March Memories: The Thief On The Cross

We’ve all heard sermons about this man and his salvation.  He’s the classic example of one being saved who could do nothing to earn it or deserve it.  He was nailed to a cross.  Just hours away from death.  He was guilty by this world’s standards, let alone heaven’s.  Yet he was saved.  There’s hope for the least and the worst.  There’s hope for you.  And me.

At the same time, there’s more to his conversion than meets the eye at first reading.  It wasn’t just some simple “accept Jesus,” with no idea of what was really going on.  In fact, this criminal puts many of us to shame with his understanding of who this One next to him was.  Granted, he didn’t start there, but he finished there.  That’s what’s important.

Let’s look at what happened.

1.  Condemnation.  Matthew and Mark both tell us that two criminals were crucified with our Lord.  Matthew tells us they were robbers.  And they joined in with the onlookers in reviling the Lord Jesus, Matthew 27:44; Mark 15:32.

2.  Conviction.  Luke alone records this:  Then one of  the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, “If you are the Christ, save yourself and us.  But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation?  And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds.  But this man has done nothing wrong,”  Luke 23:40, 41.

What happened?  May we suggest several things.

We can’t even begin to visualize the scene.  I admit I haven’t seen The Passion of Christ or other movies attempting to portray this event, but I know beyond any doubt that they don’t even begin to “tell it like it is.”  They can’t; we’re too far removed from that mindset, with our emphasis on “criminal rights,” and making sure they get a “fair trial.”  Such fantasies were a long ways beyond the savagery of that time.  “Special effects” may be realistic, but we know in the back of our minds that they aren’t “real.”  This was.

Executions were public, held out in the open.  We’ve no way of knowing what kind of “crowds” they might have drawn.  There were people there, though.  Matthew 27:29, 30 even speaks of those who were just passing by.  Then there were those who were “watching,” namely, the Roman soldiers, Matthew 27:36, though they were just doing their job. There were many woman, looking from afar, Matthew 27:55.  There was the apostle John, supporting Mary, the mother of our Lord, John 19:25.  Perhaps as the scene drew to its ugly end, the women came nearer the Cross, for John describes them as being close to it, John 19:25, 26.  And there were the chief priests, scribes and elders gloating over this One who had dared to question their authority and teaching, Matthew 27:41-43.  How they hated Him and His teaching.  Finally, they thought, they were done with Him!  How little did they understand of what they were doing!

Through his own agony and despair, the thief saw all this.  Both thieves saw it.  They heard the derision of the crowds shouting their insults at the Man in the center.

“You who destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save Yourself!  If you are the Son of God, come down from the Cross!”

“He saved others; Himself He cannot save!”

Devilish taunt expressing a truth far beyond those uttering it.

“If He is the King of Israel, let Him come down from the cross and we will believe Him!”

He did come down from the Cross, and they still didn’t believe Him.

“He said He trusted in God; let’s see if God will have Him!”

Even the thieves yelled at Him,

“Hey, ‘King of Israel!’  Save yourself and us!  Come on.  Get us down from here!”

As this was going on, one of the thieves began to notice something different about this Man in the middle.  Something wrong.  He was hanging there naked, just like they were.  He had been condemned, just like they had.  He was suffering, just like they were.

Still…

There was something…

What was it?

As the soldiers were driving in the spikes that would hold the Son of Man to the cross, the thief heard Him say, “Father, forgive them, because they don’t know what they are doing.”

“Forgive…?!”  That certainly wasn’t what he had said!

Then he saw, rather than heard. an exchange between this One and an onlooker.  After a few words from the Cross, the thief saw the man put his arm around a sobbing woman and gently lead her away….

Who was this, who was concerned about a mere woman in the midst of His own agony?  …and could forgive His tormentors?

Who WAS He?

As he came from his musing, he heard the other thief cursing and swearing,

“If you’re the Messiah, then do something!  Save Yourself and get us down from here!”

He felt a stirring of the soul.  Later men would call it “the quickening of the Spirit,” but he didn’t know anything about that.  He just know that he was suddenly sick of it all.  It was too much.  He wanted to be done with it, even if it were too late.

“Stop it!” he exclaimed to the other man.  “Don’t you fear God at all?  You’re about to die, yourself.  We’re just getting what we deserve.  But this One,” he nodded toward Jesus, “this One hasn’t done anything wrong.”

He was as sure of Jesus’ innocence as he was of his own guilt, more than even his Roman executioners knew about.  He had seen Him show compassion, pray for forgiveness – for His executioners!

He couldn’t understand anything of what was going on.  He remembered what little he’d heard from the Rabbis and others as they talked about the coming kingdom.  How they expected Him to throw off the Roman yoke and free Israel.  Yet here was the King – he knew that – here was the King, hanging on a cross just like he was.  He just knew one thing –

“Lord…”

Yes, He was Lord, the thief knew that, too, not just “Jesus of Nazareth,” not just another condemned criminal.  He was Lord.

“Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”

Just remember me, that’s all I ask.  I don’t deserve even that, but “remember me,” if you will.  He didn’t understand all the nuances of what he was asking or how the kingdom would come, with its King being executed in front of him….  He just knew, somehow, this wasn’t the end.  When that happened, he knew, just to be remembered by this One would be more than enough.

Jesus looked at him.

“Today….”

The two men looked at each other.

“Truly,” said Jesus, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”

The robber would have been overjoyed to be remembered…”when.”  He was promised “today.”  And not just “remembered,” but would be with Him in paradise.  Again, he didn’t understand all that was involved, but it was enough.

Men have looked at this in various ways.  Some have tried to change the meaning around altogether.  They have Jesus saying, “Truly I say to you today, you will be with Me in paradise.”  But this same sentence structure occurs numerous times in the NT and even in their own translation, they have the comma before “today” or whatever word is there.  Only here do they change the meaning of what the Lord said to something entirely different.

Another man, a Reformed pastor, quoted it, “Today you will be with Me in My kingdom.”  That’s not what the Lord said, either.  It isn’t the purpose of this post to discuss what He meant, or the importance of what the Scripture actually says, as opposed to what our doctrine says it says.  It’s enough that He gave the thief on the cross what he wanted, infinitely more than he wanted.  He does that, gives us way beyond what we can ask or even think, Ephesians 2:20, 21.

Before that day was over, the soldiers broke the legs of the two thieves in order to make them die more quickly.  When the one thief got to the other side, Jesus was waiting there, to welcome him home.

The dying thief rejoiced to see
That fountain in his day.
And there may I, though vile as he,
Wash all my sins away.

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(originally published November 23, 2013.)

NOTE to present post:  When I first published this, I received a lengthy comment attempting to rebut what I had written.  I’ve gotten a couple of such comments from this gentleman, inviting me to his blog.  I recognize that he can do that, we do live in a free country, but his viewpoint is heresy and teaches a false gospel and a false way of salvation.  I did a post in answer to his comments.  I will republish it next, as the last post in this series of reprints.  Below is a copy of what I wrote to him in response to his comments.  I hope this will prevent him from doing it again.

“To the gentleman who sent me a lengthy comment on this post:  the Reader put it into spam.  It isn’t, but I didn’t approve it because it isn’t Scriptural.  Your assertion that water baptism is essential for salvation is forever denied by Acts 10 and Peter’s defense of his actions in Acts 11.  You seem to believe that there has been more than one way of salvation, and that unsaved people can receive the Holy Spirit.
I tried to comment on your blog, but it wasn’t accepted.  I may do a post some day on your views of this matter.”

I have, in fact, done a post on his views of this matter.  It’s next.

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March Memories: “If Jesus Is God,….”

[In a couple of our last “March Memory” reviews, we looked at what the Bible says about the deity of the Lord Jesus, that He was truly God manifest in the flesh.

“Yes, but…”]

“If Jesus is God, how can the Father be greater than He is?”  “Does Jesus pray to Himself?” “Doesn’t that make Him His own Father”  “”How can He call God, ‘My God’?”  “Why were there things He didn’t know?”

And on and on go the questions.

All such questions were answered by Paul in Philippians 2:5-11:

Let this mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.  And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.  Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and those on earth, and those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

This incredible Scripture has three parts.

Jesus as God, vs. 6, 7.

1.  His being, in the form of God.

In our post on “The Third Genealogy,” we noted that nowhere does the Bible speak of Jesus “becoming” or being “created” as God, or a God.  John said that as the Word, “Jesus” being His human name, He was, or, existed as, God.

To us, the word form carries the idea of “shape.”  However, to the Greek mind, the word carried the idea of nature or character.  In agreement with John, Paul was saying that the Word was Deity, was God.

2.  His thinking, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God.

Though there is discussion among scholars about the meaning of the words translated, “consider it robbery,” it seems to me that the best meaning is that He didn’t think equality with the Father was something to be selfishly held on to.  We’ll return to this thought in a moment.

3.  His action, made Himself of no reputation.

Scripture teaches that there was a group of people who would otherwise have been lost who were chosen by the Father, Who gave them to the Son.  Jesus called them “His sheep.”  However, since these people are by nature the children of wrath, Ephesians 2:3, something had to be done about their sin and their sinfulness.

Jesus agreed to come into this world as the Redeemer and Representative of His people, “His sheep,” Matthew 1:21.  He was their “Shepherd.”  However, He didn’t come with glory and honor, such as He had in Heaven with the Father, and which He could rightfully have claimed.  He didn’t “hold on to” the honor He had as God.  He didn’t come as a “personality” with a huge following, like some in the Church today.  He was born into an ordinary family in an obscure village in a part of Israel that was looked down on.  He spent 90% of His life unknown and even when He began His ministry, it was to ordinary people, the rulers and leaders wanting nothing to do with Him.  Indeed, it was they who ultimately demanded His death.

He didn’t just “think about” doing something.  He went ahead and did it.

