Once upon a time, there were two men who lived in a land far away. These men were very much alike. They had similar backgrounds, similar interests, similar lifestyles and though there is no way to know for certain, they very well may have been close friends. But what’s fascinating is that one fateful day, these two men found themselves in the exact same situation, the exact same set of circumstances. But, in one decisive moment, their destinies went in complete opposite directions. In one instant, these two who were once so alike, so similar in so many ways, were now polar opposites, as different as darkness is from light.
The story of these two men is found in the Bible. There isn’t that much written about them, but what is written about them tells us a lot about something that is vital to every one of us, and that is our eternal destiny. And when I say eternal destiny, I simply mean where we ultimately end up after we die. For these two men, that end was now staring them both in the face. They didn’t have years, months or days before they met their fate, but a few short hours.
We meet them in the 23rd chapter of Luke. Two men, one was on the right and the other was on the left of Jesus. Their situation is identical. Both are guilty criminals given the death sentence. Both are there, suffering the pain of crucifixion. They are both hanging there, slowly dying a horrific death right next to Jesus. And as they press against their nail pierced feet pulling themselves upward in agony to fill their collapsing lungs with air, breath after excruciating breath, it doesn’t stop them from hurling insults at him, saying the same things Jesus’ enemies are saying.
But as we continue reading through Luke’s historical account of that day, something interesting happens. At some point in time, things begin to change. The two men that were so similar now seem to see things differently. Something happens in the heart of one of them. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, he begins to observe things as they are. He rightly sees his spiritual bankruptcy and recognizes that all that he is receiving is due payment for his crimes. He starts to view himself for who he really is, a wretched, wicked sinner who is in desperate need of God’s mercy and forgiveness.
Think about this, moments earlier this man could not care less about the identity of Jesus Christ. But then he has a 180-degree change of mind. Instead of mocking Jesus like the man next to him, he begins crying out to Him for mercy, for pity! Moments earlier, this man likely thought that Jesus was a nobody. But then through the power of God moving in his heart, his eyes are opened to see Jesus with clarity, as the true King and Son of God. Think about these two criminals. They both were guilty and deserving of death; not only death on a cross, but eternal death in hell. But only one of them recognizes the need for Jesus’ mercy. Understanding that what is happening to him is just, he then cries out for Jesus’ amazing Grace.
And what is Jesus’ response? He says to him: “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” Not tomorrow, not a few months, not several years, but TODAY. Friend, this is true for all who put their faith in Jesus Christ, for all who understand their dire condition and need for God’s mercy. Now, did this man get to heaven because he was good or because he religious? No. Did he get to heaven because he went to church, or because he was baptized? Absolutely not! What was it that saved him? He understood that he didn’t deserve heaven. He clearly recognized his sinful, wretched condition and that he deserved an eternal death sentence. You see, God in His infinite grace, sovereignly and instantly opened this man’s eyes to see his need for a Savior, and then granted him faith to believe in Jesus.
And in those moments as he hung there next to the Lord of Glory, this low down, dirty rotten criminal put his faith in the Savior. He trusted in Christ’s righteousness, not his own and He surrendered his life to Him as his Lord. And when Jesus saw this man’s faith, He confirmed and comforted him by giving this assurance. Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” Friend, the words Christ spoke on that cross are as powerful today as they were then. The message remains the same. The question is, like this thief, do you recognize your need? If your life was demanded of you today, do you know your eternal destiny? Have you surrendered your life to Christ? If not, what are you waiting for?