What a Friend We Have in Jesus. Jesus Loves Me, This I Know. Glory Be to Jesus. Come, Lord Jesus, Be Our Guest. Jesus, Name Above All Names. Jesus, Jesus, Only Jesus. The name of the innocent man bleeding on the cross is … Jesus.

Can you tell me the name of the only person in the bible who called Jesus … Jesus? He was called Master, Rabbi, Rabboni, Teacher, Lord, God, the Lamb, even Blasphemer. But only one person is on record of ever calling him by the name you and I use pretty much every day. Can you tell me that man’s name? You can’t. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” We don’t know his name. We only know he was a criminal, hanging on the cross next to Jesus.

We also know there was another criminal there that day, hanging on another cross. And he also had a name for Jesus. “Aren’t you the Christ?” he asked. The word “Christ” means ‘chosen one.’ So really, what he was saying was, ‘Aren’t you the One Chosen by God to be there for me and help me in every situation?’ Of course, he didn’t say that seriously, but sarcastically, and it’s easy to understand why. Just put yourself in his position. Think about how you would feel if God were right next to you, and all you saw him doing was hanging there and doing nothing when you needed saving.

We know – it’s not always easy to praise God when your life hurts, and when you ask God for help, and nothing happens. It’s not always easy to believe God is in control and you’re going to be ok when pain is constantly running up and down your spine; and your heart feels like it’s going to burst at any moment because it’s so heavy from all the pressure of life. And if so much time goes on and nothing seems to change, it can even be easy to give up believing that God is real, or that he cares, or that he’s even able to save. But one man didn’t give up. That was the criminal who asked Jesus to remember him, who also happens to be the only person in the bible to defend Jesus at his crucifixion. 

“Don’t you fear God,” that criminal said. And then, after pointing out to his guilty friend that they were getting what they deserved, he pointed at Jesus and said, “But this man has done nothing wrong.” That word “wrong” literally means “out of place.” ‘He has never done anything out of place.’ Now, that certainly means that Jesus never sinned. But think about what that means if we would apply it to his rule in our lives as our King. If Jesus is our King, and if our King is in complete control of everything (as Christians often like to say he is), and if nothing under his control is ever out of place, it means that we would always have a reason to feel good, even when life doesn’t go the way we were planning.

It means that the bad news you get isn’t really be bad because we know that all things work out for the good of those who love him. It means that you don’t need to worry about anything, no matter what it is, no matter how unexpected or challenging. It means that you can feel good about your future, even if something blows up in your present. It means that cancer, or death, or car accidents don’t need to destroy your hope. Or your joy. Or your confidence. It mean that, no matter where you are in life, even if you’re hanging on a cross, stabbed with shooting pain, you can still believe that you’re going to be ok – because Jesus is in control of everything, and nothing is ever out of place when it comes to his rule as our King. 

I don’t know if that’s what he wanted the other criminal to remember about Jesus. But what do you think he wanted Jesus to remember about him? That was his main request. “Jesus, remember me.” Have you ever thought about what exactly he was asking Jesus to remember about him?

I have a friend whose ex-husband died a number of years ago. Many years after their divorce, she was still feeling the pain of the relationship. He was an abusive husband who took our his frustrations on her so regularly that she now lives with some permanent scars and bodily damage because of it. When he died, she wanted to be respectful, and so she decided to attend the funeral. She asked me to go with her.

During the funeral there was an opportunity for friends and family to approach the microphone at the front of the church and say a few words about the man in the casket. If you did not know this man previously, from the words that were shared that day, you would have thought he was the nicest, sweetest, kindest man who had ever lived. “He would have given you the shirt off his back,” someone said. “He cared about everyone,” said another. The one that stung my friend the worst was when someone said, “He never hurt anyone.” Of course, she knew the truth.

A few months later I was teaching a class of 8th graders when one of the students raised her hand and said, “At a funeral, why do people only say good things about the person who died?” I suppose there are many possible explanations. But I asked the student, “What would you want people to say about you if you were the one in the casket?” She thought about it for a little bit and then said, “I don’t think I would want them to tell the truth.” 

Would you? Would you want the people who know you the best, who’ve seen you at your worst, to stand up in front of everyone and share the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth as they remember you? When you cry out to God, hoping that he’ll remember you, are you hoping he remembers everything? Are you hoping he remembers your flaws? The times you’re disappointed with God because he’s not letting you control how he answers when you pray to him? Do you want him to remember the times when you let this world – its troubles, its cancers, its pain – have far more control than his promises over your mood and emotions? Do you want him to remember how often you think of yourself more than anyone else? Do you want him to remember the things you do when you think no one’s watching? Do you want him to remember the truth?

That’s what Jesus wanted the criminal to remember. “I tell you the truth,” he said as he turned his tired head toward a criminal Jesus never called innocent; “today you will be with me in paradise.” And I don’t think the criminal was expecting it. Jesus had done nothing wrong. But the criminal knew that he did. And that gives us a lot more in common with the criminal than with Jesus. And Jesus isn’t unaware of it. He does remember everything, including the mistakes, including the doubts, including the sins. That’s the reason he was there that day, hanging on a cross. He was there because he remembered that he was the one chosen to forgive them. He was on that altar because he remembered that he was the one chosen by God to offer a sacrifice that was so costly and so big that it would assure even a criminal who knew he deserved nothing close to heaven that there is nothing in all creation that can keep God from opening the door of paradise to someone just like him. 

And like you.

On Good Friday, we remember the truth; that the God who is in control of everything, the God who can do absolutely anything, chooses to hang by your side through every bit of your pain to make sure it won’t keep you from the one paradise where neither your body nor your heart will ever hurt ever again. Like the criminal, one day we will see that paradise with our eyes. But until we do, the one great goal of our existence is to make sure the cross of Jesus is always lifted high; to never forget or to hide from our families and communities the one place where we see the true ugliness of our sin, because it is the best place to see that God will always remember to love you, no matter what it will cost him, no matter the dark place you’re ever in.