Summary: During the crucifixion a man who was a certified sinner asked Jesus for forgiveness. Forgiveness was freely given and he died with no good works to his name. This is grace in action.
From Sinner to Saint
Through out history the last words of people have become notorious. Let me give you a few examples.
Oscar Wilde, who was a 19th century author, looked around his hospital ward and said, “This wallpaper is horrendous, either it goes or I go”.
Just before his death the author James M Barrie said, “I can’t sleep”.
General John Sedgwick was a general in the American civil war. His last words were “They couldn’t hit an elephant at this dist--."
James W Rogers was a criminal condemned to death in 1960 … the method of execution was that he would be shot. When he was asked “Do you have any last requests” he replied “Why yes … a bullet proof vest”.
Last words can be trivial, humorous, ironic and quirky. But they can also be very significant. Let‘s have a look at the Scriptures and read about a person who spoke some very significant last words.
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom”. These are the words spoken by one of the criminals on the cross … and they are words which bring about an unexpected twist to the events at Golgotha. To see how it all works let’s start off by focussing on:-
A Criminal Who Is Condemned.
What sort of man is this criminal? Well let’s build a profile.
Earlier in Luke 23:32 we find out a little about this man. Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with Him to be executed. Jesus was not the only condemned man that day. The walk from Pilate’s prison to Golgotha was made by three men … Jesus and the two criminals. Which means the two criminals had the best chance to see the intense emotion of the crowd as well as the reaction of Jesus towards the hostility of the crowd. It was all so unexpected.
Usually, when there was a crucifixion, the crowds would be small; a few family members at the most. But this crowd is huge, and they are from all walks of life – religious leaders, shop keepers, aristocrats and the poor. The only thing that seems to unite them is their mutual hatred for Jesus.
This situation had a huge impact on the prisoners. In fact, both of these criminals join in with the crowd and both also start having a go at Jesus. We see that this is the case in Matthew 27:38-39, 44.
Two robbers were crucified with Him, one on His right and one of His left. Those who passed by hurled insults at Him shaking their heads … In the same way the robbers who were crucified with Him also heaped insults on Him. (Matthew 27:38-39, 44)
Understand this … the man who later cries out for sympathy from Jesus is the same man who feels quite justified in condemning Jesus.
The crowd is yelling, “If you are the Son of God come down from the cross”. Both criminals join the chorus.
The crowd mocked and heaped insults upon Jesus. Both criminals do the same.
As we look at this criminal don’t be under the impression that, somehow, he is better than the one who did not ask for forgiveness. Our criminal friend is just as guilty and is right in the thick of the action.
So how do we summarise his life?
This criminal made a living taking what was not his. He knows he is guilty because he is condemned to be crucified. Yet he still has the energy to hurl insults at Jesus.
In terms of suitability all this man can offer Jesus is a whole lot of nothing.
Sin. Guilt. Shame.
He has been publically condemned just like Jesus.
He has treated Jesus in exactly the same way as everyone else.
Yet, somewhere along the line, his heart changes. The criminal starts to realise that Jesus is not someone to be insulted and mocked … indeed Jesus is someone to be trusted. That fact transforms this man from a criminal who is condemned into
A Criminal Who Confesses.
We don’t know exactly when this criminal had a change of heart, but we do know that when this man sees all that is happening ... and when he thinks about his situation ... that somewhere along the line a huge transformation starts to take place in the heart of the criminal. So much so that, at some point, instead of mocking and insulting Jesus, the criminal starts defending Jesus.
He is on the cross and he makes his point.
We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.
And that is when he utters these most important words:-
Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.