In chapters 11 and 12 in Charles Colson’s book Loving God, he centered in on Jesus’ death and the contrasting response of the two thieves. It is interesting that only Luke records the dialogue and the tale of two hearts. The one’s response: “Are you the Christ? Save ourself and us!” in 23:39 and the other’s response: “”Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong. Jesus, remember me in Your kingdom.” (Luke 23:40-42)
The first heart is kind of like the movie “Dead Man Walking,” where the nun would come and visit the death row inmate again and again, begging him to admit what he did. He continually denied that he killed the two young people that he was to be executed for. When I first watched it, I wondered why she would spend so much time trying to get him to admit that he did it and not spend more time talking about getting ready to stand before God and to face eternity. But then it made sense. The very act of admitting that he did it is the first step to repentance. If you don’t get over that, you will never turn away from your sin and to Jesus.
That’s the unrepentant heart of the first thief–mocking Jesus just like the crowd beneath the cross. It tells us in Luke 23:39 that he railed at Jesus. Isn’t that what we do when we deny that it was our fault, claiming to be a victim of the circumstances and then accusing and blaming God and others for our plight? Joining in the chorus of the unrepentant, stone cold heart was the crowd calling out “Give us Barabbas.” That’s the heart that is set on rejecting Jesus, siding with the political correctness of the day by calling out instead “We have no king but Caesar.”
The crowd is never right, be it known. It was ruled by the vocal minority, consisting of the chief priest and the rulers of the people. Sometimes we may look over our shoulders and second guess ourselves because it’s only us and a few odd ball others that are standing alone and outnumbered. Remember Matthew 7:12,13 that clearly states that the way is narrow and few there be that find it.
The second heart was indicating a fear of God and the innocence of Jesus. And when he said
“Remember me in Your kingdom,” it sounds like an indication that he was acknowledging that Jesus was indeed the Son of God, the awaited Anointed One and that he was placing his belief in Him with his dying breath.
Repentance. It’s not just for unbelievers. As followers of Jesus, it may be easy to think that we’re pretty good people and that we haven’t done many gross sins like those who became Christians later in life. We even hesitate to tell our testimonies, thinking that we don’t have much of a story to tell. Oh yes, we do! We’re not pretty good people. Our inward sins of pride, comparison, competition, selfishness and materialism are just as ugly and repulsive to a holy God as the outward sins. The Pharisees were much like that and Jesus had a lot of biting comments for their hearts and actions. We may be like King Saul who could sing Sinatra’s song well “I did it my way.” Do you practice delayed obedience, partial obedience and cling to doing things your way, then justify why to God when chastened? Do you have a stubborn or angry heart and not a soft and sensitive one?
The more we get to know God’s holiness and our inward and outward ugliness, even as believers, the more it should open our eyes to who we really are without Jesus. And then, may it cause us to cling to the cross and to Jesus because it’s only through Him that we are righteous before God. And to repent quickly, turning to His forgiveness that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord (Acts 3:19,20).
In the Jewish tradition, the ten days from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur are called the Days of Awe. They spend those days mourning over their sin and awaiting God’s judgment for them. The ten days are a time of repentance. One day this will be fulfilled, as Zechariah 12:10 records that the Jews “will look on Me, on Him whom they have pierced and they shall mourn for Him.”
End of Jewish lesson and on to us: do we mourn over our sins and repent before the Lord? On page 122 of Loving God, Colson summarizes reflecting on our sin and the cross well:
“When we see the reality of our sin, we come face to face with it and look into the raging fires of hell itself, and when we then repent and believe and we are delivered from that plight, our entire being is filled with unspeakable gratitude to the God who sent His Son to that cross for us. We must express that gratitude…by living the way He commands, by obedience, by holy living. Holy living is loving God.”
Acts 13:38-39 “Through Jesus forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you and by Him everyone who believes is freed from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses (or by our own devices: me)”
Colossians 2:14-15 “He canceled the written code with its regulations and cancelled the record of debt that was against us; He took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”
Hallelujah, what a Savior!