Do you ever wonder if you have the time or ability to make an impact on the lives of others? Is it too late? This past winter I heard a quote on a television show. The quote was attributed to US President Roosevelt and when I researched it the quote was accurate. The quote said, “Do what you can with what you have where you are.” While I am sure we could all think of examples of people effectively walking in their gifts and callings I will highlight one example from scripture. The thief on the cross.
So, a look at what the thief on the cross could do with what he had where he was. Below are the accounts from both Matthew and Luke, beginning with Matthew.
38 Then two robbers were crucified with Him, one on the right and another on the left.
39 And those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads 40 and saying, “You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.”
41 Likewise the chief priests also, mocking with the scribes and elders, said, 42 “He saved others; Himself He cannot save. If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him. 43 He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now if He will have Him; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.’ ”
44 Even the robbers who were crucified with Him reviled Him with the same thing. Matthew 27:38–44 (NKJV)
33 And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left. 34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”
And they divided His garments and cast lots. 35 And the people stood looking on. But even the rulers with them sneered, saying, “He saved others; let Him save Himself if He is the Christ, the chosen of God.”
36 The soldiers also mocked Him, coming and offering Him sour wine, 37 and saying, “If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself.”
38 And an inscription also was written over Him in letters of Greek, Latin, and Hebrew:
THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS
39 Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, “If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.”
40 But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”
43 And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” Luke 23:33–43 (NKJV)
We know from the text in Matthew that the two men were robbers (Matt. 27:38, 44) while Luke simply refers to them as criminals (Lk. 23:33, 39). In his passage Matthew informs us that as Jesus is hanging on the cross He is being mocked by the crowd, the religious leaders and the two criminals. Luke however has the one criminal, popularly referred to as ‘the thief on the cross,’ defending Jesus and rebuking his fellow criminal.
Obviously something happened in the heart of the one criminal as he hung there dying. He went form mocking Jesus to defending Him and asking for His grace in the next life. Returning to our theme, doing what we can with what we have where we are, this man clearly had limited options. He couldn’t go anywhere as he was fixed in place on an instrument of cruel torture. It was a struggle to simply draw a breath and it would have made sense for him to have simply remained resigned to the inevitable outcome. Yet in spite of his circumstances, or perhaps because of them, the thief on the cross underwent a transformation. He began to speak on Jesus behalf. He had begun by mocking Jesus but then something happened in his heart and he recognized Jesus as Messiah and King. What is usually presented regarding this story is the ability to gain salvation at any moment, up to our last breath. However, even while right near death the man went through repentance, a change of mind and heart, and began to be a witness for Jesus. He asserted Jesus innocence, defended Him from false accusation and recognized Jesus as king.
The result of him doing what he could with what he had where he was? Jesus tells us, that very day while his fellow unrepentant thief was going to step from time into eternity and encounter horror, this man received the following assurance from Jesus, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” (Lk. 23:43).
So, as it relates to being effective in and for Jesus kingdom let us reflect on what we have in terms of our abilities and do what we can with them where we are.