It is Easter time, brothers and sisters. Christ, whom they crucified and was dead and buried for three days, has risen as he promised. He who attracted rebuke and laughter when he said he could destroy the temple and build it in a maximum of three days has indeed done the unthinkable. He has defeated death. Our God is King!
This month I want us to focus on the two people who were crucified together with Jesus. These were two robbers – yes, two sinners! As we speak, one of the men is seated in Paradise with the King of Kings. He is enjoying full salvation even as we await our chance. As for the other criminal, your guess is as good as mine (Luke 23: 39-45).
These two men had lived the same life on earth. They lived from the sweat of others, eating what they did not prepare and gathering where they had not sown. They harassed and waylaid people at night and sometimes even murdered some. In the eyes of man, these two were hopeless sinners whose place was in the deepest end of the eternal furnace in hell. But wherever you will go after this life, you will find one of them there and the other missing. One is in Heaven and the other in Hell. Why? The difference is in two Rs – Remorse and Repentance.
One of the sinners was as unremorseful as he was unrepentant: “And one of the men that were hanged with him railed on him, saying: ‘If you are the Christ, save yourself and us.’” This man did not recognise Jesus as the Christ, even though he knew that he was. “If you are the Christ” was nothing but mockery. Like other people in his village, he doubted whether a carpenter’s son could be the promised messiah. To him, Jesus was just a schizophrenic who believed he was what he was not. And this is what he wanted to prove when he dared Jesus to “save himself and us.” What he is telling us is that Jesus could not even save Himself. There lies his problem.
But there is another who rebuked him: “Don’t you fear God, seeing we are in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man has done nothing wrong.” This is the man you will find in Paradise. He was a wise man, even though a sinner. He feared God. He also acknowledged his sins when he said they have been justly condemned. This man also realised that his sins deserved punishment.
And what he said later must have convinced Jesus that the man really knew what he was saying: “But this man has done nothing wrong.” He professed his faith. The man had moved from recognition of his sinful nature to remorse, to professing his faith in Christ. And because he recognized his sin, he did not ask to be taken to Heaven. All he wanted Jesus to do was to remember him,” Verily I say unto you. Today you will be with me in Paradise.” Don’t you wish you were that thief?
But thieves we are! All of us are sinners. We take and give bribes; we fornicate; we commit adultery; we steal even from our employers including time for which we are paid to work; we live a life of want even though we are strong enough to find gainful employment even in our own farms; we lie and break our vows and promises; we cast our votes for people we know are undeserving to govern us; we fail to raise our voices against social ills and bad governance. We are sinners to the core.
In recognition of this, Christians world over were encouraged to fast and pray for 40 days before Easter. This is our crucifixion beside Jesus. For forty days you and I had a chance to speak to Jesus this Easter time. What did you tell him? Did you mock him, or did you beg him to remember you? Did you acknowledge your sinfulness and ask for mercy? Were you the thief on the right or the thief on the left all of those 40 days?
You didn’t fast? You didn’t give to the poor? You didn’t even pray? Well, I have good news for you. There are no latecomers in the Kingdom of Heaven. As St Chrysostom once said in an Easter sermon:
If any have toiled from the first hour,
let them receive their reward.
If any have come after the third hour,
let them with gratitude join in the feast!
Those who arrived after the sixth hour,
let them not doubt; for they shall not be short-changed.
Those who have tarried until the ninth hour,
let them not hesitate; but let them come too.
And those who arrived only at the eleventh hour,
let them not be afraid by reason of their delay.
For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first.
The Lord gives rest to those who come at the eleventh hour,
even as to those who toiled from the beginning.
Remember even the two thieves had lived most of their lives in sin until the sixth hour. “And it was about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour,” Luke Chapter 23:45. This, brothers and sisters, is the true meaning of Easter. Either you continue living in defiance of God or you beg God for mercy so you may live with Him in Paradise. The choice is yours. As I wish you a happy Easter, I pray for your remorse and repentance for all your sin even if this were your eleventh hour.
Published in April 2012