Good Friday. The day we remember our Savior and His cruel death on the cross. The day He TOOK MY PLACE in the death that I deserve, because He loved me. He knew when He came here the fate that awaited Him. Betrayal. Mockery. Torture. A slow, excruciating death. But He came anyway. Just to give us forgiveness that we don’t deserve. I can never thank Him enough. I can never repay Him for what He did for me.
But tonight, the one who is on my mind is the criminal who hung beside Him. A man who, unlike Jesus, had lived a life of sin. A man who society had deemed worthy of death on the cross, because of the crimes he committed. And as he hung there, nearing death, he confessed Jesus as Lord. “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom,” he said. And what did Jesus say? Did he tell him he was unworthy? Did he tell him his sins were too great, that he was condemned to die and go to hell because that was the punishment he deserved? No. “Assuredly, I say to you,” He told the criminal beside Him, “today you will be with Me in Paradise.”
I feel like sometimes, Christians, we’re missing the point. And when I say Christians, I’m including myself, too. It didn’t matter what sins that man had committed. It didn’t matter if he spent his entire life on the earth going against everything God ever said. The minute he confessed Jesus as His Lord and Savior – and that minute just happened to be one of the final moments of his life – He was forgiven. Heaven-bound. Did he deserve it? Of course not! But do I? Do you? Does anyone?
I have a past – one that does NOT include Jesus. I try to forget about it, because I know God has, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t still have nightmares about some of the things I’ve said and done. And guess what? I’m still far from perfect, despite all the work He’s already done in me. It doesn’t matter how “good” I try to be now. It doesn’t matter how many hours I spend in church, how much I give to those in need, or how many times a day I pray or read my Bible. That’s all good stuff, of course, but it’s not what saved me. Jesus saved me when He died and rose again, and the only thing I did to receive that gift is BELIEVE in Him and ACCEPT Him into my heart. That’s it.
We’ve never been more divided than we are today. And with that division comes such powerful hatred and cruelty. But Christians, are we helping the problem? Or are we stirring it up even more? It’s not wrong to stand up for what we believe in – in fact, we’re commanded to do so. But look at the way we’re doing it! Sharing hateful Facebook posts and memes, shaming the other side because they sin differently than we do. We’re no better than the Pharisees who were so blinded by their religious rules that they didn’t see Jesus for who He was – the Messiah! They put Him to death because He didn’t fit their idea of what a “religious” person should be. You guys, the Pharisees were some of the most “holy” people out there. They MEMORIZED the first five books of the Bible BEFORE THE AGE OF 12. They took the laws of Moses very seriously and when they condemned Jesus to death, they truly believed they were doing it in God’s name. They let their own religious rules blind them to Jesus’s message. They judged everyone around them.
Are we becoming modern-day Pharisees? Are we so high and mighty because of all the “good” things we do that we think we’re good enough to judge the world, when we’re missing Jesus right in front of our faces? The reality is, God loves EVERY SINGLE PERSON on this earth. He wants everyone to receive the gift of His Son and will give us to the very last moment of our lives to do so, if that’s what it takes. As Christians, we’re called to share His message with the world, so they will receive Jesus and eternal salvation. Are we doing that? Are we really sharing His message when we share hatred and judgmental social media posts? Or are we turning people away from the Truth with our religious rules and hateful speech? Life with Jesus is about freedom. It’s about relationship with Him. It’s about love. It’s not about rules and being “better” than anyone else. It doesn’t matter how “wrong” or lost someone may be – Jesus died for him, too. And we’re called to love, not sit on our throne in judgment and bully someone into thinking like we do. It doesn’t work like that. It’s not how Jesus reached people, and we sure won’t reach anyone that way, either.
I’m thankful tonight for His sacrifice and His forgiveness. I pray that I will never be a hindrance to His love and His message. I want everyone to know that there’s nothing you can do to make Him not love you. He will forgive any sin, any mistake you’ve ever made. Don’t wait until you think you’re “worthy” to come to Him. You’ll never get there. Accept Him today, and let Him come into your life just as you are right now – flaws and all. He loves you despite your past or even your present. All you have to do is choose to believe, to accept Him. He wants to do big things in your life. All you have to do is let Him in.