And Jesus replied, "I assure you, today you will be with Me in paradise." Luke 23:43
Why is it that when certain people who have been miraculously rescued from a life full of sin come to Christ, our first instinct is to doubt them? We may often question their sincerity. We may doubt that God truly has changed that person. We may often simply be waiting for that person to slip and fall and admit that it was all a hoax. These may often be our first instincts, but Scripture teaches that instead of doubt, we should support them and believe in God's power to change anyone.
As Jesus was dying on the cross, He was centered between two criminals. Luke 23 teaches us that one of these criminals mocked Jesus, while the other criminal placed his faith in Jesus. After one criminal mocked Jesus, the other criminal said to him, "Don't you fear God even when you have been sentenced to die? We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn't done anything wrong" (Luke 23:40-41). He then looked at Jesus and said, "Jesus, remember me when You come into Your Kingdom" (Luke 23:42). In the very next verse, Jesus said to this man, "I assure you, today you will be with Me in paradise" (Luke 23:43). This man recognized who Jesus was. Did you notice that he said "Your Kingdom" to Jesus in verse 42? In saying that, He recognized that Jesus is God and that He has a heavenly kingdom. And, in an act of grace, because of this man's belief, Jesus offered him salvation. He acknowledged that this criminal would later that day be with Him in heaven. He offered this man salvation when he expressed his faith in Him. Jesus knew that no person is too far gone to be changed by faith in Him, and was demonstrating this truth for everyone watching through His exchange with this criminal.
What was true on that night that Jesus died is just as true now: God's power can save anyone. Along with the thief on the cross, the apostle Paul is a great demonstration of this good news. You see, he had been so against Christ that he was persecuting and killing Christians. Then, one day, God saved His life, and he became a follower of Christ. Many were hesitant to believe that he had really changed, but a man named Barnabas came and told believers about Saul's changed life because of Jesus. His confidence in Paul caused other Christ-followers to have confidence in Paul. God's power can change anyone. Jesus taught it. Barnabas knew it. Will you choose to believe this truth?
Is there someone in your life who you are certain is beyond hope of coming to believe in God? Start praying for that person today, believing that God has the power to work in and change that person's life. Then, look for opportunities to have intentional conversations with him or her as you go about your week.
Read Acts 9:1-25 (NLT)
Meanwhile, Saul was uttering threats with every breath and was eager to kill the Lord’s followers. So he went to the high priest. He requested letters addressed to the synagogues in Damascus, asking for their cooperation in the arrest of any followers of the Way he found there. He wanted to bring them—both men and women—back to Jerusalem in chains.
As he was approaching Damascus on this mission, a light from heaven suddenly shone down around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?”
“Who are you, lord?” Saul asked.
And the voice replied, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting! Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
The men with Saul stood speechless, for they heard the sound of someone’s voice but saw no one! Saul picked himself up off the ground, but when he opened his eyes he was blind. So his companions led him by the hand to Damascus. He remained there blind for three days and did not eat or drink.
Now there was a believer in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord spoke to him in a vision, calling, “Ananias!”
“Yes, Lord!” he replied.
The Lord said, “Go over to Straight Street, to the house of Judas. When you get there, ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul. He is praying to me right now. I have shown him a vision of a man named Ananias coming in and laying hands on him so he can see again.”
“But Lord,” exclaimed Ananias, “I’ve heard many people talk about the terrible things this man has done to the believers in Jerusalem! And he is authorized by the leading priests to arrest everyone who calls upon your name.”
But the Lord said, “Go, for Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings, as well as to the people of Israel. And I will show him how much he must suffer for my name’s sake.”
So Ananias went and found Saul. He laid his hands on him and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road, has sent me so that you might regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Instantly something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he got up and was baptized. Afterward he ate some food and regained his strength.
Saul stayed with the believers in Damascus for a few days. And immediately he began preaching about Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is indeed the Son of God!”
All who heard him were amazed. “Isn’t this the same man who caused such devastation among Jesus’ followers in Jerusalem?” they asked. “And didn’t he come here to arrest them and take them in chains to the leading priests?”
Saul’s preaching became more and more powerful, and the Jews in Damascus couldn’t refute his proofs that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. After a while some of the Jews plotted together to kill him. They were watching for him day and night at the city gate so they could murder him, but Saul was told about their plot. So during the night, some of the other believers lowered him in a large basket through an opening in the city wall.