It is the day before Good Friday when Jesus was crucified by the Romans and through whose sacrifice all who believe will be saved and have eternal life. The Passion of the Christ is a well told and documented story. However, all three Gospels also document the two other men who were crucified with Jesus. It is the story of the thief that resonates with me as a coach because he finished strong.
The Bible does not provide much detail about the thief's physical appearance or background. However, it is believed that he was a criminal who had been sentenced to death by crucifixion, a common punishment in ancient Roman times for crimes such as theft, rebellion, or insurrection.
According to the Gospel accounts, the thief was crucified alongside Jesus, along with another criminal. At first, both thieves mocked Jesus. However, as time passed, the thief who would later be called the "penitent thief" had a change of heart. He rebuked the other criminal and asked Jesus to remember him when he came into his kingdom.
Jesus responded by promising the thief that he would be with him in paradise.
For God so loved the world that he gave his only son so whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16
The thief had nothing to offer Christ. He did not know the sinner's prayer, he was not baptized, he was more than likely a gentile and all he had to offer Jesus was his belief in Him. What we know for certain is that the thief's path to salvation was torturous (literally). I am fairly certain that his life was filled with falling short of God's standard.
As Christians, we need to recognize that finishing strong is both as simple and as hard as believing in Christ. Putting our faith in Him and letting him take the wheel of our lives is the only path to salvation. As CS Lewis pointed out, salvation is a free gift of God's grace, which can only be received by faith. He writes in Mere Christianity, "To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you."
As a coach, I counsel player's to finish strong regardless of the situation. Up by 7 or down by 30, the power of finishing strong lies in the fact that it allows individuals to overcome adversity and achieve their goals, even when the odds are against them. It also gives them a sense of accomplishment and pride in their achievements, which can boost their confidence and motivate them to continue striving for excellence in the future.
The Bible encourages believers to approach their spiritual journey with the same level of dedication and effort that an athlete brings to a race, constantly striving to grow closer to God and pursue eternal rewards.(1 Corinthians 9:24-27 ) The thief on the cross is a reminder that no matter our race we are to finish strong. This Easter Sunday, my prayer is that we all finish like the thief.