The phrase could be translated, “He emptied Himself,” and there is discussion about what this means.  Some teach that He emptied Himself of His deity, that as Man He ceased to be God.  That isn’t what the term means at all.  We’ll come back here in a minute.

Jesus as Man, vs. 7, 8.

When Paul wrote that Jesus took on the form of a bondservant and the likeness of men, he wasn’t saying that Jesus just “looked” like a man.  He was emphasizing that Jesus was really and truly human.  As human as you or me, without the sin which plagues us.  Though we speak of “the virgin birth,” it was His conception which was miraculous.  Once conceived in the womb of Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit, though, He developed like any other baby.  Like any other baby, He was born into this world, where He grew and developed as a baby, a toddler, a child, a teenager (though that is a recent concept), and then as an adult.  Indeed, in His culture, once He reached adolescence, He would pretty much have been considered an adult.

It’s difficult to visualize the Creator of the Universe as having to learn how to walk,

This is where all the questions come in about the so-called limitations of Jesus.  As a human being, He didn’t have the infinite capabilities that He had as God.  It is this He divested Himself of, His divine glory and the independent exercise of His divine power, though there are still glimpses of them.  He turned water into wine, walked on water, stilled storms, healed the sick, raised the dead.  These aren’t ordinarily human activities.  Though Man, He did not cease to be God.

As for those who say that He never claimed to be God, those who heard His statement in John 8:58, “Before Abraham was, I AM, clearly understood that’s what He was saying, that He was Jehovah.  That’s why they tried to kill Him – and why they couldn’t.  See also John 5:18; 10:33.

Even though Jesus was, and is, God, He had a human mind and mere human abilities.  This is why, though as God He is omniscient, there were things He didn’t “know.”  It wasn’t because He wasn’t God, but because He was also Man.  As God, He is omnipotent.  As a Man, He got tired and hungry.  As God, He is omnipresent, being here and there.  As a man, He had to walk from here to there.

In addition, Paul wrote that Jesus was born under the Law, Galatians 4:4.  As such, He was responsible to live by its demands.  This would include acknowledging the Father as His God just like any other Jewish person.  This is why, when talking to Mary Magdalene about His ascension, He could say that He was going to “My God and your God,”  John 20:17.  Notice, however, He didn’t say, “our God.”  There was still a distinction.

As a Jewish man under the Law, He would have been subject to the Father.  It was because of this that He could say that the Father was greater than He.  It has nothing to do with some “inferiority” on His part, but has everything to do with the relationship He had with the Father at that time.  It had nothing to do with His not being God, but everything to do with His being human.  In addition, He had come to do the Father’s will, John 5:26 and many other verses.  He had come as the Servant of Jehovah, Isaiah 42:1-4.  As such, He was  obedient….

As the ultimate evidence of His humanity, He died.  God cannot die.  This is why the Word had to take on Himself true humanity, so that, as “Jesus,” He could die.  But He didn’t die easily, in glory and honor, with a morphine drip, as terminal patients do today.  He even refused what relief was available back then, Matthew 27:34.  He died the most cruel death imaginable, a death even the Romans considered despicable, though they weren’t slow to use it.

In the words of Paul, He died even the death of the cross….

But, His story doesn’t end there.

Jesus as Lord, vs. 9-11.

As far as the world is concerned, Jesus has little, if any, relevance or significance.  He might as well still be dead.  Many believe that He still is.  Certainly, there is no government which honors Him or tries to live by His word.  Even “Christendom” has relegated Him to a secondary, or less, role.  In fact, many churches still have Him on the Cross.  Others have taken His place as Head of the Church or as who guides how it functions.

To many unbelievers, Jesus is little more than a cuss word.  Or a name to be mocked and ridiculed.  Many doubt that He really existed.  Sadly, even many professing Christians don’t give Him the honor He deserves, seeing Him only as a buddy, or “a Jewish carpenter.”  Views about Him are more likely to be from sentiment than they are from Scripture.

Scripture says that God raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His own right hand.  There is a lot of discussion about what this means, and the place of the Lord Jesus in the current scheme of things.  Arguments abound over the interpretation of Old Testament Scriptures which tell of a “kingdom” over which Messiah will reign.  It’s not the purpose of this post to get into all that.

It’s enough to say that there is coming a time when every single created being will bow before the Lord Jesus and confess that He is who He said He is. Every knee will bow before Him, and every tongue will confess that He is Lord.  There are those who believe that this means that everyone will eventually be saved.  Scripture teaches otherwise.  The atheist, the skeptic, the false religionist, the demon, all will be forced to bow before Him and acknowledge Him.  This bothers some people who are concerned about “free will,” but there is no “free will” in this, any more than in a criminal forced to acknowledge his sentence and enter prison.  And there will be no appeals from this court.

God WILL be glorified in this, His Son, this One despised and rejected of men.

Though one day, even the lost will have to admit that He is Lord, He is Lord, and He has willing subjects.

Are you one of them?

There’s really only one thing left to consider….

What do you think about Christ?  Matthew 22:42.
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(originally published, May 8, 2013.)  edited and additional material.