March 3, 2024 . . .“Bible prayers: Jesus, remember me” Luke 23:42

March 3, 2024 . . .“Bible prayers: Jesus, remember me” Luke 23:42

March 03, 2024

“Bible prayers: Jesus, remember me”

Luke 23:42

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

Sy Kravitz was a hard man, an ex-Green Beret and a serial cheater on his wife, actress Roxie Roker. When his son Lenny Kravitz confronted him about it, he said, “You’ll do it too.”

But years later, dying of cancer, Sy Kravitz finally came to believe in Jesus. He said to his family, “I’m sorry for what I’ve done, how I’ve been, and how I’ve treated you. And I love you.”

Then as he drew close to death, he looked at his son Lenny and said, “There’s angels all around the room. Because of Jesus.”

Born Arthur Simon Flegenheimer, notorious gangster “Dutch Schultz” was once Public Enemy Number 1. But in October of 1935, when he was gunned down in the back of a bar, he was rushed to a hospital. And there, as he lay dying, he called for a Catholic priest. So the priest baptized him and gave him communion. Four days later, he was buried in a cemetery in New York City called “The Gate of Heaven.”

American icon of masculinity and patriotism, John Wayne appeared in more than 175 movies. He played dozens of cowboys in numerous Westerns. If you’ve ever watched an old war movie, it probably starred the Duke.

But John Wayne was never a religious man. That was the farthest thing from his mind. Yet somehow, by the grace of God, as he stood at death’s door, this three-time-married, hard drinking, six-packs-a-day smoking, larger-than-life movie star came to believe in Jesus. And just before cancer took his life at the age of seventy-two, he asked that a priest would come and baptize him.

A little over ten years ago, former atheist and adult convert Karen Edmisten wrote a book she called Deathbed Conversions: Finding Faith at the Finish Line. This is what she said: “I still recall in vivid detail the mixture of pain, fear, relief, and happiness that I felt when I sank to my knees one day, admitting to God and myself the sins I’d committed. I knew the things I’d done were grievous, but I finally understood that God loved and accepted me anyway. Years of desperation could end; I believed there was something else out there for me. I was finally ready to take the leap--and the risk--of faith.”

Deathbed conversions--these incredible acts of grace in the last moments of life never cease to amaze us.

So it was for a thief on a cross.

I’ll read the words of Luke 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’” (Luke 23:39-43).

Whenever we think of Calvary, we always focus on the cross in the center--Jesus’ cross. That’s the one that held our Savior, dying for the sins of the world.

But there wasn’t only one cross on the hill that day. There were two others--one on His right and one on His left. Have you ever thought about why?

Now we can’t say for sure, but it seems that the crosses on each side of Jesus represent, in a very real way, the destiny that lies before each and every one of us--heaven or hell--the place where we’ll spend eternity.

On one side of Jesus stood what we might call the cross of rebellion. The Bible says, “One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at Him” (Luke 23:39).

It wasn’t enough that Jesus had been convicted of crimes He did not commit. It wasn’t enough that soldiers beat Him to within an inch of His life, divided His clothes, and drove nails through His hands and feet. And it wasn’t enough that His own disciples forsook Him and fled. But now, hanging somewhere between life and death, suffering the insults of soldiers, chief priests, and all who passed by, now even one of those crucified with Him heaped insults on Him, saying, ‘Aren’t You the Christ? Save Yourself and us” (Luke 23:39).

So who were these men? Translators use different words to describe them--”thieves, robbers, malefactors, bandits.” Luke’s word means “hoods, thugs, cutthroat killers, violent criminals, members of the underworld, bad-to-the-bone members of the criminal class.” Rome didn’t crucify simple thieves. Suffice it to say, they were not nice guys.

Tradition suggests that they were political revolutionaries who were bent on overthrowing the yoke of Roman rule. If it’s true, then it’s easy to think of them as ruthless men, who thought nothing of using violence to achieve their political aims. One of them was even willing to admit it. He said, “We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve” (Luke 23:41).

Beyond that, we don’t know much about them. We don’t know their names or their hometowns or the specific crimes they committed. Were they partners in crime? Were they brothers? There’s no way we can know for sure. All we know is that both were sentenced to die at the same time, in the same place, in the same way, and on the same day. Both had been severely beaten. Both were covered in blood. And before the day was over, both would be dead.

