• The Absurdity of Grace

  • And [Jesus] said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you shall be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43)




    Two thieves, one on Jesus’ right side and one on his left, were crucified with Christ; and yet, only one was granted eternal life. Of the synoptic Gospels, Luke alone captures the significance of this event. Matthew and Mark identify the criminals as heaping insults upon Jesus, but they omitted any report of a conversion. The thieves were obviously paying for the temporal consequences of their sins. Jesus was paying for the robbers’ sins along with the sins of all mankind. In His last hours, Jesus would grant the repentant robber eternal life.


    It is called grace. God bestows His free and unmerited favor upon us; such grace confounds our human reason. Salvation by works is not possible; by grace, it is sure.


    Could the thief on the cross be compared to someone who makes a last minute confession of faith before death? Dietrich Bonhoeffer called such an attempt “cheap grace,” that is, “the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance.” Some think that if they commit a sin today they can always repent later, thereby repeating the fate of the robber. But they are barking up the wrong tree; true repentance is not a simple action. Instead of looking up at the robber, faith-filled repentant sinners should focus on the center cross—the cross on which Christ was crucified. And we center our attention on Jesus, who paid the penalty for our sins. Jesus, and only Jesus, is our way to salvation. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).


    By grace you have been saved through faith” (Ephesians 2:8). God’s grace cannot be earned, because that is not how grace works. You cannot do good works if you’re affixed to a cross. The only thing the penitent thief could by faith count on was Jesus’ promise of paradise. To quote Bonhoeffer, “Intercession means no more than to bring our brother into the presence of God, to see him under the Cross of Jesus as a poor human being and sinner in need of grace.”


    “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace” (Romans 11:6). To be sure, good works are necessary for our neighbor but not for our salvation. The robber’s request was simple: “Jesus, remember me,..,” which prompted Jesus’ response, “…today you will be with me in paradise.”


    What about the other robber who was also crucified with Jesus? What was his fate? Unfortunately, we do not know much about him other than the fact that he rejected God’s grace. The same grace was available to him.


    “And from His fullness we have all received grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:16,17). “We too are beggars,” said Luther “in need of God’s mercy.” Meanwhile, Jesus forgives us even when we cheapen His grace. It sounds absurd, but it is grace after all.


    ©2021 Mark Lasseigne Used by permission
    All Scripture quotes ESV

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