Friday, September 9, 2011

What Dying Men Talk About

Imagine that you knew you only had a few hours left to live.

Imagine that you got to spend those last moments with Jesus.

In what has got to be one of the most fascinating interchanges in the entire Bible, Luke records the words of two men who got to do just that.  Two criminals hang on crosses, the life slowly seeping from their bodies as they pay for their crimes.  Between them hangs this Jesus, also dying.  You'll find these words in chapter 23:

One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him:

"Aren't you the Christ? Save yourself and us!" 

But the other criminal rebuked him. 
"Don't you fear God," he said, 
"since you are under the same sentence? 

We are punished justly, 
for we are getting what our deeds deserve. 
But this man has done nothing wrong."  

Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." 

Jesus answered him, 
"I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise." 

In the chaos that led up to Golgotha, it's as if God handpicked these two men to die with Jesus to again show us the two ways men respond to Jesus.

The first bad guy, knowing that he has but a short time to live, doesn't soften his heart but remains hard and unbelieving.  His insults are laced with unbelief and his spine is stiff with unsubmission.   Men still approach God the same way.  

You're God, huh?  Prove it.  Heal my kid!  

We've got blood all over our hands but we approach God as if He owes us something.  The way to God is a faith that's marked by humility, brokenness and gratitude.

The second bad guy is, well, a bad guy.  But facing the end of his days he is much afraid.  And, he believes.  One simple statement, packed with meaning:

Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom

With these few profound words he recognizes that this really isn't the end--that there is something more waiting for him after he takes his last breath.  He also recognizes that Jesus is the true King.  And, in this same little sentence, he entrusts himself to Jesus, placing his eternal destiny into the hands of the man dying beside him.

One of the things that continually strikes me as I read the Gospels is who gets it, and who doesn't.  Most of the highly educated religious establishment of the day didn't get it.  Even this late in the story, it seems like some of Jesus' own disciples didn't get it.  A poor blind man on the road to Jericho got it.  And a dying convict got it.

No pit too deep.  No moment too late.