The Thieves and Divine Mercy

And he said to Jesus, ‘Remember me, Jesus, when you come as King! Jesus said to him, ‘I promise you that today you will be in paradise with me.’ Luke 23:42-43

Jesus had just suffered great hardship and disgrace and been crucified. He was humiliated in public, wore a crown of thorn, not a crown designed with precious stones, gold, diamonds, rubies, no! But it was made out of thorns that pierced His head. He was crucified among thieves. They deserved their punishment, and one of the thieves even admits it, “You received the same sentence he did. Ours, however, is only right,” Luke 23:40-41. Indeed we can see how He felt. Jesus Christ had done nothing wrong, and still they treated Him like any other criminal, they crucified Him with two bandits.

The worst is yet to come.

He was abandoned by His own Father who had sent Him to this Earth to do humankind a favor. We can imagine just how He feels when he cries out to His Father in pain and sorrow, feeling abandoned among people He came to save, “Jesus cried out with loud shout ’Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why did you abandon me?’” Matthew 27:46. Indeed there had never been such tragic and dark three hours since God had created humankind on earth. Jesus utters here a complaint from Psalm 22. Here he teaches us how Scripture can be used to direct us in prayer and redemption.

Jesus was crucified between two thieves. In them are shown the different effects Christ’s cross has on the children of men in the preaching of the Gospel. One who had a hardened heart didn’t want to believe until the last moment. What an opportunity he had, the Messiah was next to him, crucified, yes, but still next to him ready to forgive him, but all he wanted at that moment was to get rid of his nails.

On the other hand, the other thief rebukes his fellow offender for his attitude when the Messiah is just next to him. The man’s faith is just amazing. We can see this in his prayer, “Remember me, Jesus, when you come as king.” He believed in the life to come, he wanted to be happy later on, knowing that he hadn’t lived the ideal life. He only says, “Jesus remember me,” nothing else. He let Christ decide if he wanted to forgive him or not. What a true repentance that was. We see that in his prayer. He knew that he was a criminal and had done things to people that could not be forgiven. That’s why in his prayer we see that he knows that the man crucified next to Him is the real Messiah who had come to save humankind. Such humility can’t be seen often. He didn’t even beg Jesus for his life, his prayer was sincere.

The truly amazing aspect of this story though is that Jesus answers, “I promise you that today you will be in paradise with me.” Now, at that moment, Jesus was in such agony and distress, betrayed by His Father, feeling such pain that no one else could ever experience, crucified by the ones he had come to save. The amazing aspect of Jesus that we see here is that Christ is the same on the cross, in agony, and on the throne of Glory. He showed such mercy that has never been seen in the history of humankind. How much then should we show mercy to our brother or sister who comes to us with a repentant heart?

Now anyone reading this story might say, “Oh, well, it’s okay then. I’ll live my life the way I want to, do all the things that I wish, even if most of them are against Christ’s teachings, all will be fine in the end, because I can always confess on my deathbed, and God will always forgive me as He forgave that thief on the cross.”

Well, before you get your hopes too high, we should take this case to be a singular one. No one can be sure that they’ll have time to repent at death, and you can be sure that you won’t have the advantages this penitent thief had. Let’s take a look at it.

1. he rebukes the other thief for saying, “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

2. he admits that he deserved what he got, “We are getting what we deserve”.

3. he believed that Jesus suffered unjustly, “But he has done no wrong”.

4. he said all this before the amazing events happened: “The sun stopped shining and darkness covered the whole country.”

5. he believed that Jesus was King, and finally most important of all

6. the thief asked for Jesus. His request was, “Remember me, Jesus”. Hence, he was humbled with true repentance, and he brought forth all the fruits for repentance his circumstances would admit.

By his act of grace Jesus teaches us that He came to Earth to open the Kingdom of God to all penitent, obedient believers. “I have come in order that you might have life; life in all its fullness.” John 10:10

Vahé Jébéjian