In his dying moments, Jesus was keeping company with sinners. There they are — a threesome — all hanging on crosses, all dying together.
The criminal to one side of Jesus speaks up and hurls insults at Jesus:
“Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”
Like the devil in the wilderness (If you are the Son of God…), the first criminal provokes Jesus to demonstrate publicly that he is the Messiah. As Biola University theology professor Matt Jensen says, “And really, how could one who possessed such power not use it to evade impending death, dazzling his captors just when they thought they had him beat?”
But now look to the other side of Jesus to the second criminal. All three men are, as Jensen says, “dangling over death’s insatiable maw,” And yet, the second criminal defends Jesus:
“Don’t you fear God,” he said to the man insulting Jesus, “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.”
The second criminal somehow sees what the first criminal doesn’t. Though minutes from death, he discerns the difference between the righteous and the unrighteous. Amazingly, he has the courage to acknowledge his place among the unrighteous.
And then this amazing ask! … Hanging but a few feet from Jesus — and knowing both he and Jesus are dying — the criminal asks Jesus to remember him.
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” The dying man somehow anticipates a future for Jesus. And in the dark moments of his own impending death the man says to Jesus:
I love those two words. “Remember me” … Call me to mind. … Recall me. … Don’t let me slip your mind, falling into oblivion. Don’t forget me.
And Jesus responds to the man:
“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
My only response: Wow!
It’s so interesting to me, so instructive, that the night before Jesus died, he shared a meal with his disciples. There he asked them to remember him.
And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”
When we share in the Lord’s supper — the Eucharist — we remember. We remember the death he died. But even more important, we remember that he remembers us. We believe, as the Apostle Paul says in Romans 8, that “Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.“
Jesus, the crucified one, the risen one, the one returning soon, is remembering us … both now and in the age to come!