Death-bed Confessions

Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.Luke 23:43
Yesterday we saw Jesus’ consideration and desire for all those involved in bringing him to this point. Today we see an equally remarkable example of care and compassion.  Two thieves are being crucified alongside him.  One of them reviled Jesus but the other one saw Jesus’ innocence and, by the way he spoke, accepted Jesus for who he was. Today we might speak of a ‘death-bed confession’ when someone genuinely turns to God in the closing minutes of their life.    In that respect we might see Jesus responding in the way that a modern day priest might, pronouncing absolution.  The one thing the dying person wants is assurance of their future, the other side of death.  Jesus gives it to this man.  He acts as a priest.   But the man has just spoken about Jesus as if he is a king about to enter his kingdom on the other side of death, and there is about Jesus’ response, a certain definiteness that is akin to a regal pronouncement.  The king is declaring his will.   Jesus is speaking as both a priest and a king.
It is when we pause and think about the circumstances that this seems all the more remarkable. By the way we have spoken so far, it almost sounds like a father confessor sitting at the bedside of a dying person, but it’s nothing like that!  Jesus is dying!   Jesus is hanging on a wooden cross by nails that have been driven through his body, an agonising experience enough when the soldiers did it, but now he is actually suspended by those nails they tear at the flesh, and all the muscles, nerves and tendons are screaming out in agony.  This is one of the vilest forms of execution known to man.  This is supposed to be the ultimate deterrent!
In this position you have to make every effort to hold yourself up otherwise it becomes impossible to breath, and so every survival instinct in you makes you pull up on the nails which only accentuates the agony. In this position one thief screams out of desperate, hateful agony. The other thief, out of this position, calls out of integrity and a desire to know Jesus.   Every word in this position is a major effort. You do better to remain quiet, and so every word must come with a powerful motivation behind it.   
For Jesus, that powerful motivation was simply the compassion that he had shown again and again throughout his three-year ministry. Despite the agony, he continues to minister hope and love.   Nothing will stop the Son of God ministering the grace of God, not even the nails of death!
What is Jesus actually saying to the man?  This day you will enter heaven, for that is surely what Jesus is referring to when he speaks of paradise.  The dying thief is the antidote to all those who insist that you have to work for your salvation.  Here is a man who confesses that he deserves the punishment he is getting, a man who has not been religious, who has not atoned for his wrongs by good works.  He had done nothing – except confess his state and believe in Jesus – and for this he receives, directly from the Son of God himself, the confirmation that he has a place in heaven that he will shortly receive. He epitomises the truth: salvation is not by good works, it is by believing in Jesus.   End of story!
Lord, thank you for your staggering love and compassion that reached out even in what must have been one of the worst moments of your human life.  Thank you that you gave us the assurance, that it is simply by confession of need and acknowledgement of you, that we can come with you into heaven.  Thank you so much for this!

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