The Father is speaking to the dying thief.  A transaction is about to take place. He then says, “Jesus (calling him by name), remember me when you come into your kingdom” (42). The words of forgiveness from Jesus broke through his hard heart and softened him and opened the door to revelation. Not only is this man innocent, but he is truly a king, and he will overcome death and take his kingdom as royalty. He asks Jesus to remember him when that happens. He is about to experience salvation in the last hours of his life. There is no time to change his ways and order his steps rightly. Still he is bypassing hell and going straight to paradise, where he will again meet up with Jesus this same day!  A phenomenal interaction a few hours before the two men die. His eternal destiny just took a massive change!

Neither one will be struggling before long. Jesus will have won a glorious and absolutely astounding victory, and a former thief is tasting of it just before he steps over into eternity. No chance for reformation of his character on this side. No opportunity to return what he had stolen. Hardly even a chance to say, “I will never do it again–I promise.”  But the Judge of all the earth declares him not guilty, and we will meet him in the new earth, along with millions of other forgiven sinners who were marked with the atoning blood of Christ, the blood that flowed from his arms, his head, his face, his back, his feet. Jesus is going to die with no bitterness, no hatred, no regret, no unforgiveness, and he is going to take a former thief with him to paradise.

Because the first word, “Father, forgive,” was heard and took root in a criminal’s softened soul, Jesus followed with a second word: “Today…”, . The thief could no longer argue his defense or lie about all he stole. He said a simple prayer to the Son of God that revealed a broken heart and an awareness of who was dying next to him. I look forward to talking with that thief, who was reformed a few hours before he transitioned from the end of life to eternal life. He met up with Jesus later that day! Sounds like a great place to connect after dying next to each other on a Roman cross.  Remarkable! Jesus said, “Today you shall be with me in paradise.” A despicable thief was washed clean by the blood of Jesus and saw him soon after death.

Allow it to take root in your heart as well. Let what Jesus did to give you courage to do two things: confess your sins with honesty before God and those close to you, and forgive others who don’t deserve it, who recklessly hurt you without offering a word of explanation, who even forget that they did anything wrong to you, who made excuses and alibis instead of repentance. If Jesus can do that under excruciating pain and spiritual anguish, you and I can be given grace to do it for issues with far less injustice, far less hatred, far less cruelty. What would dare hold us back when we see the Lamb of God beaten to a bloody pulp freely forgiving those who brought him to a terribly painful death one beating at a time? What an atrocity! An unsurpassed crime!  What love! What powerful forgiveness. It turned a guilty thief into a heaven-bound saint–in moments. Such is the power of forgiveness. Let no one look at the travesty of the cross, the absolute worst crime of all history, then choose not to forgive someone for an infinitely less offense. It is the difference between two cents and two million dollars. Hear it once again, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  Thank you Jesus for your forgiveness. In receiving it, I am given the strength to forgive others–fully, unconditionally.

Two supremely kind words from the cross, first blanket forgiveness to people who do not deserve it and won’t accept it, and second, a promise to a hardened criminal whose heart was transformed by Christ’s offer of forgiveness. His first word did nothing for the religious leaders or hardened soldiers, who continued their assault, but it broke into the heart of a convicted criminal just before death.

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