March Memories: The Thief on the Cross: A Different Way of Salvation?

Note:  In my previous post in this series, I reprinted “The Thief on the Cross” and commented at the end that I had received a lengthy response to what I said.  I mentioned that I had answered that response with another post.  This is that post.  The reason I did this, and reprint the two posts together, is because the view expressed on the other side strikes directly at how people are saved.  It diverts them from faith in the Lord Jesus and what He did on the Cross to faith in a ceremony, a ritual, namely immersion in water for salvation.  Not faith in Christ for salvation, but baptism for salvation.

Several years ago, I attended a few Bible studies led by an elder of the Boston Church of Christ.  During one of these studies, at a home, this elder baptized a young lady in the swimming pool out in the back yard.  I have no difficulty with that, but after he brought her up from the water, he commented that “her sins were now at the bottom of the pool.”  I’m afraid I didn’t appreciate the  situation.  My first reaction was, “Boy, I sure don’t want to go into that water.”

Anyway, here is the post.

On November 23 [2013], I published a post about the thief on the cross.  Some time later, I got a lengthy response.  WordPress put it into spam.  It wasn’t, but neither was it something I could “approve.”  I have no difficulty with people disagreeing with something I believe, provided they can show their viewpoint from Scripture.  The trouble is that there are many, many conflicting views, most of which appeal to Scripture.

This was the case with this gentleman’s response.  He clearly believes that there has been more than one way of salvation.  His comment was titled, “Can Men, Today, Be Saved Like Enoch?”

He starts off, “Did you ever notice that the hydrophobic believers in Jesus want to be saved like the thief on the cross?”  I suppose the term “hydrophobic” (fear of water) has to do with the fact that this gentleman believes that baptism is necessary for salvation.  His whole response is based on that supposition.  At the same time, he refers to them as “believers in Jesus.”  So, are these “hydrophobic” “believers in Jesus” saved, or not?

He continues, “Their argument is that the thief was not baptized in water, and was still saved.”  I agree.  However, he also says, “Their proponents fail to mention that the thief was also saved without being born of the Spirit.”  I disagree.  Just because the Bible doesn’t specifically mention it in this case, doesn’t mean that He wasn’t active in the heart and mind of this thief to enable him to see that Jesus wasn’t just another criminal being executed.

According to this gentleman, “the Holy Spirit of promise had not been given at that time,” so, apparently, He was nowhere to be found until Pentecost.  However, the OT is filled with references to the activity of the Holy Spirit.  Pentecost may have inaugurated a new day in God’s dealing with men, with Gentiles being granted salvation apart from becoming Jews, but it did not begin the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

Then he brings in the case of Enoch, asking why men today don’t petition to be saved like Enoch.  He quotes Genesis 5:24, Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him.

Having admitted that Enoch was saved, the writer then asks a series of questions about things which Enoch did not “believe.”  He didn’t believe that Jesus was the Son of God, nor that God raised Him from the dead.  He wasn’t immersed in water for the forgiveness of sins.  He didn’t believe that Jesus died on the cross so that his sins could be washed away.  He wasn’t born of the Spirit, again, because the Spirit hadn’t been given.

Except for the last item, all these things are irrelevant to the case of Enoch.  Hebrews 11:5 has a comment about Enoch, By faith Enoch was taken away so that he did not see death, ‘and was not found because God had taken him’; for before he was taken he had this testimony, that he pleased God.  How was Enoch saved?  BY FAITH, just like anyone else who has ever been saved, beginning with Abel.  (The Scripture nowhere reveals for certain whether Adam was ever saved.)

So then, what is “faith”?  According to Hebrews 11, it’s an obedient response to the Word of God.  We might add to that, the Word of God as it has been given, as it had been given to Enoch, not as it will be given, as it has been to us with the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Enoch was saved through faith in the revealed Word of God, just like you and I are.

Then the writer turns to the thief on the cross.  Again, he lists some things about the man.  The thief believed that Jesus was the Christ.  This is true.  He repented, but he did not confess that God raised Jesus from the dead.  This last is irrelevant.  Jesus hadn’t yet been raised from the dead, so the resurrection wasn’t yet an object of faith.  And, finally, he wasn’t born of the Spirit.  We believe this is inaccurate, as we mentioned above.

Then he asks, “Can men, today, be saved like the thief on the cross.  ABSOLUTELY NOT” (his emphasis.)  So, he believes that there have been at least two different ways to be saved.

He says, “men, today, can only be saved by meeting the terms of the New Covenant,” which, according to him, “started on the Day of Pentecost.”

