Summary: Where can we find salvation? The thief on the cross found it right next to him. Based on several sermon I read several years ago. Most original, some not!


TEXT- LUKE 23: 39-43


I have a friend, and he is the kind of guy that would try anything, and he was driving through Tennessee colony, Texas when he drove passed the Coffield Prison unit. He decided he wanted to see what it was like in there, so he drove into the drive to the guardhouse. They stopped him and ask what is business was there? He said, “ I just want to go in and look around.” The guards told him, “ You don’t have any business here , so turn around and get on down that road.” He did!

I remember my first day to go to prison. I went with Richard who had been going there for 9 or 10 years. Our congregation had a prison ministry for several years and I wanted to be a part. I had never done anything like this in my life, and I didn’t really know what to expect.

We arrived at 9:30am and I noticed the Gurney Unit was a huge facility. The prison unit was surrounded by a 10 to 15feet high fence, and about 10 feet inside that fence was another fence about 10 to 15 feet high. There was also a 30 foot high guardhouse on each side of the unit, and it had guards with high powered rifles.

Now, unlike my friend, I knew there was only three ways to get inside, and that was if the court put you there, or you worked in there or you had an invitation.I was thankful we were invited. I did my orientation in Austin so I had been approved to do voluntary work in T.D.C.

We had been checked at the drive and then we were checked again at the fence. They checked our clear plastic bags for contraband and the guard in the tower opened the first gate and we went in. He then closed that gate electronically and open the next gate. We went in the office complex and registered at the Wardens office. We then went into a small room with locked doors on both sides where they took our drivers license. I ask, “Why?” They said so if a riot broke out they would know we were in there.

The chaplain told us if anything happened in a dorm like a fight or riot to get next to the metal door and they would get you out at the first opportunity. We were lucky because nothing like that happened on any of our visits.

When we walked inside I saw a sidewalk, about the width of a highway going straight for a quarter of a mile. There was dorms on each side housing 200 men with cells containing 50 men.

So, there they were all 1600 hundred criminals wearing there white shirts and pants. We had access to go and talk to any of them we wanted to, and I couldn’t believe they let us to that.

The first thing you find out is that not all criminals are alike. Most of them are young, and there ages are 18-30. Richard told me that this the place that you would meet the Prodical Son, and he was right. Some of the prisoners were middle age ,and some were fairly old. We meet criminals from all different races, and all different education level, and they came from all over the state of Texas.

Some of these criminals have sentences from a few years to life, and their crimes are all different-Alcohol and drugs-armed robbery-rape and murder.

Most of the inmates were willing to talk to us , and some have personal testimonies that are very powerful. It might be how they got to prison or how they came to Christ.

Criminals are different and they may have different testimonies!


You know, one of the most dramatic and powerful testimonies I’ve

ever read is the one we’re going to talk about this morning. It’s the true story of the thief who was crucified next to the Christ. The thief was a man who, in his last hours, confessed his faith in Jesus as the Son of God….the savior of the world.

Take your bibles and turn with me to the book of Luke, Chapter 23, and read with me verses 39-43. These are the second words Jesus spoke on the cross as He was being crucified for the sins of the world.

LUKE 23: 39-43

39-One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, “ Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!”

40-But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “ Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same condemnation?

41- And we are indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.”

42And he was saying, “ Jesus, remember me when you come in your kingdom!”

43- And He said to him, “ Truly I say to you, today you shall be with me in Paradise.”

This morning we will continue with our series on the last 7 statements Jesus made on the cross of calvary. If you remember our last lesson, we discussed Jesus’ first statement which was a prayer that said, “ Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”

Well, the conversion of this repentant thief was the first answer to this prayer that Jesus uttered and it shows how generously His forgiveness was bestowed on one of the more unlikely people. To understand this conversion we must back up a little and look a bit at the context of this text.

The first thing we should notice is that Jesus was crucified between two thieves that day. We need to understand who they were and why they were being executed in the first place. To understand we need to look at the GREEK because the word Matthew uses to describe these men literally means “ BANDITS” or “ HOODLUMS.” In all probability they were members of an organized scheme to overthrow the Roman government.

