The Book of Luke, Conversion of the Thief on the Cross - Lesson 241
Luke 23:33-43, And when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified him, and the malefactors, one on the right hand, and the other on the left. 34Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots. 35And the people stood beholding. And the rulers also with them derided him, saying, He saved others; let him save himself, if he be Christ, the chosen of God. 36And the soldiers also mocked him, coming to him, and offering him vinegar, 37And saying, If thou be the king of the Jews, save thyself. 38And a superscription also was written over him in letters of Greek, and Latin, and Hebrew, THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS. 39And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us. 40But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? 41And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. 42And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. 43And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.
Luke 23:44-49, And it was about the sixth hour, and there was a darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. 45And the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was rent in the midst. 46And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost. 47Now when the centurion saw what was done, he glorified God, saying, Certainly this was a righteous man. 48And all the people that came together to that sight, beholding the things which were done, smote their breasts, and returned. 49And all his acquaintance, and the women that followed him from Galilee, stood afar off, beholding these things.
Luke, in his gospel record, chooses to be brief about the details that take place prior to the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ.
He makes no mention of the beatings Jesus suffered as does Matthew and Mark.
There is no mention of the scarlet robe, the crown of thorns, the mocking tribute paid to him and no references to Christís words about destroying the temple.
He mentions the wine vinegar in our passage for today but he does not bring out the first offering of wine mixed with gall.
By the way the drink offered to our Lord was vinegar "mingled with gall," or, according to Mark 15:23, "mingled with myrrh.
Gall is the same word used in the word gallbladder which stores bitter bile.
The wine vinegar was made bitter by the infusion of some substance, usually added as an act of mercy for those who were being crucified, to lessen their pain.
The Commentator Edersheim writes: It was a merciful Jewish practice to give to those led to execution a draught of strong wine mixed with myrrh so as to deaden consciousness. This charitable office was performed at the cost of, if not by, an association of women in Jerusalem. The draught was offered to Jesus when He reached Golgotha. But having tasted it Ö He would not drink it Ö.. He would meet Death, even in his sternest and fiercest mood, and conquer by submitting to the full.
So the wine contained a pain killing drug.
Jesus Christ knowing what was in the wine, refused to drink it.
He would take nothing to cloud his judgment or lessen the pain of dying.
Remember what he said to Peter when Peter, earlier in the morning, attempted to save him from arrest.
John 18:11, Then said Jesus unto Peter, Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?
He chose to drink every drop of that cup for it was his Fatherís will for Him to taste every element of woe from that bitter cup of suffering.
Luke also says nothing about the chief priests and teachers who said they would see and believe if He came down from the cross.
Matthew and Mark report of the people reviling Jesus and also mention that both thieves reviled him before the one thief called upon Jesus to remember him when he came into His kingdom.
John records, but Luke does not, the "Here is your son Ö Here is your mother" statement to John.
Luke does not mention the earthquake and the splitting of rocks and the tombs being opened as Matthew does.
John tells us that Jesus said, "I am thirsty" after He saw that all prophesy had been fulfilled (John 19:28-29).
John also tells us that his legs were not broken but his side was pierced, making sure that we knew this fulfilled the prophecy of Psalm 34:20 and Zechariah 12:10.
Psalm 34:20, He keepeth all his bones: not one of them is broken.
Zechariah 12:10, And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have piercedÖ
The sequence or order of events at Calvary is not completely clear but they appear to have happened something like this.
The victims were nailed to their crosses, which after were raised and fixed in position
Either prior to this or shortly after, drugged wine was offered to deaden the pain
The clothing of Jesus was divided among the four soldiers, by lot
Railing accusations and mocking occurred throughout the ordeal as the crowd filed or passed by the cross
Jesus cried out, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they doÖ "
The criminals joined in reviling Christ
The thief on the cross came to faith in Jesus as his Messiah
Darkness falls over the scene, from 6th hour (noon) till the 9th hour (3:00).
Jesus cried out, "My God, My God, why has thou forsaken Me?" (Matthew, Mark)
Jesus said, "I thirst" (John), then drank a sip of vinegar
Jesus said, "It is finished" (John)
Jesus bowed His head and said, "Father, into thy hands, I commend my spirit Ö " and died
Immediately, the curtain of the temple tore in two, top to bottom (Luke)
Earthquakes and the raising of dead saints occurred (Matthew)
The legs of the other two were broken, but Jesusí legs were not broken, seeing He was already dead (John)
A soldier pierced Jesusí side with a spearóblood and water gushed out (John)
A Centurion (and the other soldiers) who witnessed it said, Truly this was the Son of God. (Matthew)
The crowds left, beating their breasts, while the Galilean followers stay on, watching from distance
All of these events are important but I think the most poignant event to sinners is the conversion of the thief on the cross.
No one who witnessed this greatest event in history left that scene the same as when they came.
But the change that was most dramatic or exciting was that which happened to the thief who hung beside the Lord.
Jesus Christ came to this earth for a purpose.
