Summary: What can we learn from the thief on the cross? Today we will find out.
THREE LESSONS FROM A THIEF
There is a minor debate among theologians and Bible historians as to why Jesus was hung between the two thieves. Some say that it was Pilate’s doing. Since Jesus took the place of Barrabas it was Pilate’s way of saying, “if were going to do this lets do it all the way.” Others say that it was done by the Jewish officials, to make an example of those who would openly disobey them. Or it could have been the Roman Centurions decision to hang the Lord between the two thieves, since Jesus had been charged with the most “serious crime” of the three men. But whoever made the decision, I believe that it was God’s plan all along, because it placed God’s answer to mans sin right between two men who were about to face judgement and eternity.
One of the most amazing things about the crucifixion are the seven statements of Christ. You see when a person was crucified they only wanted one thing, for it to be over as soon as possible. And they only thought about one person, themselves. But Jesus was more concerned with the needs of others than Himself, even in the painful death of crucifixion.
Turn with me to Luke 23:39-43 (read). Now Jesus didn’t answer the thieves’ taunts, and I’m sure that it wasn’t very pleasant listening to them. Can you imagine…? There was the pure, holy, sinless Son of God being ridiculed and mocked by a low down criminal. Jesus didn’t deserve to be there. He had never done anything worthy of that, and He surely didn’t deserve to be cussed out by a thug. In Matthews gospel we see that initially both thieves were mocking and insulting the Lord, but something happened to the second thief in those hours on the cross. First I believe that he probably saw the sign above Jesus head. Those signs were what the condemned had been charged with, and as you probably know, the sign above Jesus head read “THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS” and it was written in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek. I’m sure that you also remember that the Jewish leaders protested the sign, saying, “It should read that He claims to be the King of the Jews, not that He is the King of the Jews.” But Pilate had made up his mind, and again I’m sure that it was all part of the plan of our Sovereign God, and when the second thief read that sign I imagine that it got him to thinking. Secondly the thief probably noticed how Jesus handled Himself during the whole situation, and no doubt he heard the Lord pray for the forgiveness of those who had crucified Him, and that thief realized that Jesus Christ was more than just a mere man.
Let’s look at vs. 42 and 43 again (read). If ever there was a deathbed conversion, this was it. The thief cried out for salvation, and the Lord heard and answered him. The thief didn’t have to do anything. He didn’t have to work for it, or earn it, or pray in a certain way. He didn’t even have to be baptized, and I know that could upset a lot of folks but it’s the truth, and yes I believe that we should be obedient to the Lord and follow Him in baptism but it is not essential to salvation. All the thief did was receive God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ.
There are at least three lessons that we can learn from this passage of scripture. #1. No one is ever too far-gone to be saved. As long as they are still breathing there is still hope for them. I once heard a story about a man who was an alcoholic. He would do anything to buy his booze. Then one day his son became very sick and if he didn’t receive a certain medicine he would die. So this man begged and pleaded for money to buy his son the medicine he needed, and when he got the money, instead of buying the medicine for his son, he went out and bought liquor. His son died, and at the funeral this man stole his sons’ shoes just so he could sell them and go out and buy more liquor, but eventually he hit rock bottom and God reached down and this man received Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. You may have heard of him. His name was Mel Trotter and he became a great preacher, and missionary. We should never give up on anyone. This man hanging next to Jesus was a thief and a murderer, and who knows what else. The Apostle Paul persecuted and murdered Christians, and Peter denied the Lord three times, and yet God saved them all. And God can save you. It doesn’t matter what you may have done or been in your life. Jesus Christ came to save sinners.