Luke 23:42-43 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”
I couldn’t begin to say how many times I’ve referenced this story in telling people the simplicity of salvation. We tend to systematize things and try to reduce them to formulas, when God knows each person’s heart. This man had just acknowledged his own sin, saying that he deserved the punishment he was getting. He then declares his faith in Jesus in a rather remarkable way. Why would a sane man speak to someone who was nailed to a cross about coming into his kingdom? This man obviously believed Jesus was indeed who He said He was, so little details like physical death couldn’t be more than bumps in the road. The other criminal had used Jesus’ claim as an accusation – “Aren’t you the Christ?” – wanting to “cash in,” so to speak, if Jesus really did have power, but this man spoke in humility and faith. That is all that has ever been required for salvation. We’ve got to acknowledge that we need it, that our actions and attitudes have earned eternal destruction for us, and then trust that God has provided that salvation through His Son. That’s the only “doctrinal test” required.
As I said, I’ve talked with people about this countless times. I have friends who define themselves by their denomination, and I find that very sad. All such labels will be totally meaningless before the Throne in heaven! I personally believe that we will find a lot of people in heaven whom we exclude here on earth. They may be few, but I expect to run into some ex JWs and ex Mormons who managed to cling to the essence of the Gospel and not be pulled aside by the junk. For that matter, once we get to heaven, we’ll all be “ex” something, be it Baptist, Methodist, Pentecostal, or whatever. I have always liked C. S. Lewis’ statement in The Great Divorce that once we get to heaven, we can be sure we’ll all discover we had been wrong somewhere. I am currently non-denominational, but I’m not to wear that as a point of pride, or I will place myself in exactly the same position as the people I criticize. I’ve got to remember that my own salvation is on exactly the same basis as that of anyone else, including this criminal on the cross next to Jesus. On this Good Friday I am to rejoice that the Son of God loved me enough to go through hell for me, so that by faith I may live in Heaven with Him.
Father, thank You for this reminder. It’s not easy to focus on Good Friday when society around me ignores it and I have such details as physical therapy and an entrance ceremony to attend. May I fulfill the various obligations I have today, all the while allowing Your Spirit to work the reality of the cross ever deeper into my heart and mind, so that I may be transformed as You intend, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!