In fact there is good reason to believe that these men were partners in crime with Barabbas- the man released instead of Jesus. I say this because in Mark 15:7 it talks about Barabbas’ companions when it says, “ And the man named Barabbas had been imprisoned with the insurrectionist who had committed murder in the uprising.” In other words these men hanging next to Jesus were propably not first time offenders who had made a few minor mistakes in life and gotten caught. No, they were criminals, thugs-murders!. I believe that either of them could easily have been on Jerusalem’s MOST WANTED posters.

In fact if you read the scriptures carefully, you can see the bad-to-the-bone character of theses two you notice they both initially used their dying strength to join in on the taunting of Jesus. They had all been offered a drugged wine, mingled with myrrh before the crucifixion and I believe they took all of theirs, but Jesus refused. Matthew says just like the crowd of mockers who surrounded the cross”…the robbers who were crucified with him also heaped insults on Him. ( Matthew 27:44)

MATT. 27:44

44- The robbers who had been crucified with Him were also insulting Him with the same words.”

Now the words we translate as “ INSULTS” or “ ABUSE” literally means BLASPHEMY. In other words the two men shouted harsh, maybe even obsence statements at Jesus. In their own dying misery they directed their curses and abuses at the Son of God.


Now have you ever wondered why Jesus was placed on a cross BETWEEN the two criminals? Was this just a coincidence? I mean if I had been the centurion in charge of the crucifixion ,I might have put Jesus off separately and the two criminals side by side. After all they were partners in crime so they should die side by side. But that’s not what happened. Jesus was placed in the center, and whose idea do you think that was?

Perhaps it was Pilate’s orders. Maybe He thought this added insult would please those who he had decided to please with this unjust penalty. Maybe he thought if Jesus loved sinners so much he ought to die in between two of them.

Maybe this particular arrangement was the idea of the Jewish officials who had contrived the whole thing. Maybe, they wanted to leave a lasting impression that these were the only kind of people over whom this imposter-messiah reigned as king.

In any case this placement was a fulfillment of prophesy, for Isaiah had said that the Messiah would be “ number WITH the transgressors.” ( Isaiah 53: 12) God had decreed that He was MOST holy should die with those who were most UNHOLY.

Irwin Lutzer puts it this way, “ Jesus not only died AMONG criminals but was numbered as ONE of THEM, and therein lies the heart of the Gospel. God had His reasons for decreeing that Jesus should gracelessly hang between two thugs. He wanted to demonstrate the depths of shame to which His Son was willing to descend. At His birth Jesus was surrounded by beasts and now, in His death, by criminals.”

This should help us to realize how wrong we would be to say that God has stayed aloft from the brokenness of our fallen world! By no means in fact, He has descended to the depths so that we might ascend with Him to newness of life. He has come down to lift us up.

Well in verse 39, it says that one of the thieves climaxed their back and forth barrage of insults by saying, “ Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us.” When he said this Jesus was silent. He gave no come back-just as Isaiah had also prophesied, “He was oppressed and afflicted yet He did not open His mouth.” (Isaiah 53:7) Jesus did not answer the taunting question that this first criminal had sarcastically posed.

But Luke says THE OTHER did. The OTHER answered. Now in Greek text the word “other” literally implies “ other of a different kind.” The scripture says in the being he was numbered with those who were shouting abuse including his partner and the others, so He was the same as them. But now he is being considered as one of another kind. I believe at this time he is being changed. He was becoming different because he told his compatriot , “ What’s the matter with you? Don’t you even fear God, since you’re under the same sentence of condemnation? Don’t you realize that we’re getting what we deserve, but this man is innocent?”

In other word, there came a point when one thief’s taunting turned to silence and silence turned to awareness and awareness turned to repentance.I guess as he watched Jesus, suffering all that abuse patiently, never reviling or insulting His tormentors, This thief began to see that the man on the center cross was indeed who He claimed to be. And when he did the thief turned to our Lord and said the most important sentence of his life, “ Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

I want you to know that in the Greek it is the imperfect tense. If you remember our first lesson we explained it is used to indicate repeated action in the past. So, this thief made this request to Jesus more than once. As he saw Jesus’ life and his own ebbing away, he prayed “ Remember me! Remember Me! Jesus, remember me when you come into Your Kingdom.”

