The Thief On The Cross
One of the men crucified with Jesus on the day of his death is commonly referred to as the thief on the cross. (Matt 27:38)
The term "thief" is accurate enough but doesn't quite tell all. The Greek word means a brigand, viz: a bandit; which is a kind of robber that sometimes employs weapons and even murder to get what they want; for example Luke 10:30 in the story of the good Samaritan. It's unlikely that Pilate would've crucified a common pickpocket or a burglar. I'm guessing that the man was a violent offender in order to merit the death penalty.
Anyway, within just hours of that brigand's death, Jesus gave him a pass to paradise; who had just moments before mocked Jesus just like everybody else. (Matt 27:44)
So the million-dollar question is: Which of Christianity's faith and practices did the brigand employ right then and there on the spot to get the pass? (Luke 23:39-43)
The incident in question took place during the man's dying moments. We're talking about a very narrow window of opportunity here so let's come up with some concise instructions because we're on a world-wide venue and you just never know who's looking in that desperately needs a useful response; and right quick.
Well then, supposing there's a career criminal looking on right now this very moment who's bedridden in the final stages of an aggressive cancer and getting nervous about their afterlife destiny and the sum of all fears. What do I tell them; down and dirty, short and sweet?
If we assume there are no exceptions to the passage quoted below, then the condemned brigand had to be in compliance with it somehow in order for Jesus to promise the man a pass to paradise.
● Hebrews 5:9 . . And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him.
The Greek word translated "obey" is ambiguous. It doesn't necessarily refer to compliance with a strict code of laws, regulations, rules, and/or statutes. That meaning would've been out of the question for the condemned brigand. He was in neither condition nor position to be either pious or law abiding. So, we have to come at the meaning of "obey" from a different angle in order for Hebrews 5:9 to work for him.
One of Webster's definitions of "compliance" is conformity. In its simplest terms; conformity implies agreement; which is something that anybody can do even in their last moments. Here's how the brigand went about complying with Jesus' teachings.
First off, the man acknowledged that he deserved to die for his crimes (Luke 23:40-41). That was agreeable with Jesus' teachings about the sinful publican at Luke 18:10-14.
During his tenure as an itinerant preacher; Jesus taught that he was a king (John 18:33-37). Pilate's placard attached to Jesus' cross advertised that fact where the brigand could see it, and also told the brigand Jesus' name too.
"Jesus Of Nazareth King Of The Jews" (John 19:19)
The brigand's last words indicate that he was agreeable with that teaching.
"Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." (Luke 23:42)
The brigand's request tells me that he not only accepted Jesus' royalty, but also tells me the man concluded in his thinking that in order for Jesus to rule the Jews, he would have to survive crucifixion; in other words: the condemned brigand reckoned that Jesus would be coming back from the dead.
Jesus taught that he would come back from the dead (John 2:19-22). So the brigand was agreeable with that teaching too.
The coolest part of this drama is that the brigand may have been unaware that Jesus taught those things about himself prior to the day of his crucifixion; but no matter. According to Rom 10:9, he was on the right track.
Now; the man actually did a third thing in conformity with Jesus' teachings: he prayed-- not to God, not to Jesus' mom, nor to a patron saint --directly to Jesus himself which, again, was agreeable with another of Jesus' teachings.
"Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." (Matthew 11:28)
It's still appropriate to pray to Jesus.
"We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are-- yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need." (Hebrews 4:15-16)
The Greek words for "confidence" indicate that when speaking to Christ, it's okay to just be yourself; viz: to be forthright and out-spoken, i.e. frank and candid: which has been made possible by a priesthood in Heaven chaired by a fellow man who lived down here on the Earth as a man long enough to know what it's like to be one; and to die like one too.
FAQ: Jesus is way up in Heaven and I'm way down here on the Earth. How is he suppose to hear me with all that distance between us?
When someone on their deathbed, in their last moments, begins to perceive Hell as more than just academic; they know it's coming and are likely to become very concerned about ending up there. In moments like that, people don't need religion, no, they need a knight in shining armor, so to speak, and it just so happens there's a God-given knight available.
● Luke 2:8-12 . .And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
. . . But the angel said to them; "Don't be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today, in the town of David, a savior has been born to you; he is Messiah, the Lord."
The angel announced the birth of a savior; defined by Webster's as one who rescues. We've all seen examples-- lifeguards, firemen, cops, emergency medical teams, Coast Guard units, snow patrols, and mountain rescue teams. Rescue workers typically save people in distress who are facing imminent death and/or grave danger and utterly helpless to do anything about it.
In other words: Jesus Christ is a lifeline, so to speak, that God is all set to throw to anyone and everyone for whom destiny in Hell is a foregone conclusion if only they have the good sense to plead guilty and throw themselves on the mercy of the court by this simple, naive prayer:
"God, I know I'm a sinner. I would like to take advantage of your son's death."
Does Jesus' Father honor those kinds of prayers? Well if His son's story of the tax collector at Luke 18:9-14, and the account of the malefactor crucified along with Jesus at Luke 23:38-43 are truthful indicators; then I can honestly, and confidently, attest that He does, and He will.
NOTE: Just about everybody who's ever heard anything about Christianity is aware that Jesus Christ died for the sins of the world, but what is often unknown is that it was personal; as Isaiah 53:6 says: "The Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on him."
In other words: the iniquity of each of us fell on him, i.e. any name we might pull out of a hat, and as many names as we might pull out of a hat: that one name, and each name, is an individual for whom Christ gave his life; there are no exceptions. It's no wonder then why the angel announced not just joy, rather, "great joy" that will be for all the people.