I've thought about becoming a Christian before, but I don't think I could ever do it. I have done so many bad things in my life, even to my own family and friends. They all hate me and don't trust me, and I really can't blame them. Nobody loves me, and I have nobody to love. How could God ever forgive and love a person like me? I can't even forgive and love myself. I hate who I am and what I've done, and I feel like there is no place but hell for people like me. I can't change, and most of the time I don't even want to change. It's like I love anything rotten or harmful, even though I know I shouldn't. Why would God want me? Why would He love me? I have nothing but pain and heartache to offer Him, and probably a lot more in the future. It's too late for me. I deserve hell. Maybe if I could just quit <insert sin here>, or start doing something good, God would accept me. But I know I won't. I can't. I guess some people are just made for hell. I'm just no good.
That paragraph is the composite sentiment of a LOT of people. For those of you who feel this way, God recorded the story of a very special person in His Word. It's the story of the first person ever saved by the blood of Christ, and you might want to listen to it.
Let's take a trip to the Mideast two thousand years ago. Jesus has endured a Jewish kangaroo court, a Roman flogging, and a railroad to the cross by Jewish leaders. Do you see Him? Beaten to a pulp, barely able to stand, misshapen, inhuman in appearance. Crowds line His way to the place of execution, some screaming in anger and vituperation, others wailing in sorrow; it is a melee of emotions. Then they reach Golgotha, and crucify Jesus. Also at the scene is the first person ever saved by Christ's blood. In the 27th chapter of his book, Matthew introduces this exemplary person:
Two robbers were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, "You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!" In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. "He saved others," they said, "but he can't save himself! He's the King of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, 'I am the Son of God.' " In the same way the robbers who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him.
There he is. What? You don't see him? You don't see the first person ever saved by the blood of Christ? Perhaps the brightness of his halo blinded you to his identity. Or perhaps not...he happens to be one of those robbers heaping insults on Christ.
Let's fast forward a couple hours. The crucified men are weaker now, in agony, and perhaps starting to see the end draw near. Often men at the end of their lives begin to think about their lives, about their deeds, good or bad, about triumphs and regrets. Those thoughts can produce a variety of emotions from fearful anger to calm resignation. In the 23rd chapter of his book, Luke reveals an incredible admission by the first person ever saved by Christ's blood:
One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: "Aren't you the Christ? Save yourself and us!" But the other criminal rebuked him. "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."
Did you hear that? Our man just admitted that he did things worthy of crucifixion. Though the Bible calls him a robber, I would venture that robbery was one of his more common and tame crimes. More than likely, he murdered a few people in the act of robbery. In short, this man was the lowest of the low, the bottom of the bottom feeders, and he admitted it. In itself, that admission is amazing, but it gets downright flabbergasting in the very next verse when this man makes an astounding request:
Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."
Can you imagine the nerve? He was just heaping insults on Christ minutes ago! Now he's asking to be a subject in a spiritual kingdom with Christ as his king! Well, I'm sure you can imagine Jesus's response:
You worthless shred of human debris! How dare you! You were just spitting on me and mocking me! You think crucifixion is bad? Just wait until I get you on the other side of death, you miserable hypocrite! You'll wish for the RELIEF of a cross. You're gonna fry, baby, FRYYYYYYY, and I'm gonna light the match!
Oooops...might've gotten the wrong translation there. No, Jesus did not say that. What He did say was even more astounding than the man's request:
Jesus answered him, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise."
Say WHAT? Jesus opens the doors to heaven for this guy? No conditions? Without even demanding an apology? But that man is worthless. He's caused nothing but pain to himself and everyone around him for all his life - so much that authorities think him fit for nothing but death. He's got nothing to offer Christ - zero good deeds and several columns of bad deeds on the ledger, and he's going to die in a few minutes...no time to change or clean up his act. Come on, Jesus! That guy's playing you! He's not sincere! He's a liar from the cradle! Don't you know the things he's done to get himself nailed to a cross? If anyone was made for hell...he can't go to heaven. You can't accept him.
But Christ did accept him.
Long before He died on the cross, Christ said these words to a Jewish leader:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son (Christ), that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Christ proved the absolute truth of those words on the cross with that criminal. That criminal had nothing to offer God. He did nothing to earn himself heaven. He was a pathetic, dying, loser. But he believed. He believed that Christ was Who He said He was and could do for him what he could not do for himself. He believed and now enjoys eternal life with Christ.
Why don't you do the same? Read those words again that Jesus said to that Jewish leader. "Whoever" means anybody, anyone. It means you. It means me. No matter where we are, no matter what we've done.
You might not be able to change yourself, but Christ can change you. He can re-make you into a new person and give you a new life. You can start a journey with Him to paradise right this second, if you will only believe. He will accept even the worst of people if only they will believe.
I'm living proof.