Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise (Luke 23:43).
That is the second statement that Jesus said on the cross. It’s a story about 3 crosses. Jesus in the middle being crucified for the sins of the world. On his right, a criminal on his cross. On his left, another criminal on a cross. In this hopeful yet disturbing scene, the characters are arranged in a way that divides the whole of humanity into one of 2 sides. On one side, you have a bloodied, dying thief who is spewing out venom against Christ. On the other side, you have a bloodied, dying thief who admits that he is getting what he deserves. So the question is not, am I a thief? The Bible says we are all thieves. The question is which side am I on?
Most of us, myself included, might say, well, I am neither. I am not quite as desperate as the thief who is promised by Jesus that he will be with him in paradise. And I am certainly not the thief spewing out venom against Christ. But the troubling thing is that there is no fourth cross. In other words, there is no middle ground. I am either on one side of Jesus or the other.
One helpful way to help examine which side you are on is to ask the question, do I think I deserve anything or do I think I am entitled to something? One thief clearly knew he deserved nothing except to die on the cross. He was getting what he deserved. The other thief does not say much, but one thing is clear — he did not seem to express remorse for what he had done. He didn’t say, I am getting what I deserve. Instead, all he could say was “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!”
If I think that I deserve something from this life or from God, if I think I deserve to be treated a certain way, if I have expectations that have to be met or I will be disappointed, if I cannot confess that I don’t deserve anything except to die, perhaps I am more like the thief that is spewing out venom than I think.