It might be interesting to see what the Old Testament, which was written long before Pentecost, has to say about the New Covenant.

Jeremiah 31:31-34 says,

“Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL AND WITH THE HOUSE OF JUDAH (my emphasis)  – not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was an husband to them, says the LORD.  But this is the covenant which I will make with THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL (my emphasis) after those days, says the LORD:  I will put My law in their minds and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God and they shall be My people.  No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD.  For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.

The whole section of Jeremiah 30-33 is the context in which the above portion should be read.

Ezekiel 11:19-20; 16:60-63; 37:15-28, and 39:21-29 are just some of the OT Scriptures which refer to this promise of God to the nation of Israel.

Did all of this happen at Pentecost?  Did any of it?  To the nation?  To individuals, yes, but to the nation?

It’s commonly taught that verses like these were all fulfilled when Israel returned from the Babylonian Captivity.  Again, where is the Scriptural evidence?  It certainly isn’t in Nehemiah, Ezra, Haggai or Malachi, books written during or after the Return.

There’s not a verse in the OT about the New Covenant which includes baptism as one of its “terms of pardon.”

In a final “note,” the author refers to conversions listed in the Book of Acts.  Turning his argument around, he maintains that no one who was saved said that they did not have to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, that they did not have to be born of water and of the Spirit, did not have to believe in the Resurrection, did not have to be immersed in water in order to be saved, and did not have to repent in order to be saved.

Except for the two references to “water,” which we’ll look at in a moment, all the other things he lists are irrelevant.  Jesus had come, unlike the time of Enoch and even in some ways unlike the thief on the cross – as we’ve noted – and so there were things about Him, like His deity and Resurrection, which are now the objects of faith.  One cannot deny them and be saved.

So, what about “water”?

The writer refers a couple of times to John 3:5, where Jesus said to Nicodemus, “…unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”  There are a variety of viewpoints about what the Lord meant by “water.”  Our friend says that it has to be immersion in water in order to be saved.  Others says it refers to physical birth, and still others look to Ephesians 5:26, where Paul refers to the washing of water by the word.  However, Nicodemus probably never read Ephesians, and the idea of it simply referring to physical birth seems unlikely.  All Nicodemus had to go by was the Old Testament, where baptism is never mentioned.

In his listing of salvation experiences on Acts, there’s one incident to which our friend never refers.  It’s found in Acts 10:  the conversion of Cornelius, his family and several close friends.  We’ll start reading from v. 43, which tells us something of what Peter told those in the house:

“to Him [Jesus] all the prophets witness that through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sin.”  While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word.  And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also.  For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God.  Then Peter answered and said, “Can anyone forbid water, THAT THESE SHOULD NOT BE BAPTIZED WHO HAVE RECEIVED THE HOLY SPIRIT AS WE HAVE?” (emphasis added).

“Whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sin.”  If Peter had agreed with our friend, wouldn’t he have said, “Whoever believes in Him and is baptized in order to be saved will receive remission of sin”?

Cornelius and his family and friends were all saved without baptism, as witnessed by their receiving the Holy Spirit, which, in turn, was evidenced by their speaking in tongues and glorifying God.

News of this reached Jerusalem and created quite a stir.  The early church, being mainly Jewish, had a great deal of difficulty accepting the idea that Gentiles could be saved without coming through Judaism; perhaps none of them more-so than Peter.  That’s why he received the vision in the early verses of Acts 10.

Acts 11 records the argument that arose over what Peter had done.  He gives a complete account of what happened before and when he arrived at Cornelius’ house.  In vs. 15-17, he said,

“And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, as upon us at the beginning.  Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, ‘John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’  If therefore God gave them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?”

Notice in both these instances that Peter never asked for a “decision.”  He never told people to “pray to receive the Holy Spirit.”  He just simply told them about the Lord Jesus, and God did all the rest.  These may or may not have their place elsewhere, but they had no place here.

Unless one believes that lost people can receive the Holy Spirit, and in spite of the two or three other verses proponents of baptismal salvation use, Acts 10 forever refutes the idea that baptism is necessary for salvation.
__________

(originally published December 26, 2013.) edited.

 

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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.

_______________

(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.

The Thief on the Cross: A Different Way of Salvation?