His purpose was to do the will of the Father and the will of the Father is to seek and to save sinners.
While on this earth He certainly sought sinners and now on the cross as his blood is shed and he is soon to die he will provide for their salvation.
But even in this dire circumstance Jesus must be about his Fatherís business and therefore He accomplishes this purpose in the saving of this thief.
This event puts to rest any doubt that God can save to the uttermost for this thief brought nothing to the Christ except a repentant heart and a trust that this man on the cross next to him could save him.
He had no works to bring, he depended not a wit on baptism or on a creed or a testimony.
He could say "Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to Thy Cross I cling."
If there was ever one who could sing this song in honesty it was this thief.
39And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us. 40But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? 41And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. 42And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.
The conversion of the thief was a genuine conversion, as attested to by Jesusí strong words of assurance and hope: Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise. (23:43).
Jesus immediately assured him that on that very day he would be with Him in paradise.
We learn from Matthew and Mark that this thief initially partook in the reviling of Jesus but now after some hours he was drawn by God to faith in His son.
The thief spoke to Jesus, requesting salvation, before any of the miraculous signs and wonders which were to follow.
There was no impression by signs and wonders, he simply expressed faith and his faith was rewarded.
The thief believed in Jesus, in the midst of the rejection and railings of others, at a time when no one was showing faith in him.
He was moving against the grain of the moment, being out of step with the crowd.
It was in response to the scoffing of the other thief that this manís faith was shown.
He spoke first to the thief rebuking him for not fearing God, and then spoke to Jesus.
He recognized the innocence of Jesus Christ and he also recognized his deity for he rebuked his fellow malefactor for speaking to God in such an irreverent manner.
To the thief, Jesus was not only innocent but He was who He claimed to be, the Messiah, and therefore He was his entrance into the kingdom of God.
It is this kingdom into which the thief asked Jesus to allow him to enter.
The thief recognized, as Jesus had told Pilate, that His kingdom was not of this world.
Therefore the thief and Jesus could both die, and yet enter into it.
The thief saw that his own salvation did not require Jesus coming down from the cross, saving Himself, or getting him off of the cross as did the Jewish leaders and many of the people.
He also recognized his own sin, and that he was deserving of death.
He had nothing to offer Jesus but this did not keep him from requesting Jesusí mercy and that solely on the basis of His grace, unmerited favor.
This man had some kind of resurrection faith, believing in an afterlife, for he was about to die and he also saw that Jesus was about to die.
I think that we can learn from this event of the simplicity of the salvation experience.
It is man who always complicates what God sets out.
The salvation of the thief on the cross should be the example that we keep in our hearts as we preach the gospel and tell others about our Lord.
His salvation contained all of the essential ingredients.
Godís salvation in Jesus Christ needs no help from us throwing in a pinch of this and a dab of that.
First he recognized his own personal sin and his deserving of death and of Godís wrath.
He told the second thief: for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss.
He recognized that Jesus is precisely who He claimed to be, the sinless Son of God, Israelís Messiah, the only way by which men can enter into the kingdom of God.
42And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.
In saying this in indicated a belief that Christís kingdom lies beyond the grave, and that resurrection will enable him to be enter into it.
He pleaded Godís grace by claiming the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, in that he died in our place providing salvation for the worst of sinners.
The thief claimed no merit, he had no earnings on the cross, but recognized that salvation is achieved in accordance with Godís grace and grace alone.
So what is salvation?
First it is for sinners and sinners alone.
All others are excluded.
It is a turning from that sin in repentance and a simple trust that Jesus Christ will do the rest.
Jesus Christ will provide forgiveness and eternal life because of what he accomplished on the cross.
Luke did not tell us how this turning came about in the thiefís heart.
But we know from Johnís gospel that Jesus told Nicodemus that the process of being born again is a mysterious working of the Holy Spirit.
While the results of the Holy Spiritís word are evident, the process is not seen by the eye.
The final answer to the question, "What changed the heart of the thief?" is simply this, "God changed it did! God did it! "
We do not know how nor do we need to know how.
I donít know how my heart was opened to the good news of Jesus Christ!
We can only say, as Luke writes of Lydia, "The Lord opened her heart to believe Ö " (Acts 16:14).
So it is true for all who believe.
Salvation is not only the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit, it is His secret work.
The one thing which seems obvious in the conversion of the thief is this:
The thief knew, from the beginning that the Lord Jesus was innocent, and that He did not deserve death.
And it was at the point of his conversion that he came to understand that Jesusí death was in order to save sinners such as him.
But the crowds had not this understanding.
All who railed at Jesus had the same position.
If Jesus was to save men, He must first save Himself.
The disciples opposed His death thinking that only by being alive could he bring salvation to Israel.
The thief now understood that in order to save men, Jesus had to sacrifice Himself for their sins.
His death was not the destruction of His promises to save men but the means to realizing those promises.
It was this that the Spirit of God somehow made clear to the thief.
It was faith in the substitutionary death of Christ which saved him, as it is for any who believes.