Do you think you’ve run out of time for God to pick up the pieces of your life? Is your hope draining away as your years pass through life’s hourglass?
Most of us have heard stories of people that have done worthless things and then God turns their lives around. This weekend some speakers in churches used to be drug dealers, robbed their companies, spent time in prison, or even were unfaithful to their spouses.
The Bible is filled with historical accounts of big sinners that have found mercy. Just start reading Matthew. Jesus leaves a trail of mercy behind him! Oh, you are a blind beggar? Oh, you are infested with demons? Oh, you sell your body for money? Oh, you are the town drunk? It’s nice to meet you, I’m Jesus!
The next thing you know, even huge sins are forgiven and these people are on their feet again. They are right with God and begin to get right with the world. They have new purpose and direction. Their lives go from paralysis in guilt to passion for God.
But you might be thinking that these people still had enough time left to turn things around. An aircraft carrier needs about twenty-five miles to safely hook a U-Turn. Your life has been heading the wrong way an awfully long time. Maybe it doesn’t seem like you have twenty-five miles left to be able to get turned the right way.
Is there still hope left for you? Are you too close to your grave to have one more chance to change? Have you made such a mess of your life that you think even God is thinking, “Good riddance!”?
There is one story in the Bible that speaks to your situation. Now, the Bible is a pretty big book. I’ve got one story out of that big book. If you have been living in rebellion against your Creator for your whole life, you are right to be concerned. But, there is a story. There is a sliver of hope even for you. Can you see it?
When Jesus died on the cross he wasn’t alone. The Bible records that he died between two other men. These men were both convicted criminals. They were robbers. The Jews and Romans thought to put Jesus in good company.
The crucifixion scene was not quiet. The passersby mocked Jesus. The shouts of reviling should not be surprising because crucifixion in the ancient world was the most shameful method of public tortuous execution. It was reserved for the lowest of the low.
What is surprising, however, was that even the criminals were participating in mocking Jesus! How hard does your heart have to be to mock a guy who is being crucified right next to you? Yet that is exactly what was happening, at least at first.
Jesus never used his precious breath to strike back at the crowds. Crucifixion contorts hanging bodies in a way to choke its victims. Every gulp of air is increasingly labored and painful. Yet in the midst of his suffering Jesus pushed out a prayer for mercy, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
As the minutes wore on, that mercy caused one of the men being crucified to begin to melt.
After some time, he stopped mocking Jesus and actually tried to stick up for Jesus to his partner in crime. He literally rebuked the other robber for his mockery.
He pointed out that they were all up there together dying shamefully on crosses. But he added that they were experiencing justice, while Jesus had done nothing wrong. Then he forced words to come out to Jesus himself.
He said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Jesus’ reply is no less than astonishing. He said, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Jesus made a solemn oath that testified that on that very day, this dying criminal would be with him in the very garden of God, heaven.
Here’s a guy who shamefully stole things from innocent victims. Because, he was being executed by crucifixion it is not a stretch to suppose that he had committed some super-sized crimes. In Israel, you weren’t put on a cross for taking figs from the fruit stand when you were starving.
His criminal lifestyle had followed him all the way to his sentencing. He was a hardened man. He had even used some of his remaining strength to mock Jesus like the crowds and like his bad friend. His life was used up in rebellion against God. There were only a few hours left to repent before his whole eternity of judgment was set in stone.
He did repent. Within his words we can identify real repentance and real faith. He fully admitted his guilt (no more excuses, no more victim mentality). He even said he deserved to be crucified.
Then he spoke to Jesus. His words show faith in who Jesus was—the king; where Jesus was going—heaven; and what Jesus could do—remember him, that is, to have mercy on his entire life and bring him along to Paradise.
He had absolutely nothing to offer Jesus in exchange for his request. And yet, Jesus, because of his love and grace, had mercy on this man. He even promised the man that he would follow through on the spot. In that, Jesus was being merciful to you as well.
Jesus could have chosen to spare this criminal God’s wrath in hell, but then not said anything to the criminal. After all, Jesus was busy bearing God’s wrath for sinners while being crucified right next to the guy. The man would have then been saved and we would have been none the wiser.
But instead, because he verbalized it, we get to see Jesus showing mercy to this undeserving robber in the last moments of his life. Why? So that undeserving sinners like you can still have that sliver of hope for God’s mercy.
There is no other story in the Bible quite like this one. But it is a real sliver of hope. You can grab onto it. There is still a moment in time left for you. Call upon Jesus right where you are. Admit your sins. Throw yourself on his mercy. You, like the thief, have nothing to offer Jesus. He doesn’t ask for anything. Just believe in him, and he will forgive you.
By John Crotts