Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:42-43)
Two criminals hung on crosses on either side of Jesus – an innocent man. One hurled insults, but the other recognized his sinfulness, and came to Jesus with a repentant heart. “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
This man recognized that Jesus was his savior. He knew that this innocent man was Lord and King. What strikes me, is that he only asks that Jesus remember him. He doesn’t ask for Jesus to fix his situation. I suspect he knew Jesus had the ability to come down from the cross if he chose, or even save his life on earth. But he doesn’t say, “Jesus, get off of that cross and get me down too.” He says, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Jesus responds saying, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Despite the wrong he has done, the criminal is forgiven, he is remembered, and belongs to the kingdom.
John Calvin writes,
What is promised to the robber does not alleviate his present sufferings, nor make any abatement of his bodily punishment. This reminds us that we ought not to judge of the grace of God by the perception of the flesh; for it will often happen that those to whom God is reconciled are permitted by him to be severely afflicted. (Calvin, Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists, Luke XXIII 43)
The criminal is forgiven, belongs to Jesus, but he still suffers in this world. God does not promise to remove our afflictions in this world when we come to him. But, what is to come, is much greater. Too often we forget this. The criminal on the cross understands. He knows he is deserving of the punishment. He knows he is undeserving of Jesus’ grace. Yet, he receives it. He will still suffer in this world, but what is to come is much greater.
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)
I was just like the impudent, rebellious thief for far too long…on my cross, defiant, unwilling to pray for forgiveness and mercy for my sin. Now I truly have been crucified with Christ, now I can truly say: “Jesus, remember me, when You come into Your kingdom.”