The Thief That Believed Part 1
by John Lowe
(Laurens SC, USA)
The Thief That Believed
“And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, "To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.”-Luke 23:42-43.
PORTION OF SCRIPTURE READ BEFORE SERMON—Luke 23:27-49.
And there were also two other, malefactors, led with him to be put to death. And when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified him, and the malefactors, one on the right hand, and the other on the left. Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots. And the people stood beholding. And the rulers also with them derided him, saying, He saved others; let him save himself, if he be Christ, the chosen of God. And the soldiers also mocked him, coming to him, and offering him vinegar, And saying, If thou be the king of the Jews, save thyself. And a superscription also was written over him in letters of Greek, and Latin, and Hebrew, THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS. And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us. But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.-Luke 23:32-43 (KJV)
The story of the dying thief is a perfect example of Christ’s power to save and of His generous willingness to receive all who come to Him, regardless of how good or bad they are. The saving of the dying thief is much more similar to our salvation experience than it is different. In fact, his case may be regarded as typical, rather than an extraordinary incident. Remember, when Jesus saved this thief, He was in a weak state.
His glory had been flowing away in Gethsemane, and when He stood before Caiaphas, and Herod, and Pilate; but now it had reached its low-water mark. He was stripped naked and nailed to the cross. The vulgar crowd made fun of the Lord, as He was dying in agony. Then He was “numbered with the transgressors”; when His cross was placed between two thieves. Nevertheless, while in that condition, He accomplished this wonderful act of mercy.
Take a look at the miracle produced by the Savior, even though He was emptied of all His glory, and even though He made a shameful spectacle as He hung on the cross, on the brink of death. What greater wonders of mercy can He do today since His glory has been restored and He is seated at the right hand of the Father?
He is able to save to the uttermost all those who come to God by faith in Him, and He “ever lives to make intercession for them.”
If a dying Savior can save a thief, my contention is, He can do even more now that He lives and reigns.
All power is given to Him in heaven and on earth; can anything at this time surpass the power of His grace?
It isn’t only the weakness of our Lord which makes the salvation of the dying thief so unforgettable; it’s the fact that the dying man saw it with his own eyes. Can you put yourself in his place and imagine you are looking at a man who hangs in agony on a cross? Could you believe that He was the Son of God who would soon come to His kingdom? That was not a small faith which could believe in Jesus as Lord and King.
If the apostle Paul was here and wanted to add to the eleventh chapter of Hebrews, where God’s faithful are listed, he would certainly add a passage about this remarkable thief. He would describe the great faith of the thief, who believed in a crucified, ridiculed, and dying Christ, and who called out to Him confident that His kingdom would come.
The thief’s faith was even more remarkable, because he was in great pain, and about to die. It’s not as easy to show faith, when we are in pain, as it is at other times. But this man, even though he was suffering, even though he saw the Savior in such a sad state, he had saving faith. This dying thief had the type of faith that is seldom seen. Remember, this man was surrounded by a crowd that was ridiculing him. It is easy to swim with the current and hard to go against it.
This man heard the proud priests laugh at the Lord, and the common people joined in the disrespect; his companion, who hung on the
other cross, joined in and made fun of Him, and perhaps he did the same for awhile. But through the grace of God, he was changed and he believed in the Lord Jesus in the teeth of all the ridicule. His faith was not affected by his circumstances, and even though he was dying he confidently declared that Jesus was innocent of any crime, while those around the cross cursed Him.
His is a faith that we should imitate. There wasn’t a part of his body that was free, except his tongue, and he used it wisely to scold his brother criminal and to defend his Lord. I don’t want to praise the thief for his faith, but instead, I will praise Christ for giving him the faith and then saving him by his faith.
I want to show how wonderful our Savior is, for he can save to the utmost, even at a time like this. And that he could save a man like this and give him such great faith, and so quickly prepare him for paradise. Can you begin to see the power of Christ, who can produce such great faith in such an unlikely man, and in a climate so hostile to Him?
Now, we have laid the foundation for today’s message. There are three points that I want to make.
First, let’s note that this man was our Lord’s last companion on earth.
Second, note that this same man was our Lord’s first companion at the gates to heaven.
And then third, let’s note the sermon that our Lord preaches to us from this act of mercy.
Now our first point is that THE CRUCIFIED THIEF WAS OUR LORD'S LAST COMPANION ON EARTH.
Jesus sure selected some sorry companions when He was here. He didn’t unite with the religious Pharisees and the scholarly Sadducees, but He was known as “the friend of Publicans and sinners.” I think that is great because now I know that He will not refuse to associate with me. When the Lord Jesus made a friend of me, He certainly did not make a choice that brought Him applause. Do you think He gained any honor when He made a friend of you? Did he gain anything from either of us? No, I don’t think so. If Jesus had not stooped very low, He would not have found me, and if He did not seek the most unworthy, He may not have found some of you.
I am thankful that He came “not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” But I think He did make a good choice when He saved you and me because in us He found a lot of room for His mercy and grace. There was a lot of elbow room for His love to work in within us, due to the emptiness caused by our sin and our great need for forgiveness.
He has done some great things for all of us, and we are glad He did. Just in case anyone here would say, “He will never do that for me,” I want you to notice that the last companion that Christ had on earth was a sinner and not just an ordinary sinner. He had broken the laws of man because he was a robber.
He might be called a “bandit” and that was probably the case.
In those days bandits murdered those they robbed, and he probably traded in arms to be used against the Roman government. He had been arrested and condemned by a Roman tribunal and that was justice served in this case, because he himself said it was a just sentence. The crucified criminal who believed was being executed for his crimes.
This convicted felon was the last person on earth that our Lord spoke to. He is certainly a lover of the souls of guilty men. How low He stoops to reach the very lowest of mankind! It was to this most unworthy man, that our Lord spoke just before He died. You can search the scriptures, but I don’t think you will find any more wonderful words: “To-day shalt thou be with me in paradise.”
There may not be anyone in this building who has been convicted of a serious crime, but if there is, I would invite them to find forgiveness in the Lord Jesus Christ. You may come to Him; whoever you may be because this man did. Here is a person, who was guilty by God’s law and man’s law, but he acknowledged what he had done, he didn’t offer any excuses, he was close to death, and yet he believed in Jesus, and prayed to Him, and he was saved on the spot.
Jesus saves others just like him. Let me make this very clear, so there’s no mistake about it. No one is excluded from the mercy of Christ, no matter how great your sin is: if you believe in Jesus He will save you.