What a Criminal Taught Me About Real Love

Cries of desperation escaped him in his dying moments. His entire life was one of self-fulfillment and deceit. This man was no one to be proud of. In fact, he was looked down upon.

Now, as his life flashed before his eyes, he could only wonder if God would ever accept him. 

It was in this thief’s lowest moment when Jesus uttered a promise. Salvation was his. Even though he had made mistakes. Even though he had lied and hurt people. He had finally found what he had been searching for- real love.

You’re probably familiar with this story. It’s found in Luke 23:39-43. It wasn’t until recently that I could see how much this actually applies to our lives today. You might not be a thief in his dying moments, but maybe you’re searching for the same thing.

Maybe you’ve messed up time and time again and feel like you’ll never be able to change. Maybe you fear that you’ll be stuck in this cycle forever and even God can’t get you out. If that’s you, you don’t have to face this alone. But you do have to make a choice.

You see, this thief wasn’t the only one in the story.

There were, in fact, two criminals. Both of them liars. Both of them searching. Both of them with two very different outcomes.

 The First Criminal

As Jesus was dying on the cross, there were also two other men, on either side of Him, being put to death.

“If you are the Christ, save yourself and us.” These words came from the first man. He’d heard about Jesus. He’d heard of His power. Yet, even in these dark moments, He didn’t believe. Instead, He blasphemed against God.

Even though He had seen Jesus’ saving power in other people’s lives, He had a bitterness toward Him. If Jesus had was all powerful, why was He letting them die? If Jesus was all powerful, why wasn’t He saving Himself? If…if…if.

The Second Criminal

Meanwhile, as the first man spoke against Jesus, the second man rebuked him.

“Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.”

You see, this man realized that He deserved death. He deserved to be punished for the way he lived his life, but Jesus didn’t. And, even though Jesus had done nothing wrong, He was still willing to die.

Instead of growing angry at Jesus for not saving them, He humbled himself. It was then that he uttered these well-known words. “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”

At that, Jesus answered and said, “Assuredly, I say to you today, you will be with Me in Paradise.”

What Made the Difference?

Two criminals, both in their dying moments. In the middle, the very Son of God.

Why is it that one man was bitter and angry at God, while the other humbled himself and felt unworthy? They had both seen God’s power. They had both heard that Jesus was the Christ, yet only one believed it.

You see, the first man had hardened his heart toward God. He blamed God for not doing something. If God really cared, why hadn’t He saved them from death?

The second man understood that he had made many mistakes. He had lived his life for himself and deserved to die. He didn’t blame God for His problems, instead, He turned toward God.

This story doesn’t only apply to these criminals either. This happens now. 

Some of us are in the same place as the first criminal. We blame God for what’s happened in our lives. We see His power in other people’s lives, but we don’t see it in our own. We’re angry at God for not doing what we want Him to do.

Some of us are in the same place as the second criminal. We’ve done things we’re not proud of. Our entire life has been one of selfishness and lies. We know we’re unworthy to even be loved by God, yet we believe. Instead of running away from God, we’re running to Him.

Because when Jesus died, He died for everyone. He died for the people whom He knew would never accept Him. He died for the people who use their free-will to hurt others.

Whether we’re in the place of the first criminal or the second, Jesus died for us. He loves us with an everlasting love. He just wants us to run to Him and accept His love.

Life won’t be easy- it never is. But the sooner we realize that God isn’t the author of life’s problems, the sooner we’ll be willing to let Him change our life.

Real love isn’t about making all our problems go away. Real love is Jesus Christ reaching out to a sinner saying, “Assuredly I say to you today, you will be with me in Paradise.”

What are your thoughts?

Are you in the place of the first criminal or the second?

Do you believe that Jesus loves you and is willing to change you, if you’ll only let Him?