The soldiers also mocked [Jesus], coming up to Him, offering Him sour wine, and saying, “If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself!”

Now there was also an inscription above Him, “THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.”

One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!”

But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.”

And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!”

And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:36–43)

Jesus knows what it’s like to be mocked. He knows what it’s like to be bullied. And he knows what it is to suffer. But he didn’t let even the most extreme circumstances stop him from doing what he needed to do or focusing on the needs of someone else instead of himself. Two criminals hung on crosses with Jesus; one joined in mocking him, the other accepted his fate and rebuked the mockery.

The thief on Jesus’ right did not have the time or opportunity to do any good works, to make restitution for the crimes for which he’d been condemned. He could not join a church, he could not tithe, and he could not get baptized. He didn’t walk an aisle or even express repentance. He did not call Jesus Lord. All he did was address Jesus by name and ask him to remember him when he came into his kingdom. He had simple faith, and made a simple request.

And on the basis of those few words, Jesus told the criminal—who remains unnamed—that he would join Jesus in Paradise that very day. The word “Paradise” that Jesus used had originated with the Persians. It referred to the pleasure gardens belonging to the Persian king. Why that very day? Because before the sun went down that evening, both that criminal and Jesus would be dead.

All human beings are like that criminal on the cross, unable to save themselves or do anything at all to improve their situation. Jesus did everything and gave everything so that sinners who do nothing can join him in Paradise.

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About R.P. Nettelhorst

I'm married with three daughters. I live in southern California and I'm the interim pastor at Quartz Hill Community Church. I have written several books. I spent a couple of summers while I was in college working on a kibbutz in Israel. In 2004, I was a volunteer with the Ansari X-Prize at the winning launches of SpaceShipOne. Member of Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion, and The Authors Guild
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