I’ve used the story of the thief on the cross many times to help people see who Jesus is and what he is able to do for them. The last day of his life was extraordinary. It began in the misery of a prison cell; it ended in the joy of heaven. Someone has said that the thief had breakfast with the devil and supper with the Savior. That’s an amazing transformation, and it shows what Jesus Christ can do for a person in a single day!
The story of the thief is unusual, but it teaches something that every person needs to know.
Getting into Heaven Doesn’t Depend on You
Entrance into heaven does not depend on your performance in the Christian life. Think about what happened to the thief: He trusted Christ and went to heaven on the same day. That means he missed out entirely on the Christian life. So he had no battles with temptation and no struggles with prayer. He never had the opportunity to be baptized, to receive communion, to join a church, or to serve in a ministry.
[tweet_box design=”default”]Entrance into heaven does not depend on your performance in the Christian life.[/tweet_box]
Many people believe that their entrance into heaven depends on living a good and godly life. They may believe that Jesus forgives, but deep down they feel that their progress in the Christian life is the key that will open the door of heaven. How could that possibly be true?
How the Thief Entered Heaven
The thief went to heaven without ever living the Christian life! He didn’t have the opportunity. With his hands fixed to the cross, he was in no position to do good works. With his feet nailed to a wooden beam, he could hardly walk in paths of righteousness. And with death only a few hours away, he didn’t have time to turn over a new leaf and live a better life.
What the thief did that day was deceptively simple. He turned to Jesus and said, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he waited for Jesus to respond. After all his wasted years, it would not have been surprising if Jesus had said to him, “Don’t you think it’s a little late for you to be thinking about my kingdom?”
After the hatred the thief had spewed out on Jesus only minutes before, he could not have complained if Jesus had said, “The kingdom of heaven is not for people like you.” But that is not Jesus’ way. He didn’t put the thief on probation or send him on a long spiritual journey. And he didn’t say, “We’ll have to wait and see.”
Instead, Jesus joyfully accepted the thief’s prayer. Jesus accepted him freely and gladly, without hesitation or condition. “Amen,” he said. And then, after a short pause, “I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
If Jesus could save the thief, who clearly had not lived a moral life, then there is hope in Jesus even for the person who is far away from God. There is hope for every person in Jesus Christ. This is what we learn from the thief.