Tuesday, April 3, 2012


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)

The rest of the story is the most important part. Christ Jesus died on that cross, he was buried and on the third day he rose again from the dead. Without that part of the story, the part quoted above is utterly meaningless. And I suppose without some explanation, all of it is meaningless. Christ’s death, burial and resurrection is the gospel. It is the good news! It was the point in time when all of our sins laid upon Jesus. He suffered and died a tortuous death paying the penalty for our sins, though he was completely innocent of any sin. We in turn were declared not guilty in the eyes of God the Father for Christ’s sake. In fact the resurrection of Jesus Christ is our proof that God the Father accepted the sacrifice of his Son as payment for sin!

That is not what this post is about, though. I want to talk about these two "malefactors," or thieves as they are referred to elsewhere, who were crucified alongside Jesus. We see a stark contrast between the two here in the book of Luke. When they were first hung on the crosses though, that was not the case. The book of Matthew tells us that initially both of the thieves taunted Jesus along with most of the onlookers. But then, one of the malefactors had second thoughts. He even went so far as to rebuke the other, asking "don’t you fear God?"
There are several other things that differentiate between these two thieves. The one recognized his sinfulness and freely admitted that he was receiving the punishment he deserved. Not so with the other. Mocking he said to Jesus, "If you are the Christ, then prove it and save yourself and us!" No trace of humility there. No confession of guilt.

Another thing worthy of notice about these two malefactors is that they both were familiar with the claims that Jesus was the Messiah. The one chose to use it as a term of derision and mocking, but somewhere along the line the other one came to believe that Jesus really was the Christ. He not only called him Lord, he asked him to remember him when he came into his kingdom. Because all three of them were about to die, obviously that thief believed in a kingdom that reached beyond the grave, and that Jesus would reign there.

One last point of contrast between these two. One thief went to his death still shaking his fist at God, even with the salvation from sin that had been promised from the beginning of the world happening right there in front of him. Certainly this is an example of a hardened heart. But the other...? He showed the signs of repentance and faith. He changed his mind about Jesus. He admitted his sin. He acknowledged Jesus Christ as King. And Christ promised that thief that upon his death he would join him in paradise.

Now, just one more point. This incident with the two thieves, though it may be insignificant in comparison to what happened in the rest of the story (that is, the death burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ), does point out something important. As long as they still have breath, it is not too late for a person to repent of their sins and put their faith in Jesus. There was no baptism, no church membership or any other church sacrament, and no good works that played any part in this thief’s salvation ....nor is there for any of us. At the last possible moment, this malefactor was snatched right from the doorstep of hell to be made another trophy of divine mercy and grace!

I trust that many of you reading this have long ago come to know the Lord in saving faith and are secure in the knowledge that you too will join him in paradise someday. But if, perhaps, you cannot say with confidence that you have had your sins forgiven, then it is not too late. Don’t be like the one malefactor who shook his fist at God until the very end. Be like the other, and turn to Jesus Christ and acknowledge him as your Lord and Savior

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