Summary: There are many remarkable conversion stories in the Bible, but none as remarkable at the thief on the cross—the most unlikely person ever to ask to go to heaven. This sermon explains why he had the audacity to ask this every thing of Christ on the cross.
Christ’s Most Remarkable Convert
April 13, 2014
TEXT: Luke 23:32-43 – “And there were also two other, malefactors [evil-doers, or criminals], led with him to be put to death. 33 And when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified him, and the malefactors, one on the right hand, and the other on the left. 34 Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment [clothes], and cast lots. 35 And the people stood beholding. And the rulers also with them derided him, saying, He saved others; let him save himself, if he be Christ, the chosen of God. 36 And the soldiers also mocked him, coming to him, and offering him vinegar, 37 And saying, If thou be the king of the Jews, save thyself. 38 And a superscription also was written over him in letters of Greek, and Latin, and Hebrew, THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS. 39 And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us. 40 But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. 42 And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. 43 And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.”
There are a lot of remarkable conversion stories in the Bible. Probably the most well known is PAUL’S conversion on the Road to Damascus. Then there was THE PHILIPPIAN JAILOR’S conversion after an earthquake after Paul and Silas’s prison worship service.
There were some pretty remarkable conversions during Jesus’ earthly ministry too. There’s THE WOMAN AT THE WELL—a woman of loose morals—whom Jesus engages in conversation and who believes on Christ after discussing living water. There’s every kid’s favorite story of the tax collector ZACCHAEUS who was so short that in order to see Jesus over the throng of people, climbed up into a sycamore tree and Jesus said, “Zacchaeus, come on down, because today I’m going to your house today!” – He did, and before Jesus left, Zacchaeus had come to faith in Christ.
But in my opinion, the most remarkable convert in the Bible was the thief on the cross. Think of what happened: The paths of three men meeting in death.…
One on each side, with Jesus in the middle.
Two of them were completely guilty; one was completely innocent.
Two paid their debt to society; one paid our debt for sin.
What makes the thief on the cross’s conversion so remarkable?
I. FIRST BECAUSE A REMARKABLE PROPHECY WAS FULFILLED
Verse 32 tells us that Jesus died between these two criminals. We don’t know all that these two men did, but Matthew calls them thieves in Matthew 27:44, which is why we often talk of “the thief on the cross.”
But these were not just ordinary thieves. Historians tell us that crucifixion was reserved only for the most incorrigible criminals. So these were truly contemptible, degenerate, wicked criminals.
Isaiah 53:9 is a prophecy of the Messiah’s death that says this, “And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth.”
All three parts of this verse were fulfilled on the cross between these two criminals. If you read most any commentary on Isaiah 53, you’ll read that the first phrase in the original language means, “they appointed [i.e., determined] his grave with the wicked, but he was with the rich in his death.” They determined for Jesus to die with wicked men on the cross, which fulfilled this part of Isaiah 53:9, but He was also buried in a rich man’s tomb—in the tomb of Joseph of Aramathea—just as Isaiah prophesied. And Jesus had done no wrong whatsoever, including violence or lying. In fact, He had lived a spotless, perfect, sinless life.
And so Jesus fulfilled this prophecy, just as He did many others. There are over 300 Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah that were fulfilled in Jesus.
The mathematician Richard Stoner has calculated the odds of 300 prophecies being fulfilled in anyone by chance to be so high as to be practically incomprehensible. He says that the probability of just EIGHT prophecies being fulfilled in one person by chance is 1 in 10 to the 28th power (1:1028).
To give you some idea of what that means, he gives this analogy: Imagine covering the state of Texas with silver dollars two feet deep, and marking one and only one silver dollar with an X and hiding it somewhere in this huge pile of silver dollars. The chance of a blindfolded person finding the marked silver dollar the first time by pure chance is 1 in 10 to the 28th power. This was a remarkable prophecy, one of over 300 fulfilled in the life of Jesus Christ.