I think we should also notice that this is not a plea for present relief or release, nor was it a request for position or power. No, this repentant criminal merely wanted to be remembered when Jesus came into His Kingdom. His request was for mercy he knew he did not deserve.

This reminds me of the prayer of the Publican in Luke 18, who, “would not as much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast saying, “ God, be merciful to me a sinner!” ( Luke 18:13)

Now why the change? I mean other than the way that Jesus responded to the crowd- what do you suppose it was that led this criminal to make this request? Well, I think there could have been several factors.


Don’t you imagine that he could not forget the first words Jesus uttered,. The same words we studied last week. Jesus said, “ Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Maybe he surmised that only a person who knew God could pray for the forgiveness of others. Maybe this prayer pierced his conscience and helped him see that he was a sinner and that he needed the forgiveness that Jesus spoke of.


Remember what it said? “ THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.” Pilate himself had this sign put over his head. It was written in three languages. Now it was not meant to be a declaration of the truth rather it was there I believe too sarcastically indicate that Jesus was being executed for treason-for claiming to be King above Ceasar.

I think maybe the criminal noticed this sign was true, because he began to plea with Jesus to “ remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” You know, if you think about it, since Pilate had this sign printed and put up it must have been the first Gospel tract. I guess he didn’t think about that!

I believe that God had his hand in all of this and nothing happened by accident. I mean since Jesus’ cross was placed in the center this man could easily hear Jesus’ prayer. He could easily see the sign above Jesus’ head. He could hang there and see on Jesus’ face that His words were sincere and His love even for His crucifiers was genuine. If Jesus had been on the end instead of the center this might be true for the thief, and he might could not have seen or heard Jesus clearly.


I doubt that this criminal had ever seen Jesus before this day. He probably thought as they were being put on those crosses that Jesus was just another thief. There is nothing to indicate at the beginning that he realized he was in the presence of GREATNESS. He could of heard the crowds words when they said, “ He saved others… but he can’t save himself.” ( Matthew 2 7 :42) The words were shouted in defiance and ridicule but the thief may have wondered, “ What do these people mean when they say, “ He saved others?” The crowd may have been talking about some of Jesus’ sayings and even His miracles and as the thief pondered their mockery he began to realize that he just might be in the presence of a Savior.

So how I think it is significant that the thief believed in Jesus while he appeared helpless. He himself appeared to need saving, and Jesus appeared to hang as a helpless victim himself, not a King. Jesus was wearing a crown of thorns. He had been beaten and flogged, and he hung on the cross with his hands and feet nailed to the cross. I’m sure he was bleeding and struggling to take a breath. I’m sure it was a gruesome sight, and with all of that the thief still believed.

Think about that a minute! The thief believed even when many of Jesus’ own followers did not. He believed before the darkness miraculously settled over the land, before the earthquake and before the veil was torn in the temple.

He believed without the evidence of the resurrection and the ascension- without seeing Jesus walk on the water, feed the multitudes, or turn water into wine. He believed in spite of the crowd of onlookers who did not. He certainly went against the flow of popular opinion that day. When he believed he made the most important request in his life, and Jesus responded with His second statement from the cross- a CRY OF ASSURANCE, “ Today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Don’t you know this thief received more that day than he ever dreamed that he would be given? A day that began with the thief being put up on a cross to die ends with salvation and eternal life. Wow! What a day.

Salvation did not come because of works, because he didn’t have the opportunity to do anything but die. I would say this was salvation by grace through faith—and, Paul says that is how everyone is saved.

The thief was not baptized


Now when we look at this event there is a question that arises, and some of you just can’t wait to ask me. How can the thief on the cross be saved if he was never baptized? It’s a good question because we have had sermons on New Testament baptism.

