The Scandal of Grace
Have you ever pondered on the scandal of free grace? The message of the cross is scandalous, because with the words of Fanny Crosby it says that “the vilest of offender who truly believes, that moment from Jesus a pardon receives.” It is offensively shocking that the fanatical, religious terrorist Saul, can confidently say that he has a “righteous- ness from God that depends on faith”.
How can this be? How can the un- righteous, the wicked, the unholy receive a cosmic, divine pardon based solely upon faith in the Lord Jesus? How can God forgive and show mercy to those who literally have blood on their hands? What about making amends? What about atoning for yourself? Isn’t it unfair of God to justify the repentant tax collector, while leaving the prayers of the pious pharisee unanswered? (Luke 18:9-14). Surely, righteousness from God - hearing the verdict: “not guilty” - cannot depend on faith alone? That would be scandalous.
But that is exactly what it depends on, and that is precisely why the good news of Jesus Christ is the most scandalous message in the history of the world. Nowhere can this scandal of grace be seen more clearly than at the very crucifixion of our Lord Jesus in the faith of a condemned criminal.
Luke records this remarkable account of God’s scandalous grace to the chief of sinners in Luke 23:32-43. Two criminals are crucified to the right and left of our Lord (v33). One of them joins the crowd in mocking Jesus: “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the second criminal responds very differently. Hanging on a cross, with no more than a few hours to live he finally begins to see with the eyes of faith.
He acknowledges that he is simply getting what he deserves (v. 41), he calls on the other criminal to fear God (v39), he recognizes that Jesus is innocent, and he humbly asks Jesus: “remember me when you come into your kingdom”. All of these are acts of remarkable faith in the dying moments of this hardened criminal. He shows conviction of sin, fear of the Lord, he sees the uniqueness and sinlessness of Jesus, and trusts him alone for eternal salvation.
“How presumptuous of this vile sinner to even have the nerve to make such a obnoxious request of Jesus!” “How dare he make such a bold ask of the eternal Son of God!” “Who does he think he is?“ “He is completely out of line! Surely, he is going to get put back in his place by Jesus.”
These kind of thoughts are the natural inclinations of the self-righteous. We can all too easily think that there are certain categories of sinners that are beyond saving.
But before we take the moral high ground we would do well to ask the Lord to open our eyes to see the supernatural, spirit-wrought faith that God gave to this filthy criminal on the mount of crucifixion. He places his complete trust, his only hope for eternity in a helpless, dying man, who is in the exact same predicament as he is. The crowds had faith in Jesus when they saw his miracles, Thomas trusted when he felt Jesus’ wounds, but this unnamed lawbreaker believed when he saw the Son of God dying for the sins of the world.
And so the dying Christ, with one of his last recorded words, proclaims salvation to this chief of sinners: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise” (v. 43) If ever there was a picture of salvation by faith ALONE, this would be it. The criminal never had a chance to prove his faith by his works, he never lived a life transformed by the power of the Spirit, and yet this sinner would take his final breath justified - declared righteous by the righteous one slain for sinners like him. He would die no longer
an enemy of God. He would truly "rest in peace". Though his body was broken, his spirit would be with Jesus in paradise that very day. What infinite, matchless, scandalous grace. Do you revel in it, or are you appalled by it? The answer to that question will determine your eternal destiny.