God’s love and grace is big… overwhelmingly big. We can try to intellectualize and understand it from our limited human vantage points or learn to be immersed in it. Release control and rest in this truth instead of wondering does God love me? His unconditional love is available to anyone without a cost–even to a criminal on a cross.
This love cannot be earned or bought. God does not offer His love to only a chosen few or to a socially elite group. Instead, He is always reaching out to the lost, broken, lame, sick, thirsty, and humble. And just when we start to think that there is something we can do on our own to receive this grace, Christ quickly shatters our religious paradigms.
This was the shock factor that many of the religious leaders experienced at that time. It was a message that they were not ready to hear. The love of Christ was much too radical. Way too good to be true. They were blinded by a heavy yoke of human rituals, legalism, and pride. There had to be more to it than just God’s grace. They failed to recognize their own brokenness and helplessness.
Yet for one criminal on the cross, there was no other hope. No plan “B.” Time was running short and he was fully aware of the life he had lived. For all he knew, he was destined to an eternity without God. I’m sure he was already convinced of the answer he would have received if he asked Jesus, “Does God love me?” And so we witness the stark contrast between the broken and the unrepentant during the final hour of Christ’s crucifixion…
“One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “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.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (NIV, Luke 23:39-43).
Whoa! Did you get all that? This man did not even expect to receive any forgiveness. He recognized Jesus for who He was and only requested to be remembered. And in that brief exchange of words the criminal on the cross received much more than that.
Jesus offers him salvation. Can you imagine the gasp that must have been heard all around at that moment? Regardless of the fact that this man lived a fruitless life, the grace of God was all he needed. There was nothing that he could add to the equation. It was just Jesus.