Today's Reading: Luke 22:1-23:56
Then [the other criminal] said to Jesus, "Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom." And Jesus said to him, "Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise." (Luke 23:42-43)
In the Name + of Jesus. Amen. The thief on the cross often gets dragged into discussions about various things. When we emphasize that Baptism saves us, the thief is often thrown out as an example of one who was saved without baptism (though there is no way to know whether he was baptized or not!). Sometimes when people are emphasizing “our belief” the bring the thief on the cross into the conversation. “See? All you have to do is repent and believe!” As if it's about us.
The thief on the cross is in paradise for one simple reason. Jesus said he would be. It's Jesus' Word that saves this man in the last moments of His life. The Spirit has worked true repentance in this man. True repentance isn't just being sorry for your sins, but trusting in Jesus for forgiveness. That's why this criminal asks Jesus to remember him in His kingdom. While he hangs on his own cross, being punished for what he has done, this thief is converted by the Spirit through the Word Jesus is speaking from the cross as he realizes that Jesus is hanging there innocently for sinners.
Same for you. Jesus' Word is what saves you—His Word along with the water at the font. His Word of Absolution that says you're “not guilty.” His Words of Institution that deliver the same Body and Blood that the thief saw hanging next to him. True, the Spirit brings us to faith, which trusts in that Word and Savior. Yet that is simply to acknowledge what the Lord has done, not make any claim that we have done something.
The thief knows this, which is why he says, “We are here because we deserve it. But Jesus doesn't deserve it. So remember me, Jesus.” Jesus remembers you, too, because on that cross He gave His life for the whole world, even you. And His promise to the thief is the promise given to you by His Word and Sacraments: that on the day you die, whenever that is, you will be with Him in paradise. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
May we in our guilt and shame Still Your love and mercy claim, Calling humbly on Your name; Hear us, holy Jesus. (LSB 447:5)
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