On November 23, I published a post about the thief on the cross.  Some time later, I got a lengthy response.  Wordpress put it into spam.  It wasn’t, but neither was it something I could “approve”.  I have no difficulty with people disagreeing with something I believe, provided they show that the Scripture says I’m wrong. I just want what the Scripture itself says, not what folks say it says.  Such was the case for this response.  The gentleman who wrote it clearly believes there has been more than one way of salvation.  His comment was titled:  “Can Men, Today, Be Saved Like Enoch?”  His comments are largely a non-sequitur, because they fail to follow what the Bible actually says about the subject.

His comment starts off, “Did you ever notice that the hydrophobic believers in Jesus want to be saved like the thief on the cross?”  I suppose the word “hydrophobic” (fear of water) has to do with the fact that this gentleman believes that baptism is necessary for salvation.  His whole response is based on that supposition.  At the same time, he refers to them as “believers in Jesus.”  So, are these “hydrophobic” “believers in Jesus” saved or not?  He doesn’t say.

He continues, “Their argument is that the thief was not baptized in water, and was still saved.”  I agree.  However, he says, “Thief proponents fail to mention that the thief was also saved without being born of the Spirit.”  I disagree.  Because the Bible doesn’t specifically mention it in this case, doesn’t mean that He wasn’t active in the heart and mind of this thief to enable him see that Jesus wasn’t just another criminal being executed.

According to this gentleman, “the Holy Spirit of promise had not been given at that time,” so, apparently, He was nowhere to be found until Pentecost.   However, the Old Testament is filled with references to the activity of the Holy Spirit.  Pentecost may have inaugurated a new day in God’s dealing with men, with Gentiles being granted salvation apart from becoming Jews, but it did not begin the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

Then he brings in the case of Enoch, asking why men today don’t petition to be saved like Enoch.  He quotes Genesis 5:24, Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him.

Then having admitted that Enoch was saved, the writer asks a series of questions about things that Enoch did not “believe”.  He didn’t believe that Jesus was the Son of God, nor that God raised Him from the dead.  He wasn’t immersed in water for the forgiveness of sins.  He didn’t believe that Jesus shed His blood on the cross so that his sins could be washed away.  He was not born of the Spirit, again, because the Spirit hadn’t been given.

Except for the last item, all these things are irrelevant to the case of Enoch.  Hebrews 11:5 has a comment about Enoch:  By faith Enoch was taken away so that he did not see death, ‘and was not found, because God had taken him’; for before he was taken he had this testimony, that he pleased God.  How was Enoch saved?  BY FAITH, just like anyone else has ever been saved, beginning with Abel.  (The Scripture nowhere reveals for certain whether Adam was ever saved.)

So then, what is “faith”?  According to Hebrews 11, it’s an obedient response to the Word of God, the Word, we might mention, which has been given, as in the case of Enoch, not which will be given, as in the case of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Enoch was saved through faith in the revealed Word of God, just like you and I are.

Then this gentleman turns to the thief on the cross.  Again, he lists some things about this man.  The thief believed that Jesus was the Christ [true].  He repented, but he did not confess that God raised Jesus from the dead [irrelevant.  Christ hadn’t risen from the dead yet, so the resurrection wasn’t a subject for faith], he wasn’t immersed in water for the forgiveness of his sins [also irrelevant], and he wasn’t born of the Spirit [inaccurate].

Then he asks, “can men, today, be saved like the thief on the cross?  ABSOLUTELY NOT” (his emphasis).  So, according to this writer, there have been least two different ways of salvation.

According to this writer, “men, today, can only be saved by meeting the terms of pardon under the New Covenant,” which, according to him, “started on the Day of Pentecost.”

It might be interesting to see what the Old Testament, written long before Pentecost, has to say about the New Covenant:

Jeremiah 31:31-34 says, “Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL AND WITH THE HOUSE OF JUDAH [my emphasis] – not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD.  But this is the covenant that I will make WITH THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL [my emphasis] after those days, says the LORD:  I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.  No more shall every man teach his neighbor,  and every man his brother, saying ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD.  For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” 

The whole section from Jeremiah 30-33 is the context in which the portion above should be read.

Ezekiel 11:19-20; 16:60-63; 37:15-28, and 39:21-29 are just some of the other OT Scriptures which refer to this promise of God to the nation of Israel.

Did all of this happen at Pentecost?  Did any of it?

It’s commonly taught that verses like these were all fulfilled when Israel returned from the Babylonian Captivity.  Again, where is the Scriptural evidence?  It certainly isn’t in Nehemiah, Ezra, Haggai or Malachi, books written about, during or after the Return.

There’s not a verse in the Old Testament about the New Covenant which includes baptism as one of it’s “terms of pardon.”