I’ve had some tell me, “ That proves that baptism is not important in salvation.” I’ve had others say, “ I want to be saved just like the thief on the cross.” Now I ask Richards and JC their opinion on this and theirs is about the same as mine. Now when I consider what the other people told me about being saved like the thief on the cross, the question came to my mind was, “ is it possible for any of US to be saved like the thief on the cross?”

Question- do I believe that the thief was saved that day? YES, I do, because Jesus had the power to save and he clearly offered him salvation.

Question- Do I believe that I can be saved the same way? NO, I don’t believe that I can. Why?

1st- The thief on the cross was never a candidate for Christian baptism. Adam or Noah were never commanded to be baptized during the times they lived, and Moses was never baptized nor did he require anyone to be. The Law of Moses never required water Baptism, but again it never brought the forgiveness of sin. Now, this is the covenant the thief lived and died under-the old covenant - the Law of Moses.

2nd- The only baptism available at the time the thief lived was John’s baptism-and I doubt he was baptized by John, but I don’t know. John’s baptism was not New Testament baptism, but it was a baptism that prepared the people for the coming of Christ, and it was designed to be replaced by the baptism into Christ and His death.

3rd- A question is Can anyone be baptized into a persons death before they die? I believe that a death is required. Why? Because the Hebrew writer says that it was required. Listen to what the scriptures say in Hebrews 9:15-17.

Hebrews 9:15-17

15-“ For this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that, since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.”

16-For where a covenant is, there must of necessity be the death of the one who made it.”

17- “ For a covenant is valid only when men are dead, for it is never in force while the one who made it lives

Now, if I ask what Jesus’ will for me is, I believe he made it very clear in the Great Commission he gave His Disciples right before His ascension back to heaven.

Matthew 28:19, “ Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” 20 “ teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you;..”

Boy, I can sure understand what is required of me living on this side of the cross. I could turn our original question of the thief around and ask Him if He could be saved like us. I believe if I could ask him, he would say no, because he never lived under the new covenant.

We both lived under different covenants, but you know we both were saved by the same thing, and it what Paul said, “ GRACE through FAITH. I believe we would both agree that it was only possible because of the death of the one who died with him on the cross that day-the one, Jesus Christ.

Now, some people use the salvation of the thief on the cross to promote death bed confessions. One person said, “ I’m going to live life like I want and just before I die I’m go into repent and be saved.” My question to them is can you count on it? We should remember that the thief was saved at his last opportunity, but it was also his 1st opportunity. I wouldn’t wait for another opportunity. Would you? The Bible says, “ Today is the day of salvation.”


I think you should think about this a minute. What would it be like to have salvation-eternal life in the Paradise of God? It is a free gift of GRACE to all who will receive it. Jesus took our sin and its punishment on Himself that day. We reminded our selves of that this morning when partook of THE LORD’S SUPPER.

Do you know that those two thiefs will be separated for eternity? They are separated because one decided to call on Jesus and the other rejected Him. The one who called on Him was a thief and probably a murderer but he was saved because of the decision he made that day. The thing that separated them was not the degree of their wickedness. They are separated because one decided to call on Jesus and the other rejected Him

The lost man was a thief and probably a murderer, and by every rule in the book he SHOULD have been lost. But he wasn’t lost because of what he did in the past, but he was lost because of what he refused to do that day.

You see, a lost person doesn’t have to do anything else to be spiritually lost, but stay the way they are, living without GOD…ignoring Jesus…choosing to leave Him out of their life. That’s all it takes.

So, don’t do that make today the day of your salvation. Come as repentant sinner, confessing Jesus as the true Son-of-God, being baptized into His name for the remission of your sins and rise up to walk in newness of life. That is the abundant life that God has for you.

You know, just like I said at the beginning of this lesson, ALL criminals are not a like, because some sins will send you to prison like the Coffield unit and some will not. But even if we are not in prison, we need to remember that all sin separates us from God, and we need to pray and take advantage of God’s GRACE this morning through an obedient FAITH. The lesson is yours, and you must make the choice!