Luke 23:39-43 - One of the criminals who were hanged railed at Him, saying, "Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!" But the other rebuked him, saying, "Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong." And he said, "Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom." And He said to him, "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in paradise."
Just who was this blessed criminal who turned from his transgressions to the Savior, from death to eternal life? History and the Bible are silent, but tradition has given him a name: Dysmas. Christian chapels inside prison walls have sometimes been named in his honor: "The Church of St. Dysmas." That's not irony. It's reassurance for those who are incarcerated. In the hour of his horrific execution, Dysmas, a great sinner, became a saint, that is, he became a child of God whose sins have been forgiven.
On the cross, Dysmas was in the presence of the Holy Christ. It is possible that Dysmas had been among the many publicans and sinners who had come to hear Jesus. The seed of God's Word can lay dormant in a man's heart for a long time and then sprout unexpectedly, growing quickly. Dysmas must at least have heard about the "prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee" (Matthew 21:11b). For three years there had been a great deal of talk about Him. And, no doubt, this day Dysmas was watching Christ with extreme interest ever since their death march began along the Via Dolorosa to Calvary.
As Dysmas gazed at Christ from his cross, the picture changed as a scene on a screen fades from one image into another. The innocent Christ became the diehard sinner's Comforter, his life-giving Savior. Dysmas knew that Jesus would be able to help him. For Dysmas there was no time to atone for his sin, so he cast himself completely at the mercy of the Savior.
And Jesus' reply to this last-minute plea? "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in paradise." Human justice was saying, "Punish the criminal severely." God was saying, "Forgive the man completely." Most of us would consign such a man to hell or certainly to jail; instead, Christ took him to heaven. Many would say he would first have to be purged before God would accept him. But Christ's forgiveness is complete. His mercy sweeps aside all thought of atoning for one's sin. Therefore, rather than condemnation, the Savior welcomed this man into heaven.
This is the same love and mercy God has for you and me! No matter what our sin, God's forgiveness is greater. On the cross, Jesus atoned for the sins of the world. With His triumphant resurrection from the dead, God declares the believer forgiven, so that like Dysmas, you and I can live forever in the presence of God.
WE PRAY: Heavenly Father, thank You for the forgiveness made possible for all of us through Your Son Jesus Christ. Amen.
From "The Savior Takes a Sinner Home," a sermon excerpt from Rev. Dr. Armin Oldsen, former Speaker of The Lutheran Hour
1. Do you know someone who has been forgiven of a great many sins?
2. Have you ever identified with one or the other of the two criminals who were being crucified with Jesus?
3. Should Jesus' offer of forgiveness to the seeking criminal impact the way we think about those big sinners we may know?
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