Summary: The first two words of the cross - "Father, forgive them..." and "Today you will be with Me in Paradise."
Two men are hanging on a cross. Together they have lived a life of crime. They have been cast out by society. They have been found guilty of their crimes. And now it seems they will enter eternal damnation together.
Two men joined together by their evil nature. Two men united by their criminal lifestyle. They were comrades in sin and row they are partners in suffering. Two men bound toward an eternity in hell. History would forever link them together.
But then, something came between them. Actually, Someone came between them.
At first, both men were offended by this intruder. These men had been yoked together by a life of crime. They shared a common bond. And now their union was being challenged.
They began to hurl insults at this Man. On the brink of eternity they join with the enemies of this Man - the chief priests, scribes, elders, Pharisees. They mock Him and insult Him as if He is a common criminal deserving of this fate.
Then something incredible happened. The man in the middle speaks. But He does not fire back at His accusers. He does not shout insults at the men on either side of Him.
The man who had come between them prayed for them. He prayed, "Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing."
Incredible. In the midst of hate, anger, and evil this was love, peace, and righteousness.
The two criminals both heard this prayer. They both turned and looked at this Man. And when they looked at Him they saw love, forgiveness, grace, mercy, and everlasting life.
One continued to shout insults at this Man in the middle. Even though he, the thief, was in pain and agony, and in the valley of the shadow of death, this did not humble his proud spirit. He rebuked Jesus and said, "Aren't you the Christ? Save yourself and us!" He foolishly thought he could blaspheme the Son of God in one breath and ask for deliverance in the next breath.
This criminal looked at love and his hate grew.
He looked at forgiveness and continued to sin.
He looked at grace and cursed the One Who provided it.
He looked at mercy and hardened his heart.
He looked at everlasting life and chose eternal death.
He was looking at Jesus but all he could see was another man dying.
However, the other criminal suddenly sees this Man in the middle for who He really is. This is not only Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. This is the Christ, the Son of God. Suddenly his eyes are opened and he sees the Lord of all creation.
There was no sign of His glory or of the dignity of His Person. His kingdom was but a subject of scorn to all. But the poor thief is being taught by God and all is made plain.
Instead of the brutality of the soldiers and the callousness of the crowd, he saw love. Instead of evil living and unmentionable cruelties, he now saw incarnate goodness. Instead of hatred and lust and murder, he saw mercy and forgiveness.
How is this possible? How is it possible that a dying thief took a suffering, bleeding, crucified man for His God!?
All of this took place before the miraculous happenings of that day. He recognized the Christ before the three hours of darkness;
before the curtain of the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom; before the earth shook and the rocks split;
before the tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life;
before the centurion exclaimed, "Surely he was the Son of God!".
God used this moment, the most unfavorable of circumstances, to show that it is only by sovereign grace that the thief is saved. God shows us that salvation is only of the Lord.
This thief looked at love and realized what had been missing in his life.
He looked at forgiveness and felt the weight of his sin drop to the foot of the cross.
He looked at grace and knew there was hope - even on a cross. He looked at mercy and found a Savior.
He looked at everlasting life and would receive Paradise.
He was looking at Jesus and knew he was looking at the Son of God hanging on a tree and being unjustly crucified.
So, with one eye on Jesus and the other eye on the other thief he rebuked the other thief for his mockery of the Lord Jesus: "Don't you fear God," he said, "since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong." The thief confesses his sin and his evil. He acknowledges his guilt and the judgment of God upon his sin.