There’s this moment on the cross when Jesus is about to die that seems strange to me. It’s one that’s easy to gloss over, or ignore, or even turn into a debate: Jesus’ encounter with the thief on the cross. As he was crucified, two thieves jeered and mocked him. But as the day went on, one turned from being a scoffer to a believer and defender:
But the other answered, rebuking him: “Don’t you even fear God, since you are undergoing the same punishment? We are punished justly, because we’re getting back what we deserve for the things we did, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Luke 23:40-42)
There’s so much to be said about this passage. Without question, it is a powerful challenge to those who behave as though our salvation is dependent upon our works. Without a doubt it is a glorious picture of justification by faith alone. But it is also a picture of hope. I love the way J.C. Ryle addressed this in his tract, “Christ and the Two Thieves”:
Reader, the Lord Jesus never gave so complete a proof of His power and will to save, as He did upon this occasion. In the day when He seemed most weak, He showed that He was a strong deliverer. In the hour when His body was racked with pain, He showed that he could feel tenderly for others. At the time when He Himself was dying, He conferred on a sinner eternal life.
Now, have I not a right to say, Christ is able to save to the uttermost all them that come unto God by Him? Behold the proof of it. If ever sinner was too far gone to be saved, it was this thief. Yet he was plucked as a brand from the fire.
The thief on the cross should give us hope for those we know who are far from Christ. They may be caught up in the darkest of sins. They may be fully committed to their love of darkness. They may have scoffed and rejected Christ at every opportunity. But there is still hope. As long as they still have breath, there is an opportunity for their heart to be transformed by Jesus, and for them to turn from their sins in faith.
No one is too far gone for him.
So let’s not lose heart as we seek to share the gospel with all. Instead, let’s hold fast to our confidence in Christ. If he could save the thief on the cross, and if he could save people like me, then he can save anyone. And that is all the reason for hope we need.