Read Luke 23:42-43
42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”
43 And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (NLT)
We sometimes want to create a formula for how people come to Jesus. We create schemes and formats and outlines. We do courses. We set out arguments. We answer objections. We reckon certain boxes have to be ticked before someone can really be called a Christian.
And then we read about this criminal on a cross adjacent to Jesus. Not much time or energy for a six-week course on the basics of the faith. Hardly any occasion to engage in heartfelt confession and repentance. No invitations to study the Scriptures and join a group. Just, it seems, a plea from the heart from a man who knew he didn’t deserve any favours but was hopeful of one anyway. Just some sort of dim recognition that the man hanging on the neighbouring cross was somehow different.
Of course this doesn’t mean we ignore our formats and our courses and our apologetics. This thief on the cross is in an exceptional situation and we ought not to make rules and laws based on such extraordinary circumstances.
But this Golgotha exchange reminds us that Jesus will not be bound by formulae or by our methods. Such is his desire to save that he will do so in ways we might consider to be less than ideal. In the end, Jesus doesn’t require any great theological insight from us, nor any heroic ‘from the gutter to glory’ stories of repentance. He requires a willingness to accept that he has the keys to heaven and that he unlocks the door for any who fling themselves on his mercy. All such will be with him in Paradise.