When we face death, and we all will, we want to be assured that we’ve placed our confidence in something durable. Jesus was crucified between two thieves, one who cursed Him and one who cried out for help. Pastor Lutzer reflects on the nature of Jesus’ promises to this man in the last hours of his life. Did the thief doubt that Jesus’ promise would be made good?
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Transcript: Welcome to “5 Minutes with Pastor Lutzer.” Thanks again for joining us today. We’re doing a series, entitled, “Cries from the Cross.: A Journey into the Heart of Jesus.” Now, I’ve written a book on that topic but what we’re doing here is spending this time to remind us of what took place there, the sayings of Jesus just before He died. The second saying is to the thief. “Today, you shall be with me in paradise.” I have to say that I think this is one of the most marvelous passages of scripture. Imagine Jesus dying, looking like a common criminal, and yet Jesus acting like a king which He was. “Today you shall be with me in paradise.” Now, if I had been the centurion who was in charge of the death of Jesus and the two thieves, I would have taken the two thieves and put them on one side and then Jesus on the other. But He was crucified between two thieves because the scripture had to be fulfilled. He was numbered with the transgressors.
My friend, we’re all thieves. Oh I know we aren’t robbing banks or snatching purses. But just think of it this way. Let’s suppose that you worked for a firm in New York and they sent you to Chicago to represent their interest and you didn’t do anything for them here in Chicago and yet you got your paycheck. God created us. He has gifted us and oftentimes we serve ourselves. We steal it all from Him.
But I have to emphasize this man’s remarkable faith. I wonder if you’ve thought about this. Jesus was in the same predicament as he was. Look at Him there, lacerated, with blood running down His face and His brow. Did He look like a Savior? What changed the thief’s mind? Well I think two things. First of all, he probably overheard the prayer of Jesus. “Forgive them for they know not what they do.” But secondly his mind was changed because Pilate wrote what somebody called a gospel tract and they put it above the cross and the tract was:
And so you know this man is thinking, “If He is a king, He must have a kingdom.” “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He didn’t even have the nerve to ask outright that he might be forgiven. “Just remember me.” And Jesus gave him an amazing future. “Today you shall be with me in paradise.” There are those who teach “soul sleep” and they want to interpret it this way, as a question, “Today shalt thou be with me in paradise?” No, the Greek text is very clear, “Today you shall be with me in paradise.” So this thief perhaps has breakfast with his partner in crime in the morning and he’s supping with Jesus in paradise in the evening. Don’t you love this story?
I often wonder whether or not the thief went through a lot of doubt after he had asked Jesus to remember him, because it was after that that darkness came upon the land. Great darkness. And I’m sure if this thief thought to himself at all he was thinking: “If he is a king, why all this darkness? Why the earthquake, the rocks breaking in two?” But you know it didn’t matter. Jesus had given him a promise and that promise was good all the way to eternity. I have a friend of mine who was brought up in a Jewish home. His father was Jewish, came to know Jesus Christ as Messiah, actually taught in a seminary, and then in old age because of dementia he in effect lived back in his childhood and all that he could remember is that he was Jewish. Did it matter? Of course not. In the end the promises that Jesus made to give him eternal life, those promises are good no matter how many bumps there are on the road to eternity.
So let’s keep in mind that these two thieves, both of them prayed, by the way. The other thief prayed too. He said, “If thou be the Christ come down from this cross, save thyself and us.” Now, if Jesus had followed through with that prayer, you and I would not be redeemed. He was thinking just to the present, not of eternity. Now, these two thieves, both of them prayed, one of them pray and said, “If thou be the Christ, come down from the cross and save thyself and us.” By the way, if Jesus had answered that prayer, you and I would not be redeemed. Because after all it was the redemption that was being accomplished. So these two men perhaps they knew each other. Partners in crime. Separated for all eternity. Because one believed in Jesus and the other didn’t.
Another reason I love this passage of scripture (possibly I’ve told you this before) but it is the first message I ever preached in my life. 12th grade in Canada; it was based on this text where I talked about the two thieves separate the whole human race on one side those who are saved, on the other side those who aren’t. And I wish that that sermon had been recorded.
But I want to end with the words of Cowper. If you were to go to Spurgeon’s tomb today, that great 19th century preacher, you would find the words on his tombstone. Cowper wrote these words which I love.
The dying thief rejoiced to see that fountain in his day;and there may I, though vile as he, wash all my sins away.
Spend time today worshipping our wonderful Redeemer—King even on the cross. And as for today, you just go with God.