Where do you find hope? Over the last couple of years, many of us – or people we know personally – have experienced desperation and hopelessness to some extent. Thankfully, God’s Word can help us in these types of circumstances, because it tells us how faith in God helped other people with very little hope overcome their difficulties.
You see, genuine hope comes from outside of us, not within us. We see this in the criminal who hung on the cross next to Jesus. He found hope in the midst of his desperation; or perhaps we might better say that hope found him.
We don’t know much about him. Perhaps, he was an accomplice of Barabbas in the failed revolt. Who knows? All we can state is that he was a criminal and his life was over.
There would be no last-minute pardon. He was hanging on the cross and only death would free him. His final hours would be spent in excruciating agony. A quick death would have been better, but the Roman soldiers were there to make sure he would last as long as possible.
You could hear his hopelessness in the way he rebuked his fellow criminal who had insulted Jesus: ”Don’t you fear God, 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.”
We don’t know what crime this man had committed, but he recognizes his guilt and acknowledges the rightness of his punishment. He doesn’t minimize his wrongdoing. He humbly admits he deserves to die as punishment for his sin. And he’s not trying to gain points. He confesses his guilt out of the fear of God. He views his crime from God’s perspective and acknowledges its vileness.
He recognizes that he will soon stand before God to face justice. He knows he is not right with God and he has no way to make things right on his own.
In desperation, he turns to Jesus: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” “Remember me” is a cry for mercy. He knows he deserves judgment. Yet, he casts himself on the goodness and kindness of Jesus, who had prayed for his Father to forgive his tormentors. He had nothing to offer. Even his willingness to defend Jesus had no merit.
To repent is to turn wholeheartedly to Jesus in faith, recognizing our need for him.. And this is not blind faith. The man on the cross asks Jesus for mercy, believing that Jesus is, indeed, a merciful and gracious King. He has x-ray vision faith that penetrates the fog of misguided perceptions to see Jesus clearly as the promised Messianic King.
The criminal entrusts himself to Jesus. He believes Jesus to be the arbiter of eternal hope and eternal judgment. He acknowledges who Jesus is: the One who calls God his Father. He believes Jesus is able to save him and welcome him into his eternal kingdom.
This is genuine faith: knowing the truth about Jesus, agreeing with the truth, and entrusting yourself wholeheartedly to him.
In response to his repentant faith, Jesus wonderfully gives him grace and tells him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
The best part of Jesus’ promise was that he would be with him. He would be in the presence of his Savior! It’s not the golden streets or the crowns that make eternity worthwhile. It’s being with Jesus, in whose presence is fullness of joy!
We know Jesus offered genuine hope because three days later, he rose from the dead. His resurrection was God’s signal that Jesus spoke the truth — he was, indeed, the Son of God in the flesh. He was the King and Savior, the Son of Man who came to seek and to save the lost.
Jesus endured the mockery and pain, as our substitute, to secure our forgiveness and acceptance before God. He satisfied the demands of God’s justice so that God could forgive us yet remain just. His righteous life of obedience is credited to anyone who puts their trust in him.
Just like that penitent criminal, you and I can receive the salvation Jesus offers us freely. You and I can come to him with empty hands, acknowledging our guilt and our need for mercy. We can come to him, acknowledging him to be Lord and King, deserving of our absolute loyalty.
Will you not come to him now to find grace beyond your wildest dreams? Jesus offers you hope that can never be extinguished because it is grounded on his death and resurrection. It is a genuine hope sure to be fulfilled. It is hope that enables us to face any and every circumstance because we know that our eternal destiny is secure.
Jesus, I put my faith in you today. I want the secure hope you offer me. I turn away from my sin today and turn wholeheartedly to you. I trust in you, Jesus, to be my Savior and King. Thank you for taking my place on that cross and for giving me a genuine hope for today, tomorrow, and eternity. You deserve my all and I give you my life. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Throughout this Day: It is our privilege to proclaim this hope to those around us. Ask God to help you live for him regardless of the cost and to use you to lead people to hope in Jesus.
Photo Credit: Jametlene Reskp on Unsplash