Think about the thief on the cross. Deemed worthy of death by crucifixion (reserved for the worst offenders), he wasn’t pinned up there for stealing bread to feed his hungry family. Even he admitted that he deserved this punishment, saying, “for we receive the due reward of our deeds” (Luke 23:41). And at first, he was mocking Jesus, too. “Even the robbers who were crucified with Him reviled Him with the same thing” (Matt. 27:44). Not a model citizen, by any means.
And yet, what? The religious leaders, those who should have been worshipping Jesus as the Messiah, were mocking Him instead. “He saved others; Himself He cannot save,” they mocked. “If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him” (Matt. 27:42). His disciples, who should have known by now what was going to happen, having been told by Jesus beforehand (Matt. 26:2; Mark 8:31; Luke 9:22; 24:7), were clueless, which explains why most fled. Even the women, who followed Jesus to the cross, had no idea what His coming death meant. “And many women who followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to Him, were there looking on from afar, among whom were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons” (Matt. 27:55, 56). And, of course, the Roman soldiers knew nothing as well.
But then, there was the thief, the thief on the cross. Despite the pain of crucifixion, despite the jeering, despite the mocking by the religious leaders and by the Romans, despite the weight of his own guilt, this wretched soul’s words to Jesus—”Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom” (Luke 23:42)— reveal that he knew who Jesus was and what Jesus was doing on the cross for him.
Besides Jesus, this man, this guilty man worthy of death, he—among all the world’s sinners—he alone knew what was happening at the cross when everyone else, even those who should have known, didn’t.
“The Holy Spirit illuminates his mind, and little by little the chain of evidence is joined together. In Jesus, bruised, mocked, and hanging upon the cross, he sees the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world. Hope is mingled with anguish in his voice as the helpless, dying soul casts himself upon a dying Saviour. ‘Lord, remember me,’ he cries, ‘when Thou comest into Thy kingdom.’ ”*
And how did Jesus respond to this profession of faith? Did He throw up the man’s past: his thievery; his reviling; his defective character; his less-than-stellar life record? No. Despite everything unworthy about this man who had nothing to offer Christ but his own sin and guilt, Jesus—in response to the helpless plea, ”Lord, remember me when You come into your kingdom”— promised him, right then and there, “You will be with Me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).
And what in the end can any of us do before Jesus but present, indeed, the same helpless plea?
* Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Boise, Idaho: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1898, 1940), p. 750.