Have No Regrets
“Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.’” (Luke 23:42-43)
Few Scriptures offer as much consolation and hope to troubled sinners as these words spoken by Jesus to the condemned thief. “This day you will be with Me in paradise.” This thief had absolutely nothing to offer Jesus except a wasted and injurious life. Yet he found mercy from the Lord and the promise of eternal life in heaven.
And what could possibly be better than possessing eternal life with Christ in heaven? No matter what tragedies a person suffers in this life, eternity with Christ compensates for them all by a factor of millions. In the final analysis, who cares if the penitent thief lived a regrettable life of crime? In the end he found eternal life. As Charles Spurgeon wrote:
“It is better to be least in the kingdom of heaven than greatest out of it. …The thief on the cross excels Caesar on his throne; Lazarus among the dogs is better than Cicero among the senators; and the most unlettered Christian is in the sight of God superior to Plato.”
For this reason, stories of deathbed conversions or “last-minute saints” are some of the most cherished in the Bible and Christian literature. They give us hope for ourselves in our darkest moments.
Yet, for the man or woman of God who suffers persecution at the hands of those who later find mercy from the Lord, such stories are troubling. For, to the suffering saint, when evil people find mercy from God it appears as if they’ve skirted a well-deserved judgment.
Take for instance the story of Manasseh, King of Judah (2 Chronicles 33:1-20). Manasseh was one of the worst sinners of all time. This son of a righteous king rejected his father’s godly ways and led God’s people into wholesale apostasy. He brought such moral and spiritual damage upon the people of God that the kingdom would never recover. Manasseh’s perversions sent Judah spiraling downward and they would never rise again.
But Manasseh’s story has a happy ending. After he was severely disciplined by the Lord, Manasseh humbled himself before God, turned from his wicked ways, and pleaded to God for mercy. And God forgave him and restored him to his throne.
But this story of redemption so disturbed the prophets who wrote the books of 1 and 2 Kings, that they omitted it from Scripture (2 Kings 21:1-18). It was only after the Exile that the account of Manasseh’s redemption was included. For the returning Jews needed hope that God was not yet finished with them. They identified with the broken and repentant Manasseh and saw in his story hope for God’s forgiveness.
Equally disturbing to the suffering saint is the thought of being “made equal” to these “last-minute” converts when God rewards His servants in heaven. Don’t tell me you haven’t read Jesus’ parable of the laborers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16) and raised an eyebrow. Haven’t you thought to yourself, “That’s not fair! Those who worked for 12 hours received the same payment as those who worked only one hour!”
In all honesty, however, what reward could be greater than what God gives freely to us – eternal life with Jesus in Heaven. Won’t all other rewards pale by comparison to what every believer receives freely from God?
Yet, there is a dimension of heavenly rewards that can never be equally enjoyed among the last-minute convert and the lifelong servant of Christ. When the lifelong servant of Christ enters heaven, he will discover the multitudes of the redeemed who are there because of him. When the last-minute convert enters heaven, however, he will discover the redeemed who are there in spite of him. And, perhaps, the thought may enter his mind (if there be any regrets in heaven), “Who isn’t here because of me?”
So let none of God’s servants have regrets. The lifelong servants of Christ should rejoice. For the investment of their lives in the Kingdom of God is having eternal and infinite ramifications. For more of their lives have been spent in blessing Christ’s church and leading the lost to Jesus. But the last-minute converts can rejoice also. For they will forever stand in heaven as trophies of God’s grace. For God loved them and saved them when they could offer Him absolutely nothing in return. Thus, they will bring glory to God as well.
Therefore, as long as we have opportunity, let’s give ourselves wholeheartedly to the Lord. But should a long, wasted life lay behind us when we finally come to our senses and believe in Jesus, we mustn’t despair. Remember, “the thief on the cross excels Caesar on his throne.” To gain eternal life is the greatest gain of all and the least in the Kingdom of God will stand forever as a trophy of God’s glorious grace.
PRAYER: Lord make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred let me sow love, where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen. (St. Francis of Assisi)