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Which Thief Are You – By Pastor/Elder Jim Nelson

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What do we all have in common with the two thieves on the cross? We are all sinners in need of a Redeemer. 

We may not understand everything about Christology.  But we can know everything we need to know in order to receive His mercy and inherit eternal life.  And for that, we don’t need to study systematic theology.  The answers come from a thief having a brief discussion from the gospel of Luke.

But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?  And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.”  And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  And He said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”  (Luke 23:40-43 ESV)

As you dive into these verses, and put them into proper context, we can see some amazing truth.  I highlighted below five main takeaways from this text.

The Thief declared that Christ is righteous.   The thief knew that he was justly being crucified.  But, as for Jesus “this man has done nothing wrong.”  Christ’s perfect righteousness shone into the dark recesses of a man whose life was marked by wickedness.

The Thief appealed to Christ Exclusively. At the foot of the cross stood representatives of Roman political power as well as members of Israel’s religious elite. But the thief made no appeal to the Romans for exoneration, nor to the Jews for spiritual absolution.  The thief made his only appeal to the crucified Savior.  The exclusivity of Christ is a central tenet of the Christian faith.  Jesus made it clear that He is the only way – not a way- to heaven. (John 14:6, Acts 4:12)  The thief in his most desperate hour knew Jesus was his only hope.

The Thief requested Christ’s Forgiveness.  He then addressed Jesus directly as the Savior and humbly asked him, “Jesus remember me when you come into Your Kingdom!”  He based his request on Christ’s prayer that God would forgive those who crucified Him, which gave the thief hope that he too might receive forgiveness.  His was the plea of a broken, penitent, unworthy sinner for grace, mercy, and forgiveness.  He knew his ultimate need was forgiveness.

The Thief Recognized Christ’s Authority.  Implicit in the thief’s plea for forgiveness was his recognition of Christ’s authority to grant forgiveness and eternal life.  He believed that Jesus was Israel’s Messiah.  He acknowledged that the Lord would one day establish His kingdom, which was promised in the covenants God made with Abraham and David, and reiterated repeatedly to the prophets.

The Thief anticipated Christ’s Resurrection.  The gospel narratives don’t shy away from exposing the unbelief of Christ’s closest disciples.  All of them barring John fled at his arrest and despaired of His death – even though Jesus taught them repeatedly that He would rise from the dead.  Since no one survives crucifixion, he understood that Jesus would have to rise from the dead to do that.  He probably knew Jesus had power over death, since the news of His raising of Lazarus had spread throughout Jerusalem.  He no doubt was aware that Daniel 12:2 promised that the saints would raise and given a place of glory in the kingdom.  His request was that Jesus would raise him and grant him entrance to that kingdom.

That the other thief rejected Jesus is remarkable in its own right.  Not only was this man next to the Savior of the world, he heard Him pray, he witnessed the salvation of the other thief, he saw the world go completely dark, and he heard the testimony of the Son.  But his pride kept him from submitting to the only One who could save him, and when he one day bows to the Name he mocked, he will be doing so reluctantly and while in torment, Philippians 2:10.

Through the pain of crucifixion, the thief was able to declare Christ’s righteousness, appeal to Him exclusively, petition His forgiveness, recognize His authority, and anticipate His future resurrection.  There is a profound simplicity to the thief’s faith in the Savior.  And it is a glorious benchmark for every sinner who approaches Christ in repentance and faith.

Your brother In – Christ, Jim Nelson


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