Thursday, January 30, 2014

Matchless and Enduring Grace

Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing.  (Joel 2:12-13)

The last seven words (statements, actually) of Jesus as He hung on Golgotha's cross are among the most encouraging of all Scripture. Here is the second of the seven: 

Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.
(Luke 23:43)

Two men, hanging between heaven and earth, nailed to crosses on either side of the One in the middle. Two men, thieves, struggling against death, knowing it was only a matter of time before death finally sunk its talons into their souls.

And they watched the Stranger in the middle.

One thief knew he deserved to die. He’d broken the law, and now was paying the penalty. The other, even in the midst of dying, joined the mob at the foot of the cross in mocking, cursing, and blaspheming the Stranger in the middle.

But the broken thief would have none of it. What are you doing? he rebuked. “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” And then he did what everyone must do at some time in their life. No. Rather he did what everyone must do repeatedly in their life. He turned to the One in the middle and pleaded, Jesus, remember me when you come into Your kingdom.” (Luke 23:40-42)

Repentance does amazing things in and for our soul. It lifts us to where Jesus hangs on the cross, face to face with His nailed and bloodied body – brutalized because of our sins. As the Hebrew prophet Isaiah foretold centuries earlier, He was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:5-6). Repentance frees us from ourselves, from our arrogance that binds us to eternal death. It teaches us humility and unveils for us our fleeting mortality and our desperate need for an eternal savior. Repentance brings us into an intimate relationship with the King of Glory reserved only for the penitent.

“Jesus, remember me when you come into Your kingdom.” The penitent thief spoke less than a dozen words. Short prayers from the heart are as efficacious as long soliloquies.

Jesus, remember me.

Oh, how the King loves to hear our plea born in a penitent heart so He, in return, can promise, as He promised the dying thief, Truly I say to you . . . you shall be with Me in Paradise.

Thanks be to God for His matchless and enduring grace.

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