The Thief on the Cross
The thief on the cross is often used as a proof for “easy believism”, an intellectual belief that manifests itself in no outward change at all… no growth, no fruit, no sanctification, etc…
But take a look at this
“He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” And the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way.”
Matthew 27:43-44 ESV
“Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also reviled him.”
Mark 15:32 ESV
“One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 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 23:39-43 ESV
So are these contradictory accounts of the thief on the cross? No! Matthew and Mark record the fact that early on in the day both of the thieves reviled Jesus. They both mocked Him. But what Luke records is not “easy believism”. Luke records evidence of a changed heart. A change that manifests itself in true repentance and spiritual rebirth.
The fear of the Lord. - the thief questions the other, “do you not fear the Lord?” Once a man that made a living disregarding the Lord, His existence, or His sovereignty, now this thief has a holy fear of the Lord.
He rebuked the other thief. - a zeal for the Lord exists now where once it didn’t. Moments ago this thief also reviled the Son of God. But something has changed, and the fear of the Lord is the beginning of fruits that the new birth has occurred and it now manifests itself in the zeal of the Lord.
Acknowledgement of his guilt before men and God. - there is no justification given here. No excuse about his upbringing or the plight he faced under Roman occupation. He doesn’t claim victim hood nor does he attempt to rationalize that his offenses were lesser than others. He was guilty.
Acceptance of punishment. - the thief doesn’t come to Jesus as a means to lessen his suffering. He isn’t coming to Jesus for what he can get from Him. He simply understands that before a righteous and holy God he is guilty and deserving of death. God is just in condemning him.
But this man has done nothing wrong. - the thief recognizes Jesus sinlessness. While he deserved every agonizing moment of his punishment here in this world, Jesus deserved none of it. Jesus was holy, righteous, and the thief knew this.
He understood and believed that Jesus was the Christ. - despite everything this man had done, up to and including reviling the Messiah Himself, he now acknowledges that Jesus is who He says He is by asking Him to remember him in His kingdom.
No my friends… despite what the social media memes say about how the thief merely held an intellectual belief, we see something much deeper has taken place here. In the brief time the thief was with our Lord he was fundamentally transformed, born again, given new life in Christ with a new heart set on the kingdom and no longer preoccupied with the things of this world. This thief exemplifies exactly what every writer in the New Testament claimed, what Jesus Himself said must need be: that where true saving faith exists, there will be evidence… there will be fruit.
Don’t ever let anyone fool you as to this fact. We don’t produce fruit of our own accord. We abide in the root, and if we do, HE will produce fruit in us and through us. But where there is no fruit, there is no root… and according to Jesus own words, they wither and die and are taken away.
Today is the day to cast off the things that so easily beset us, and run with endurance, the race that is set before us.