What separates one from the other is a matter of the heart. The one criminal hurled insults and mocked Jesus asking him to get them down from the cross. A jailbreak if you will. And what if that man were to be freed from his cross? Would he repent, change his ways, and give up his life of crime? Most likely he would continue down the same path, only to be eventually brought to the same bloody cross in the future. His heart was riddled with arrogance, deceit, and treachery. An unrepentant heart.
The other man, also a thief, also sentenced to death, had a different perspective on his pitiful circumstances. Realizing he did indeed deserve what was happening to him, and that Jesus was innocent of his crimes, scolded the other man for speaking to Jesus in such an insulting way. Realizing he had nothing to lose and possibly everything to gain, he simply asks Jesus to remember him when he enters his kingdom. This man’s heart was broken, sincere, and most of all humbled. A repentant heart. Jesus of course, tells this man that he would be with him forever more.
The book of Jeremiah in chapter seventeen, verse nine says, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” It seems only one can truly understand matters of the heart – none other than the one who created the everlasting human soul - the mender of broken hearts – Jesus. The cure itself for the deceitful heart is love, humility, and forgiveness – everything Jesus truly represented and still represents today.
If you were asked to choose one of the criminals that hung beside Jesus on that horrific and beautiful afternoon, and offer that man a chance to go back in time to redo any part of his life, who might you select? The answer might just be a matter of the heart.