Mercy at the Eleventh Hour

“Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, ‘If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.’ But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.’”

Luke 23:39-42

There are many people who hope for the so-called “eleventh hour of grace.” They believe if it is actually true that we must be saved, then we can still do so in the last moment of life. What a fatal error! All those who count on this certainly will not receive “last-minute grace.” Nowhere does God say in His holy Word, “Wait until your end!” or “Wait until tomorrow!” Rather, He says, “Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts” (Hebrews 3:15). 

After all, you don’t know if you’ll live to see the next five minutes, let alone the next day. That is why it is important not to postpone salvation.

The thief did not obtain this grace easily. After he and his guilty partner had reviled the Lord Jesus, he began to reflect. Surely he observed the holy, pure, and peace-radiating face of the Man in the middle. Why had He been crowned with a crown of thorns? Why the inscription fastened to His cross, “This is the King of the Jews?” Then he heard the wonderful words from His mouth, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do!” Could an ordinary dying man in such agony pray for his enemies? Impossible! This man was truly completely different than all other people.

He grew more and more convinced at this One who had been innocently condemned. He could no longer bear the other’s insults and therefore rebuked him: “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation?” (Luke 23:40)

What was he saying? Had he himself feared God? No, but now his conscience was awakened. The thief recognized his sin and guilt. He knew that what had happened to him was just punishment for what he had done. “And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds” (verse 41). He passed judgment on himself, acknowledging not only his guilt but also the punishment as just. 

This is precisely the important point: to recognize ourselves as sinners deserving of condemnation but also to acknowledge God’s judgment on us as being just. How difficult this is! However, grace, divine grace, is granted to each one of us who does so. 

Then the thief vindicated the Man in the middle: “But this Man has done nothing wrong!” Seven times in this chapter God Himself declared the innocence of His beloved Son. Yes, the holy, spotless, and pure One was innocently convicted and put to death!

Crucifixion was a terrible, agonizing punishment that inevitably led to death. The thief also knew this. In a few hours, they would all have to die. But what did he say? “Lord, remember me when You come into your kingdom.” This was faith beyond all reason, laws of nature, and human understanding. He believed that this Lord and King had a kingdom He would take possession of. He believed in the resurrection. The Lord acknowledged this faith. This faith saves! “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; but he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36).

What wonderful words the thief heard from the mouth of the Lord: “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” Death had lost its sting for the former criminal. To be with Him, his Lord, in paradise filled him with joy even in the face of death. Now he could die. For him, death was only the passage to paradise. Paul says, “For I am hard pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better” (Philippians 1:23).

What could be better than to enjoy the foretaste of heavenly bliss in the presence of the Lord, where all earthly suffering is forgotten?

These two criminals crucified on the right and left of the Lord Jesus symbolize two groups of people: the one group rejects Jesus, scorns and reviles Him; the other group comes to Him, the Son of God, in repentance and remorse, convinced of their lost condition, and accepts Him in childlike faith as their personal Savior. 

To which group do you belong, dear reader? There is still time to repent and seek forgiveness. How quickly you can be called away! Many have no deathbed, no five minutes to still seek salvation. How many people die at the roadside! Yes, the path to eternity is not long. 

How terrible it would be for you to be in the eternal place of torment, in eternal night! Come to the Savior today! Jesus calls you too!

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