Summary: Jesus promised forgiveness in general to all who had a part in His crucifixion, but to the dying thief next to Him He made a very personal and precise promise that can be claimed by all who will, like this thief, turn to Jesus in faith.
Jonathan Swift made the well known statement, "Promises and pie crust are made to
be broken." This attitude has prevailed through much of history, and the result has been
that many have been rich in promises, but poor in performance. Many centuries ago
Ovid suggested that men ought to supplement their promises with deeds, and so
indicated that men could freely promise, and then just as freely forget. In more modern
times Spurgeon complained of those who promised mountains and perform mole hills.
The promise has been used from the beginning as a weapon of deception. It was
Satan's promise to Eve that she would be like God by eating the forbidden fruit. It was
also by promises of great power that Satan sought to tempt Jesus to avoid the cross. The
kings and lesser rulers in the days of Michelangelo were notorious for their use of
promises to trick enemies into their power so as to execute or imprison them. Promises
have been used by men to try and deceive even their gods.
The Persians have a fable about a peasant who saw an egg floating in the river, and
when he tried to get it out he fell in. He began to get carried away by the current. He
cried out, "Allah save me. I'll never eat another egg." Just then he was able to grab a
low hanging branch of a tree and pull himself to shore. As he stood shaking himself off
he remarked, "I suppose Allah you understood me to mean raw eggs of course." He
quickly modified his promise when he was safe so as to nullify it, showing that he only
promised in the first place to manipulate his god to his advantage. Peasants have not
been the worst offenders, however, but rather kings and rulers who have had so much
more with which to promise.
Many of the kings of England gained a reputation for breaking their promises. John
Wilmot wrote this epitaph for Charles II.
Here lies our sovereign lord and king,
Whose promise none relies on.
He never said a foolish thing,
Nor ever did a wise one.
In Shakespeare's Henry VIII we read, "His promises were, as he then was, mighty, but
his performance, as he now is, nothing." It is in contrast to this dark background of deception
and inconsistency that we turn our eyes upon Jesus, who is the light of the world, and the King
of Kings, and whose promises all can rely on to be backed up by performance. Jesus promised
that those who come to Him will in no wise be cast out, and that whosoever will call upon the name
of the Lord shall be saved. We see these promises being fulfilled to the thief who was dying on
the cross next to Him. Jesus made the perfect promise to this dying man. It is a perfect
promise for two reasons that we want to consider. First of all it is a perfect promise
I. IT IS PERSONAL PROMISE.
Jesus said to him, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise." This
was a personal promise to this man that on this very day that he would die he would enter
into the perfect life. The first word that Jesus spoke from the cross was a prayer of
forgiveness for all who were responsible for His crucifixion. It was addressed to the
Father, and not to those who were forgiven. Most of them did not even hear it, for they
were so busy shouting and mocking. It was an unconscious benefit which Jesus bestowed
on them. But this second word had to be very personal and direct, for it would be
without meaning and effect if not consciously grasped by the one it concerned. The value
of this word to the thief on the cross lies in its personal nature.
This holds a lesson for all of us who seek to communicate to others the Gospel of
Christ. When we talk to an individual about the promises of God we ought not to speak
in generalities that leave a person guessing, but get specific and personal. For example,
imagine how less perfect this promise of Christ would have been if He had made His
royal response to the rebels request something like this: "I will remember many when I
enter my kingdom, and they shall join me this day in paradise." That would have given
hope, but not assurance. It would have made him feel his salvation was possible, but it
would have given him a sense that it was actual.
Jesus made His promise perfect by purposely making it distinctly personal so as to
leave no doubt in the mind of the thief. Whatever may or may not be the experience of