In a final “note,” the author refers to conversions listed in the Book of Acts.  Turning his argument around, he maintains that no one who was saved said that they did not believe that Jesus is the Son of God, that they did not have to be born of water and the Spirit, did not have to believe in the Resurrection, did not have to be immersed in water in order to be saved, and did not have to repent in order to be saved.

Except for the two references to “water”, which we’ll look at in a moment, all the others are irrelevant.  Jesus had come, unlike the time of Enoch and even in some ways unlike the thief on the cross – as we’ve noted – and so there were things about Him, like His deity and His resurrection, which now are the subjects of faith.  One cannot deny them and be saved.

So, what about “water?”

The writer refers a couple of times to John 3:5, where Jesus said to Nicodemus, “…unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”   There are a variety of viewpoints about what our Lord meant by “water.”  Our friend, of course, says that it has to be immersion in water in order to be saved.  Others say that it refers to physical birth, and still others look to Ephesians 5:26, where Paul refers to the washing of water by the word.”  However, Nicodemus probably never read Ephesians, and the idea of it simply being physical birth seems seems somewhat strange.  All Nicodemus had to go by was the Old Testament, where baptism is never mentioned.

Though listing salvation experiences in the Book of Acts, there is one instance to which our friend never refers.  It’s found in Acts 10:  the conversion of Cornelius, his household and close friends, v. 24.  We’ll start reading in v. 43, which tells us something of what Peter told those in the house:  “to Him [Jesus] all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins.”  While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word.  And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also.  For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God.  Then Peter answered and said, “Can anyone forbid water, THAT THESE SHOULD NOT BE BAPTIZED WHO HAVE RECEIVED THE HOLY SPIRIT JUST AS WE HAVE?”  (emphasis added).

“Whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins.”  If Peter had agreed with our friend, wouldn’t he have said, “Whoever believes in Him and is baptized will receive remission of sins”?

Cornelius and his family and friends were saved without baptism, as witnessed by their receiving the Holy Spirit, which, in turn, was evidenced by their speaking with tongues and glorifying God.

News of this reached Jerusalem and created quite a stir.  The early church, being mainly Jewish, had a great deal of difficulty accepting the idea that Gentiles could be saved without coming through Judaism and perhaps none of them more than Peter. This is why he received the special vision recorded in the first part of Acts 10.

Acts 11 records the argument that arose over what Peter had done.  He gives a complete account of what happened before and when he arrived at Cornelius’ house.  In v. 15-17, he said, “And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, as upon us at the beginning.  Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, ‘John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’  If therefore God gave them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?”

Notice in both these accounts that Peter never asked for a “decision.”  He never told his audience to “pray to receive the Holy Spirit.”  He just simply told them about the Lord Jesus Christ and God did all the rest.  These may or may not have their place elsewhere, but they had no place here.

Unless one believes that lost people can receive the Holy Spirit, and regardless of the two or three other verses proponents of baptismal salvation bring forth, Acts 10 forever refutes the idea that baptism is necessary for salvation. 

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 at all to earn or merit it.  He was nailed to a cross.  Just hours away from death.  He was guilty by this world’s standards, let alone heaven’s standards.  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 might meet 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 two criminals were crucified with our Lord. Matthew tells us that 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 27:39, 40 even speaks of those who were simply 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 women, looking from far off, Matt. 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 they understood 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 and blasphemies at the Man in the center.

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

“He saved others 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 yourselves and us!  Come on!  Get us down from here!”

As this went on, one of the thieves began to notice there was 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’re doing.”

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

Then he saw, rather than heard, an exchange between an onlooker and this One.  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?  …who 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 in his soul.  Later men would call it “the quickening of the Spirit,” but he didn’t know anything about that.  He just knew that he was suddenly sick of it all.  It was too much.  He wanted to be done with it, even if it was 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 his head toward Christ, “this One hasn’t done anything wrong.”

He was as sure of Jesus’ innocence as he was of his own guilt, more than even the Romans 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 didn’t understand it at all.  He just knew one thing –

“Lord…” 

Yes, He was Lord, the thief knew that, too, not just “Jesus of Nazareth,” not just another condemned man on a Cross.  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 other word is there.  Only in this place do they change the meaning of what the Lord said to something completely different.

Another man, a Reformed pastor, quoted it, “Today you will be with Me in my kingdom.” That’s not what the Lord said.  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, indeed, infinitely more than he wanted.  He does that, gives us way beyond what we can ask or even think, Ephesians 3:20, 21.

Before that day was over, the soldiers broke the legs of 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.