Summary: The dying thief teaches us how to respond to Christ
ENCOUNTERS WITH CHRIST:
THE DYING THIEF
TEXT: LUKE 23:39-43
We can say several things about how Jesus met people. He always approached the human soul the same way. His purpose was to elicit faith in his personhood. As to his methods, Jesus never approach two human souls the same way. Jesus recognized that there were great facts common in all of humanity, on the other hand, there was an infinite variety of human needs which necessitated a multiplicity of methods.
Jesus response to one’s commitment was eq-ually surprising. Many believed on His name, but Jesus did not believe in them. Many com-mitted themselves to Him, but He did not commit Himself to them. You see, Jesus knows all men, that is individually, but he also knew what was in man, his nature.
When we understand how Jesus approach men, we can understand how He approached the man dying on the cross next to Him.
LET’S READ LUKE 23:39-43
Let’s look at the man’s condition, his con-fession, and his commitment.
I. THE MAN’S CONDITION - SINFULNESS
A. As we look at this thief dying with Jesus, we can say that we know little about him. He is described in Matthew and Mark as a robber or bandit. In Luke, the term is dif-ferent. He was referred to as a criminal. He was a man who adopted as his lifestyle a criminal exis-tence. He had ignored and delib-erated broken the laws of the land. Ultimate-ly, he had ignored God. That was the real crime.
B. The sin-fulness of man is not simply crimes again-st society. It is not simply doing thi-ngs that are again-st cul-tural mores. It is not simply com-mitting acts of degrada-tion. It is a willful ignorance of God. It was not simply that this man ig-nored God, he willful-ly ig-nored Him. God was an incon-venience. In his lifestyle, the thief had simply put God out of his mind. He had dared the laws and had broken them. The central principle of his life was that he was self-centered.
C. This is a terrible state for a man. To sink so low as to ignore God and to exploit his fellowman in order to enrich himself, this was the dying thief’s condition.
D. The thief’s condition is a portrait of mankind’s condition before God. We steal from God the very thing that is most precious to Him - our lives. We may not break society’s laws but we break God’s greatest law - You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and mind, and soul. When you hold back from the Lord our commitment to Him, you are being as a thief, denying Him His rightful place in your life. That is what being selfish is all about. We must be Christ-centered instead of self-centered.
E. The interesting thing about this thief is that he has not only brok-en the law, but the law has broken him. The law fulfills the same for us. No matter how hard we try, we cannot meet God’s standard, fulfill His law. The thief is an illustra-tion of our brokenness, our empti-ness without God.
This is the human condition. Now let’s look at the thief’s confession.
II. THE MAN’S CONFESSION - REPENTANCE
A. This could have been the thief’s first and only contact with Jesus. We don’t know. All we know was that the man was caught, condemned, and crucified. So had Jesus. Upon read-ing the story, it is evident that Jesus was crucified first. Un-doubtedly this man witnessed with fear what they were doing to Jesus. Watching, he had seen Him being crucified, seeing the nail driven into the flesh. Yet there was no complaint, no cursing coming from Jesus’s lips. Like a lamb to the slaughter, He opened not his mouth. He had then heard Jesus declare, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do."
B. These two facts must have had a bearing on the thief’s attitude toward Jesus. As the other thief ridiculed and rejected Jesus, this man must have seen Jesus in a new light. He responded to the other thief, "Don’t you fear God?, since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong."
C. These words were not spoken to Jesus but about Him. They reveal to us a change in the outlook and attitude of this man. He had ig-nored God. Now he remembered Him. He had wronged others, caused many to suffer, but now he admits that they are both receiving the just reward for their sins. But about Jesus, he responds, "This man has done nothing wrong."
D. A relationship with God can only begin with a recognition of our sinfulness. How do you know you need a Savior unless you first know you are a sinner. I think that many of the so called professions of faith made in our churches are not sincere since they lack repentance. Paulo accepted Christ out of des-peration. He spoke all the right words, behaved the right way. But after several month it was evident that Paulo had never repented. His understanding of salvation was limited to acquiring fire insurance and financial aid for him and his family. In a short while Paulo was back in his old lifestyle more immoral than ever. He never truly repented.