Two Thieves

Charles Colton in his book Loving God shares the following:

Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.(Luke 23:42)

Golgotha- what a grin set on which to play out the crucial act in the drama of redemption. Golgotha- from the Aramaic: meaning “skull” and the Hebrew implying “a skull-like mound”- was well named in light of the bloody business conducted there.

The central drama of Golgotha was played out on the three crosses there. “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!”, cried one thief hanging there, angry to the end.(Luke 23:39) He might even have believed that the limp figure was the Son of God. But so what? If He couldn’t save Himself, He certainly couldn’t save anyone else.

The other thief, convicted by the Holy Spirit, realized he deserved to die. He understood that no matter what he had done or not done, no matter the circumstances, “no punishment comes to us in this life on earth which is undeserved.”

And therein lies the crucial distinction between the two thieves. It has nothing to do with their crimes, their moral values, the relative goodness or badness of their lives. In fact, Scripture suggests the irrelevance of these criteria by the stark lack of details describing their lives. The distinction was that one recognized his own sin. His reply to the other, “We are receiving the rewards of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong”.(Luke 23:42) is one of the purest expressions of repentance of all Scripture. And his words to Jesus- “Remember me”(23:42)- are the classic statement of faith. With such simplicity and power this man repented and believed and died trusting Christ.

These tow men who actually died alongside my Savior are representative of mankind. We either recognize our sinful selves, our sentence of death, and our deserving of that sentence, which leads us to repent and believe-or we curse God and die.

As I read this I thought about what the Apostle Paul said when he used the words the offense of the cross. What makes the cross an offense? Like the thieves, we are confronted with the Christ on the cross. We may try to excuse our conduct. We may try to compare ourselves with others. We try some form of works. Some even believe that belonging to a church or attending church or doing good works is sufficient. But the cross brings all that to light and shows us that any and all human effort to attain heaven falls short of what’s necessary. On the other side of the coin are those who cannot believe that the cross and its occupant are sufficient to erase the penalty of their sin. Indeed there are those who may say that their sins are so many and so bad that they can’t receive the forgiveness and grace of God. Again the cross speaks and its voice offensive for it proclaims that no sin that the repentant sinner brings to is is so wrong, so bad that forgiveness cannot conquer it and mercy cannot cover it and grace cannot contain it. As we view the cross may we be liberated from the futile attempts to “pay” for our salvation. May we find freedom from the blood-covered past. May we live each day remembering the price Christ paid for us and our release from the punishment of sin. May we know that “now we are the sons and daughters of God”, fully forgiven and fully adopted into the family of God without merit or achievement but because “He first loved us”.

Dr. John Thompson