Hanging on crosses a few feet away from the Savior of the world.
One hopeless, filled with hate,
The other... broken, self-aware, penitent, hanging on to hope.
The question is, Would Jesus care for either one?
They both deserved to die.
The blood of innocents was on their nail-pierced hands.
They had been tried, condemned, and crucified as Roman law demanded.
So what was the difference between the two thieves?
Was one less sinful than the other?
Less guilty? More enlightened?
It had nothing to do with their goodness
And everything to do with God's grace.
The one thief scorned grace,
"Save yourself and us," he said to Jesus.
It wasn't that he wanted to reform his life, to start over again.
He just wanted to avoid death.
The second thief? He knew he deserved to die.
"We are punished justly," he said as he hung on his cross.
With empty hands outstretched, he asked for grace:
"Remember me when you come into your kingdom."
He was dying for grace,
And he found grace.
He found grace in the eyes of the Lord.
"You will be with me in Paradise."
A hymn by William Cowper speaks of this man, this penitent criminal:
There is a fountain filled with blood,
Drawn from Immanuel's veins;
And sinners, plunged beneath that flood,
Lose all their guilty stains.
The dying thief rejoiced to see
That fountain in his day;
And there have I, as vile as he,
Washed all my sins away.
In these two thieves are the faces of every person who has ever lived.
We are all as vile as they.
All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.
All are sons of Adam and daughters of Eve,
Have broken God's law, deserve to die,
Should die at the hands of a just God.
But the God of justice is also the God of grace.
Like the thief, we look over to the cross where a guiltless man hangs,
The only guiltless man who ever lived,
The Son of God, Immanuel,
And we cry out, "Jesus, have mercy. Remember me when you come into your kingdom."
And his words echo down through time to everyone who calls on the name of the Lord:
"I tell you the truth, you too will be with me in Paradise."
Two criminals, both guilty.
The one died, but lived again.
The other was within feet of the Author of life, but chose death.
Which thief are you?