There are four biographies of Jesus in the Bible (Written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John). They all tell us that Jesus was executed between two criminals. Luke describes something that happened between them while the were hanging on those three crosses;
Luke 23:39-43 (NIV)
One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? 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, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Jesus promised paradise to a criminal he was being executed with!
This criminal said himself that he deserved death. So this was a bad bloke. And he was about to die. So he couldn’t change his ways or try to make things right. He had nothing to offer anyone. And it would appear that he had nothing to lose by asking Jesus to help him. Anyone would think he was a lost cause.
But he made a bizarre request. He asked Jesus to help him when Jesus became the king.
Jesus had claimed that he was the king who God sent to save the world – the Messiah. But he was about to die a shameful death among criminals. Even the other criminal mocked Jesus. It appeared that Jesus was a fool.
Except that Jesus said he would save people by dying – the innocent in place of the guilty. The criminal did not deserve anything but punishment from God. But Jesus, who had done nothing wrong, died to take the shame of others. In fact it was by dying that he came into his kingdom. So Jesus could promise, “today you will be with me in paradise.” And God proved Jesus is the saviour by raising him to life again.
This is the extent of God’s grace. He loves us regardless of our deserving. So count on God’s kindness, and never give up on yourself or others.