Summary: The thief on the cross is an example that we are saved completely by the grace of God as this hardened criminal received the promise of eternal life.
Many of you might remember Karla Faye Tucker. She was the first woman to be executed in the US since 1984. She was notorious as an accomplice to a brutal ax murder of a two people in the early eighties. Soon after being imprisoned, Tucker took a Bible from the prison ministry program and read it in her cell. She later recalled, "I didn't know what I was reading. Before I knew it, I was in the middle of my cell floor on my knees. I was just asking God to forgive me." Tucker became a Christian in October 1983. She later married her prison minister, the Reverend Dana Lane Brown, and held her Christian wedding ceremony inside the prison. In one of the last interviews she had, she gave glory to Jesus Christ in changing her life.
On February 3 1998, she was executed.
Some of her last words were as follows:
"...I would like to say to all of [the family of the victims] — that I am so sorry. I hope God will give you peace with this… Everybody has been so good to me. I love all of you very much. I am going to be face to face with Jesus now. … I love all of you very much. I will see you all when you get there. I will wait for you."
As the lethal chemicals were being administered she was praising Jesus Christ.
Turn from Karla Faye Tucker to the day of Jesus crucifixion. We find there another death scene - two more convicts facing death. Read with me Luke 23:39-44.
Who were these men? The scripture uses the word “robber”. We often hear about the “thief on the cross.” The word in Greek refers not to a mere thief but one he takes money or possessions with violence – something like a bandit. These were violent men, unrepentant and hardened in sin.
Therefore, their lives were ending on a cross just as they deserved. Without repentance they hung on their crosses and with great pain and anger they cried out. But who did they cry at? The Roman soldiers who crucified them? No! The Bible in Matthew 27:44 tells us that “the robbers who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him.” They were angry at Jesus of all people!
Let’s turn to the words of the first robber who is quoted by Luke.
He hated Jesus and said: "Aren't you the Christ? Save yourself and us!" Normally, when these words are spoken in faith, this is a wonderful prayer. But here there is no faith but only hatred. He mocks Jesus that he claims to be God but does nothing. Save us! It’s a wonderful thing to ask for salvation.
But what does he misunderstand about salvation? He wants Jesus to lift him off the cross so that he can live without this horrible judgment. But this man had a much bigger problem than physical death. He was living in sin without forgiveness and without hope. His life was headed toward hell and eternal punishment which is much worse than a day hanging on the cross. God won’t and can’t take him to heaven. THAT was the main problem this robber had and he was completely blind to it.
How many people today have the same attitude? They may not hang on a cross but they are miserable in guilt, in poverty, in pains, in a lack of peace – without joy. And what do they see: a Jesus who does nothing. A Jesus who is silent and letting them suffer through life. Therefore, they don’t trust in him or truly call on him or give him any worship. Instead they blame him and curse him and mock him.