Summary: We can always learn lessons from a thief, usually it’s what not to do. But in this case this thief teaches us four lessons that are worth following if we want to hear those words someday for ourselves, "Today, you will be with me in Paradise."
Last week we started a series on the seven statements of Christ from the cross. Words that give us tremendous insight for our own lives. Last week in the words, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”, we saw the forgiveness of Christ as he forgave the very people who were torturing Him and mocking Him. That forgiveness led him to pray to His Father in behalf of them. It was a forgiveness that was possible only because the Father dwelt in him, just as that kind of forgiveness is only possible in our lives if Christ dwells within us. Today we move on to the second statement from the cross. We will go back and read a few verses leading up to the second statement.
“I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” What a wonderful and comforting scripture that is. When you look at the scope of these scriptures that we have read and what brought this statement out of the mouth of the Savior it speaks of some wonderful truths of salvation. And when we examine this thief that Christ made that statement to, he teaches us the key to hearing those very words for ourselves. We can always learn lessons from a thief, usually it’s what not to do. But in this case this thief took some actions that all of us should follow if we hope to hear those words some day ourselves. “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Here this thief was on the cross with another criminal, and this other criminal is mocking Christ saying, “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” Common people and even rulers stood around the cross as well mocking Christ saying, “He saved others; if He is really the Son of God, if He is really the Christ let Him save Himself.” Even the soldiers as well mocked Christ and implored Him to save Himself if He was the King of the Jews. Everyone around this criminal was mocking Christ and making fun of Him. Yet this one criminal did not. Why? When everyone else was taking turns mocking Him why did he not only abstain from mocking Christ now, but He went to bat for Him as well. I believe the reason was this, and it should be a lesson to us: He had a healthy fear of God that stopped him from mocking Christ. When the other criminal began his mocking he stepped in and said, “Don’t you fear God?” This is the first step that will lead a person’s heart towards salvation. That’s why Proverbs 1:7 says “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” Because it’s only when you realize that God is a God of awesome power who deserves our respect and honor and the one that we will one day have to answer to, do we seek to know more about Him. And when we do seek that knowledge, we begin to learn of his awesome love that He has for us. Without having a healthy fear of the Lord, I don’t believe a person will ever progress to the point of asking Christ into his heart. The other criminal on the cross had no hope of finding salvation because he had nothing but cynicism he seemed to have no thought of a life after and having to answer to anybody. Even in his time of facing certain death he belittled Christ and mocked him because he lived a life respecting and fearing no one.
“One time many years ago, the king of Hungary found himself depressed and unhappy. He sent for his brother, a good-natured but rather indifferent prince. The king said to him, ’I am a great sinner; I fear to meet God.’ But the prince only laughed at him. This didn’t help the king’s disposition any. Though he was a believer, the king had gotten a glimpse of his guilt for the way he’d been living lately, and he seriously wanted help. In those days it was customary if the executioner sounded a trumpet before a man’s door at any hour, it was a signal that he was to be led to his execution. The king sent the executioner in the dead of the night to sound the fateful blast at his brother’s door. The prince realized with horror what was happening. Quickly dressing, he stepped to the door and was seized by the executioner, and dragged pale and trembling into the king’s presence. In an agony of terror he fell before his brother and begged to know how he had offended him. ‘My brother, answered the king, ‘if the sight of a human executioner is so terrible to you, shall not I , having grievously offended God, fear to be brought before the judgment seat of Christ.’” (Walk Through Rewards) His brother feared the judgment of a human king who could take away his earthly life, but he seemed to be indifferent and unconcerned about a Heavenly King who had the power to condemn his soul for eternity. Jesus said in Luke 12:4,5 “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.” There are too many people who live their life in fear of the wrong things. They fear what other people think more than they fear going against what God wants for them. They fear what other people will say more than what God will say. That isn’t just the world. There are some Christians as well who struggle with trying to please the wrong ones out of fear of what they might think. Listen to what Isaiah said to Israel, the people of God in Isaiah 51:7,8 “Hear me, you who know what is right, you people who have my law in your hearts: Do not fear the reproach of men or be terrified by their insults. For the moth will eat them up like a garment; the worm will devour them like wool. But my righteousness will last forever, my salvation through all generations.” Whatever men will say or do to you will only be temporary. But the judgment of God and the salvation of God will last forever and ever. Do not fear man, but have a healthy fear of the Lord, it’s the beginning of knowledge.