One of the criminals who was hanged insulted him, saying, “If you are the Christ, save yourself and us!”
But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Don’t you even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” He said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”
Jesus said to him, “Assuredly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
There are only two kinds of people in the world and we see both of them portrayed here. They are represented by the two men on either side of Jesus. Both groups are made up of condemned criminals and according to the Bible, all of us are. The only difference between the two groups is how they relate to Jesus.
As criminals in God’s court, we have a choice to make. We can either hang on to our pride and mock Jesus as we slowly move toward our death or we can recognize and admit that “we receive the due reward for our deeds” and ask Jesus for His mercy.
Just as both groups are unable to help themselves because they were tied to crosses, so we are unable to stop our own inevitable death. We cannot get off of our cross and start doing good deeds. We can’t offer Jesus anything because we have no ability to do anything that could change our own condition.
Fortunately, the whole reason that Jesus died was to save criminals like us and asking Jesus for His help was the only thing that was required. In fact, any effort to save ourselves would corrupt the free gift that God holds out to mankind through Jesus. Notice that this man didn’t pray a long prayer or list all of his sins, although it is obvious he admitted to them. He didn’t even ask Jesus into his heart. Instead, he just asked the only one who could help him to remember him. He believed that Jesus was the Messiah by recognizing Jesus as the having the Kingdom. That is all that we must do to be Christians: we must believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the only one able to save us.
A Christian isn’t any better than any other criminal. The difference is that a Christian has found favor from Jesus because he believes that he deserves his punishment and that Jesus is who He says He is.