Do you ever think you are too far gone for God's forgiveness? Do you think others are too far gone to be saved? Luke 23:39-45 is one of the best examples of repentance in scripture. It also demonstrates the awesome, saving power of God. This text is commonly held up as the example of how far a sinner can go and still be saved. The separation between God and man was destroyed through the cross and resurrection! The heart of this passage is that God will not reject a repentant sinner no matter what they have done. Let's look at each verse of Luke 23:39-45:
"One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” (Luke 23:39). In those days, crucifixion was only reserved for the lowest of criminals. It was against Roman law to crucify Roman citizens. They were beheaded. Here in this verse we have a scenario where Jesus, the sinless One, crucified next to a lowly criminal. The criminal begins to mock and scoff at Jesus. The criminal taunts Jesus by saying, “if thou be Christ.” The word used here for “Christ” means “anointed one”. It is the proper name that was used for Jesus. The word, “save” means to deliver from danger. The criminal tempted Jesus to save himself along with the two other criminals.
"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.” (Luke 23:40-41): The repentant criminal rebukes the unrepentant criminal for His blasphemous taunting of Jesus. The repentant criminal rebukes by asking the question, “Don’t you fear God,” His conscience bore witness to the fact that he was witnessing a great injustice. Here, the repentant criminal gives the reason for his rebuke. He confesses that he rightfully deserved their sentence of crucifixion. That is that the repentant criminal recognized that he had done something wrong. It takes a heart of repentance to surrender to Christ. The criminal expresses his surprise at the unrepentant criminal’s actions because Jesus had done absolutely nothing deserving of execution. The word “justly” means honestly, justly, as it is fit, proper, or right.
"Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom (Luke 23:42): In this verse the repentant criminal now addresses Jesus. His request is very simple. It was one of total dependence upon the mercy of Jesus. It was totally absent of any excuse or self-righteousness. The criminal addresses Jesus as, “Lord”. This word can mean master, owner, or possessor. He recognized Jesus for who He is, the Savior. The word here for “kingdom” refers to the kingdom of heaven.
"Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43): Jesus replies to the repentant criminal’s request in the previous verse. Jesus gives an extra assurance of His words by adding, “Verily, verily,” or “truly, truly.” Jesus then goes onto tell the repentant criminal that “today” he would be with Him in paradise. Note that it was today and not some future time. This passage verse teaches that believers are immediately ushered into heaven, into the presence of the Lord. The word for paradise refers to heaven.
"It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two" (Luke 23:44-45): The time period in which Jesus was crucified was 9:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. A total of six hours. However, from 12:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. darkness fell over the whole earth. This verse does not just say in a particular area but over the earth. The word for earth here means the entire physical planet. This verse goes on to note that even the sun’s light was darkened. The veil of the temple was said to be about six inches thick. It divided the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple. There was no machine or device at that time that was capable of tearing that veil all the way from top to bottom. This was a clear act of God’s awesome power. Many commentators believe that this act meant that we not have direct access to God’s presence. No longer do we have to go through the Levitical priesthood as representatives for us. Now we can go straight to God if we trust in His son Jesus.
One of Jesus' last conversations was the forgiveness of a criminal. In comparison to God, we are all criminals. We have broken His heart through our sin and rebellion. We are broken, lost and in need of salvation.
Thank you Jesus for taking my place on the cross and for eternally forgiving me!