How did I end up here? Both criminals might have wondered that. As they hung on a cross at the end of their rope. No more escape routes, no more lying about where they had been or who they were with. No more talking their way out of things. It is over. They are judged. It is obvious to all. They are going to die as criminals.
There they were at the end of their rope and, turning to see their neighbor, they see Jesus! Same cross. Same nails. Except He has a sign over his head accusing him of being king of the Jews.
One joined the mockers yelling at Jesus. He was probably angry about His situation. He was probably angry at God, had been for some time. Like Satan in the desert he swore, “If you really are God, save yourself and us.” The poor, dumb fellow thought maybe he could still get out of this predicament. He was still fighting for himself.
That is how dumb we all get with sin. It is hard to admit you are helpless. Even when all evidence points to it. We always think we have some righteous beef with God.
Yet the other one – in the exact same situation- calls this guy out! “Hey, don’t you fear God, since you are under the same sentence (in other words, “Dude you have no leverage. You are on a cross!”)? And we are rightly judged. But this one has done nothing wrong!”
He realizes, finally. Maybe it took him a whole lifetime. Maybe it took this execution! But he realizes his guilt and shame, his helplessness and desperation. He is at the end of his rope and looks over and there is Jesus!
Jesus is always at the end of every rope. You cannot escape him. Good Lord, He is even being crucified next to this guy. It is not hyperbole.
And now this guy has the balls to say, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”
Why? Because you cannot prove yourself more approachable than hanging on a Roman tool of execution! Jesus hangs right next to him. He is the good neighbor.
The criminal thought maybe Jesus would put him in the servant quarters in the future. Who knows what he was thinking? He did not go to confirmation. He did not know much. He just knew this Jesus was the only shot he had to something more.
Jesus does not give him a quiz on Bible stories or Scripture verses. He does not ask the villain to reform his ways or prove his love.
He one ups the guys request and says, “Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise!”
The Kingdom is today. The King reigns from a cross with a crown of thorns. He was not just hanging with the guy. He was hanging for the guy… and for the other guy and all people!
So, when you find yourself at the end of your rope, guess who is there: Jesus.
Whether it is sin or death or anything in between, He says the same thing to you. Today you will be with me in Paradise.