We have this mental picture of some old man, with a long gray beard, sitting on a throne with a scale in his lap, watching our every move and reading our every thought. When we do or think something noble, right, or good, he places those spiritual trinkets on the right side of his scale. When we do or think something bad, he places those spiritual trinkets on the left hand side of the scale. Our hope is that when we die and have to stand in front of this old man and give an accounting of our lives, the right hand side of the scale will be the heaviest, allowing us to enter heaven on the basis of our goodness.
In just one biblical narrative Jesus obliterates the validity of the preceding paragraph.
Jesus is hanging on the cross and is engaged in conversation by the two men crucified on either side of Him. One thief is ridiculing and mocking Him, the other clearly sees his own just end and says, “We are dying here because we are getting the just punishment for the life we have lived. This man has done nothing wrong. He is innocent!”
When we hear this exchange, it seems to bolster our fill in the blank scenario. Good people go to heaven, bad people don’t. Then Jesus exposes our lie for what it is. The thief says, “Jesus, remember me when you enter into your kingdom.” Then Jesus answers, “Truly, I tell you, this day you will be with me in paradise.”
What! Jesus must be delirious from the crucifixion. This man is not worthy. This man is a wicked man. He is not a good man.
And now the truth of Jesus’ crucifixion is exposed. This short conversation from the cross clearly reveals why Jesus was hanging there in the first place. Jesus had been walking the countryside for three years telling the religious people of the day that the prostitutes, tax collectors and the worst riffraff you can imagine, were entering the kingdom of heaven ahead of them. It was this teaching that threw their religion on its head.
Careful, because it may throw your belief system on its head as well. Honestly, what do you believe? How do you fill in that blank? Here are just a few other possibilities that are also wrong. Educated people go to heaven (what a joke). Self-actualized people go to heaven (for the egg heads among us). All religions lead to heaven. All people go to heaven (for the universalists among us). Scripture clearly teaches us, and when we are honest with ourselves we know it’s true, “there is none righteous; no, not one.”
The answer to our fill in the blank question? Forgiven people go to heaven. That thief on the cross received forgiveness that day and entered into the kingdom of heaven on the same basis that anyone else does. That savior, on that cross, forgiving you.