Matthias had never really liked his father. It seemed that whenever he needed his dad just to -be there, or to listen, he was never around. He didn’t really blame him though, times were hard, and money was scarce. Matthias knew his dad had finally resorted to stealing in order to get his family food, but that left him confused, not sure whether he should be happy that his dad was at least trying to keep them all fed, or angry that he broke the Torah to do it.
He saw the pain in his mother’s eyes every evening as she sat alone wondering where her husband was. But today, for the first time Matthias saw his dad through very different eyes. Today, a tear journeyed down his cheek collecting into a pool at his dusty feet. He heard and saw in his dad the man and father he had always wanted: compassionate, interested, forgiving, and humble. But why did something like this have to happen?
Matthias sat in the dust at the foot of the pole which held his dad. There were two other men up on poles as well. One of them Matthias knew. He had seen him in back alleys and in places where no good would come, but the other man he had only heard about. It was this man that had a life changing effect upon his dad, this Jesus.
Matthias knew that Jesus had done nothing wrong. His dad had been caught stealing, and so too the other man, but Jesus was innocent. While Matthias’ dad looked alternately between his son and Jesus, the years of hurt and anger began to dissolve. The hard, cold look of a criminal was replaced with the tender gaze of a person who had just received the most lavish of gifts. The other man on the cross began mocking and spewing out words of hatred toward Jesus, but Matthias’ dad cried out,“Don’t you fear God," he said, "since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong." Then he said, "Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom." (Luke 23:40-42)
Matthias had never heard his dad speak out for someone else. There was such passion in his voice, such surety. He admitted that what he had done was wrong, and extended compassion to Jesus.
“Oh, Dad,” Matthias said, as his heart raced between pleasure and pain. Pleasure that his dad had encountered Jesus, and pain that he would soon breathe his last.
But then Matthias heard Jesus speak. It wasn’t very loud at first, but it was clear and definite. He said, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise." (Luke 23:43). The smile that broke out across the face of Matthias’ dad could have filled the temple courts! And Matthias found the meaning to a new word, hope!
I have been creatively thinking about the thieves upon the cross lately. What might it have been like for them to be there with Jesus, what was happening in their families. You see one of the men upon the cross began taking the steps to work through life’s hurts, habits, and hang-ups. First he admitted that he wasn’t God, and as he hung there with a sentence of death upon his cross, that knew he was powerless to change things. But as he looked at Jesus, he took the second step which was to believe that God exists, and that He had the power to change his reality.
God has a name, His name is Jesus, and the thief upon the cross placed his faith in Jesus as the only one who could change his fate. The man then took the third step by consciously choosing to trust Jesus with his life and his future. He openly confessed his sins before God and those who were minglingabout… he came clean. No more blaming, no more deceiving. He finally came clean and Jesus spoke those powerful words to him, words of hope. “Today you will be with me in paradise!”
It didn’t matter what he had done, no sin is so big that God cannot forgive it. He also didn’t earn these grace filled words, they were a gift from the giver of life who was about to breathe His last so that we could breathe eternally!
When we come clean before God, we receive God’s gift of grace and forgiveness. I don’t know what sins or mistakes you might have in your closet today. Perhaps it’s fresh, or perhaps it years old, it really doesn’t matter. Jesus says ‘look to me, trust me, come clean and I will remove from you this load that feels like the world’s weight.’ This is the process of having a clean heart and clean hands.
Matthew 5:8 says, “Happy are the pure in heart, they will see God.” If you want to experience the gaze of Jesus that fills you with forgiveness and hope, you need to start coming clean. Confess to God the areas that aren’t going right, the attitudes and habits that need changing. His promise is to forgive you instantly!! 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Wow, what a promise! This promise is based upon God’s character and promises, not about your performance!
Who may climb the mountain of the Lord?
Who may stand in his holy place?
Only those whose hands and hearts are pure,
who do not worship idols and never tell lies.
They will receive the Lord’s blessing
and have right standing with God their savior.
They alone may enter God’s presence
and worship the God of Israel.
Grace. A beautiful gift to us when we don’t deserve it, but it is the gift that transforms the coldest of hearts into flames of passion!
Jesus continues to amaze me. The thief is near death. There is no opportunity for him to make amends to those he stole from, no opportunity to “turn over a new leaf” or dedicate his life in service to God. He is a thief. He is dying. He cannot correct his past; he cannot do better tomorrow. There is no tomorrow. Yet, Jesus assures him of paradise. Amazing! The Good News is so simple—why does religion strive to complicate it?
The greatest hindrance to real change in my life has always been the result of clinging to the false hope of doing better tomorrow. It kept me too long from experiencing grace and peace. Grace and peace—two words found in every New Testament epistle except one. They must be significant. Imagine—God is willing to give what we do not deserve, and to accept us in spite of the fact that we are rebels. Grace—nothing we need do; Peace—no amends we need make. The thief could do nothing. He had no tomorrow. We need to live daily in the realization that there need be no tomorrow. Hard words to accept—we so want to believe that we are contributors.
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9).
Self-suffiency. It is one of the many downfalls that seems to get in the way of the long walk with Jesus. I delusion myself into thinking that I can “fix” my own bad habits and tendencies when in fact, life only seems to get worse. Stubborness begins to wane my relationships down, then guilt begins to build up. When I confess my sins to God and turn all burdens over to him, it begins deep positive changes that go beyond fathoming. Denial turns to acknowledgment, fear turns to courage, hate turns to love…in trusting God all things that were not possible, become possible. Without his grace, all hurts fester like an open wound, but building up faith begins to heal past the pain. The loves God gives is more powerful than any “band-aid” you can put on your heart. He knows you have wronged so much, he will forgive every transgression. No matter where you are or what you’ve done, if you give your life to him, he will give you grace, all offenses aside.