39One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at Him: “Aren’t You the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” 40But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this Man has done nothing wrong.” 42Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” (Luke 23:39-42, NIV)
As Jesus hung on the cross, mocked by the leaders of Jerusalem, the Roman soldiers, and even one of the criminals being crucified with Him, the other crucified criminal sensed that Jesus was being treated unjustly. “This man has done nothing wrong,” he said. After speaking up for Jesus, he asks Jesus to remember him. Jesus responded to this criminal, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
We have before us one of the most astounding and encouraging verses and also one of the most perplexing in all of Scripture. Jesus promised that the criminal would be with Him in Paradise. Yet Luke gives us no reason to believe this man had been a follower of Jesus or even a believer in Him in any sense. The man might have felt sorry for his sins, but he did not obviously repent. Rather, the criminal’s cry to be remembered seems more like a desperate, last-gasp effort. If indeed Jesus was some sort of king, the man figured, then he might as well ask to be included in Jesus’s kingdom. This was indeed mustard seed faith, a tiny bit at most. Yet Jesus assured this baby believer that he would join Jesus in Paradise that very day.
Though we should make every effort to have right theology, and though we should live our lives each day as active disciples of Jesus, in the end our relationship with Him comes down to simple trust, naked dependence on His grace. “Jesus, remember me,” we cry, like the criminal. And Jesus, embodying the mercy of God, says to us, “You will be with me in Paradise.” We are welcome to that place of eternal glory because God is “rich in mercy” and wants to show us “the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:4,7).
Indeed, Jesus will remember us when He comes into His kingdom. But we don’t have to wait to be remembered by Jesus. In a matter of speaking, He “remembers” us right now. Through the Spirit, He is present in our lives. When we serve others in His name, we are serving Jesus. We don’t even have to wait for Paradise in order to know that Jesus is with us. When we face the uncertainties and fears of this life, when we endure suffering and loss, when we wonder if God is there for us, we need to know that Jesus has not forgotten us. He is with us. He remembers us . . . even right now!
Lord Jesus, how I wonder at your grace and mercy! Like the criminal, I cry to You, “Lord, remember me!” Today I live trusting You and You alone.