And while one demanded escape, “Aren’t You the Christ? Save Yourself and us!” the other begged for forgiveness.

Now if truth be known, there’s no reason to believe that this man was any better than the other man. Matthew writes that, at first, both criminals insulted Him. But somewhere, sometime, something changed. And while the first criminal died in his sin, the second died to his sin. Suddenly, unexpectedly, above the noise of the street and the shouting of the crowd, he turned to Jesus and prayed, “Remember me when You come into Your kingdom” (Luke 23:42).

So what happened? We may never know. Maybe once in his life, he loved God. Maybe one day he was walking near the temple and he heard Jesus speak. And in that moment, he wondered if He was some kind of a prophet sent from God. Or maybe somewhere, there was a wife or a daughter or a father or a mother who prayed that God would save him.

Whatever the reason, he knew full well that he had come to the end of his life. No one survived crucifixion. And as he came face to face with what his deeds deserved, that he was a thief, a robber, a murderer, right there beside him, was Jesus.

And with deep sorrow and sincere repentance, in his last moments of life, he turned to pray the simplest prayer anyone could pray: “Jesus, remember me.”

“Jesus,” he said. The first one and the only one in all of Scripture to ever call Him by His real name, a name that meant Savior, Deliverer.

“Remember me.” Not “Help me” or “Save me” or “Promise that I’ll go to heaven when I die.” Instead, he said, “Remember me.”

“When You come into Your kingdom.” Not this imperfect kingdom, this dark cloud of power and injustice. Enough of this kingdom. Instead, Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.

Throughout all of Jesus’ life and ministry, He said, “He who comes to Me I will not cast out!” (John 6:37). And He said, “Come to Me all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest!” (Matthew 11:28).

His accusers called Him “a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Matthew 11:19). And they were right! He was their best and dearest Friend. And now, even as He dies on the cross, there’s yet one more that yearns to come to Him.

And even in His pain and agony, Jesus calls out His most wonderful Word of promise: “Today, you will be with Me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).

The story of Jesus’ death is filled with characters who do the unexpected. Disciples fall asleep. Those who demand His death are not the Romans, but the Jews, His own countrymen. It was they who insisted that Jesus be crucified and Barabbas be set free.

And who calls Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God? Not Annas or Caiaphas or Herod the king. Instead, it was the Roman governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate, who nailed the words above His head: “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” And it was a Roman commander of a hundred men who exclaimed, “Truly, this Man was the Son of God.”

It is all so ironic. The disciples hid. The religious leaders scoffed. But it was a criminal who, in his last moments of life, confessed Jesus and was received into everlasting life.

Now we know it didn’t happen. As the Bible so clearly says, soldiers came only minutes later to break his legs, to be sure that he was really dead.

But imagine for a moment that, for some, strange, unexplained reason, Pilate changed his mind and decided to let that thief hanging beside Jesus come down from the cross. And given a brand new, second-chance on life, he gave up his life of crime. Then he went on to find a home and a job and someone to share his life with--a wife and children.

And wonder of wonders, he even became active in his church and community, sharing with the poor and with anyone who needed help.

And imagine him remembering, in his darker moments, those dreadful hours on the cross--his desperate prayer and the shocking answer, knowing that whatever life would throw at him, Paradise was waiting for him.

Can you see him sharing his story with anyone who would listen, the story of him being saved by his Savior? Imagine him telling his friends, his family, his children, and his grandchildren. It would have been the best time of his life!

And this is the best time of our life, knowing that we too have a new life, for we are that thief who’s been let down from the cross. The only question is, is what will we do with this precious new life?

We’ve spent a lot of time talking about the cross on the right and the cross on the left, but let’s not forget about the most important one--the cross in the middle. While one is the cross of rebellion and the other is the cross of repentance, the cross of Jesus is the cross of redemption. And while one man died in his sin, and the other died to his sin, Jesus died for our sin.

That’s what Peter wrote in his first epistle: “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that we might die to sin and live for righteousness; by His wounds you are healed” (I Peter 2:24).

A little over two hundred and fifty years ago, William Cowper wrote this: “There is a fountain filled with blood, drawn from Immanuel’s veins. And sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains. The dying thief rejoiced to see that fountain in his day. And there may I, though vile as he, wash all my sins away.”

Dear Father, as the repentant thief once prayed, so we ask You to remember us. Then grant that, by Your grace, You may welcome even us, into Paradise, for Jesus’ sake. Amen