If the first words from Jesus on the cross was about forgiveness, the second is about salvation. Salvation can only come with the forgiveness of sin through the blood of Jesus. In these words from the cross, Jesus displays his heart of compassion for one the criminals beside him. The words “Father forgive them” are in contrast to “Father forgive him”. Jesus embraces all of humanity in the first words from the cross whereas he embraces an individual in the second set of words from the cross.
Salvation is a simple act. There wasn’t a major prayer with flowery words or any kind of “gospel presentation”. There was a man who knew well his errors, who saw Jesus and cried out to him. It was that simple. This man knew he deserved what he was getting and knew that Christ was dying for crimes he did not commit. The criminal was not baptized or “confirmed” by anything other than Jesus saying he would be with him in paradise on that day. The salvation that comes from Jesus is simple…that simple. Repent (agree with God about the sin) and be saved. Romans 10:13
Salvation is a singular decision. Although this man was on his deathbed, the Lord extended salvation to him. Surely the man regretted things undone along with the life and path he had chosen. This word of salvation shows us Christ’s heart for people even at the end of their lives regardless of how “sinful” they have been. Perhaps the two criminals were in cahoots together? This man was willing to make an individual decision not based on his friend’s opinions but on what he truly believed. Luke 23: 40 says: 40 “But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Although they both heard Christ speaking and saw some of the circus surrounding his crucifixion, each had to come to their own conclusion about Christ. Salvation is an individual decision and this criminal made the right choice!
Salvation is a solemn promise. Not that the criminal had to “prove” himself in any nor did he have the opportunity, but Christ secures and keeps his word. The promise of Jesus to the criminal on the cross was one that Jesus made to the man not based on the man’s performance or prayer but based on the person of Christ himself. It is the integrity and character of God at stake here. Jesus said the man would be with him in paradise and certainly with a few hours Christ greeted him home. Salvation is not only an act of God but a promise of God to everyone who believes. There are no works needed, no way to prove, earn, merit, or control salvation on our own; it is solely based on the character and person of Jesus Christ, who always keeps his word!
George Lockhart is a missionary with Vision 2 Hear and serves as student pastor at New Vision Church in Fayetteville, GA