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Never too bad for forgiveness

Jesus & Co

An old proverb claims that ‘a man is known by the company he keeps’. If true, the people Jesus met can offer insight into his character and world view, as Nigel Bovey investigates

The penitent criminal (Luke 23:39-43)

Few people experience a ‘deathbed conversion’

‘LOCK ’em up and throw away the key’ sums up many people’s view on criminals, especially murderers, rap­ists and child abusers. The fact that all but a handful of British prisoners will one day be released fills some people with dread. Jesus, though, spent his dying moments in the company of criminals.

On crosses either side of Jesus as he was crucified were two criminals who had been sentenced to death.

It is sometimes said that being close to death makes a person want to find God, ask forgiveness and be assured of their eternal salvation. Few people, though, experience such a ‘deathbed conversion’. Even know-ing that he would experience a slow, agonising death before sundown, the first criminal next to Jesus had no such intention. He had no place for God, not even in the little time he had left.

He mocked Jesus: ‘Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’ (Luke 23:39 New International Version).

The other criminal was different. He had no time for bravado or anger. He rebuked the first man, saying: ‘We are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong’ (23:41).

Turning to the dying Jesus, he said: ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom’ (23:42).

With death imminent for both of them, Jesus assured him: ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise’ (23:43).

This final encounter before Jesus’ death is immensely insightful.

It shows that not even capital crimes are beyond God’s power and willingness to forgive.

It demonstrates that even right up until our last moments, God’s offer of eternal salvation is open to everyone.

It says that those who – like the penitent criminal – admit that they are a guilty sin­ner, and ask for Jesus’ forgiveness, will receive the assurance of eternal life.

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