justification, no excuses made; he acknowledges his guilt and accepts responsibility for his sin understanding fully the consequences of it, “don’t you fear God”, he asks his taunting cohort. He was keenly aware of who he was ultimately responsible to and took the same leap of faith you and I must take today – into the merciful hands of Jesus.
Interesting and often overlooked is both thieves sought the Lord’s help. The difference was the ridiculing thief looked only to God for deliverance from his suffering, a way out; “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” he said (Luke 23:39). The other looked to Jesus in sincere repentance.
You may not be sitting in a jail cell at the moment, you may have never committed a crime. In fact, you may not be a bad person at all; but apart from having received God’s pardon made available only through faith in Jesus, you are as condemned as that thief, guilty of sin and just like him, your biggest problem is not getting caught, you’re already caught. Your biggest problem is what comes next, to stand before a righteous God in judgment. But as Randy pointed out, it’s not too late, there is still hope.
You need to realize though you walk free in the world, apart from faith in Christ, you are none-the-less living on death row. The sentence may be carried out at any moment; a heart attack, a traffic accident, in any number of ways death is crouched just behind the door for all of us – after this, judgment (Hebrews 9:27). Without exception, Jesus calls on all to repent. The course you are on is wrong, change direction. The road you travel is a dead end, change roads. As scripture plainly declares, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death” (Proverbs 14:12; 16:25).
Please, don’t wait; don’t put this all-important matter off any longer. Steven Cole says it well writing, “Not all dying people have an opportunity to repent. Not everyone has adequate warning that death is just ahead. There are young people today that will step into eternity sooner than some of those advanced in years. Some people in good health will die before others who are in poor health. The fact is, we all are dying people, and unless we repent now, we may easily perish (Luke 13:3, 5).
I’d love to talk with you about it – write me today. At the least, please watch this sermon – look for it and the “Last Words” sermon series at http://www.clifec.com.
Community Life Church co-pastor, Randy Wade
Flagstaff Christian Fellowship pastor, Steven J. Cole