Thick As Thieves
By Shawn Tomlin
Every Easter we hear the story of the crucifixion. Inevitably, we also hear about the two thieves that were crucified with Jesus. Most of us know the story and the words that Jesus said to one of them, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” This piece is going to offer a deeper reflection on the situation and a deeper look into this wonderful passage of scripture.
The Gospel of Luke offers a much deeper view of these two thieves than the other gospel accounts. For that reason we will be focused on Luke 23:39-43. Before we dive into the text, let’s first realize that before God, we are all thieves. We all sin, we all deserve wrath, judgement, and hell. We either rail against God, hating Him, or turn to Him in repentant faith when He calls us.
Verse 39 says, “Then one of the criminals hanging there began to yell insults at Him: ‘Aren’t you the Messiah? Save Yourself and us!’” Remember that “railing against God” thing? Here it is. This guy was in no position to demand anything from Christ. No one is ever in a position to demand anything from Christ. He hung there, on his cross, justly condemned because of his actions. Without any faith he mocks Christ with his statement in verse 39. Instead of a repentant heart of flesh, his was stone cold. He did not have any hope. All of us, apart from Christ, stand justly condemned in our sin. As that thief hung there for his own sin, Christ hung next to him for the sin of all those chosen in Him.
In our confession of faith the Father looks on us and remembers His Son, in fact sees His Son. Our punishment was laid upon Him, and in the New Covenant we are declared innocent.
As we look at the other criminal we see a stark contrast to the first. Verses 40 and 41 say, “But the other answered, rebuking him: ‘Don’t you even fear God, since you are undergoing the same punishment? We are punished justly, because we’re getting back what we deserve for the things we did, but this man has done nothing wrong.’” The LORD opened the eyes of this criminal to see himself and the other criminal as what they truly were, criminals and thieves. He had arrived at the understanding that it was just to be to punished for the actions he had done in his life. This is how every believer is. Before God calls us to faith, in our natural and sinful state, we hate God, mock Him, and insult Him. Once we have come to faith we see ourselves for what we truly are, sinful creatures of the dirt before a Holy God, unable to save ourselves.
In verse 42 we see the result of such repentant faith. The criminal turns to Christ and says, “Jesus, remember me when you come into Your kingdom.” In the Old Testament when God “remembered” His people, he acted on the promises He had made to them in the covenants. Such as Genesis 9:15 where God says to Noah “I will remember my covenant between me and you and all the living creatures: water will never again become a flood to destroy every creature.” This is no different. In our confession of faith the Father looks on us and remembers His Son, in fact sees His Son. Our punishment was laid upon Him, and in the New Covenant we are declared innocent.
Does this mean we escape suffering? No. The second criminal still hung on his cross. Suffering is a part of life, but our hope is not in this temporal life, but in eternity. When people think that coming to faith in Christ means a prosperous, victorious life, they should read and reflect on this passage. We don’t live the victorious life now with material riches, but we live it in hope of the victory that Christ won for us on the cross.
Christ then says in verse 43 to that repentant criminal, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” This chokes me up every time. The grace that is wrapped up in this verse is overwhelming. This man lived his entire life loving his sin, and in these last moments of his life, God, in Christ, forgave it all. This, in a sense, was the first deathbed confession. Not every single deathbed confession is legitimate, but to say none are would be saying that this passage of scripture is false, and that is simply not true.
In closing, I want to tie in the Parable of the Vineyard Workers from Matthew 20:1-16. Mainly the fact that all the workers were called by the landowner at different times to work. At the end of the day though, all of them received the same amount. So let us not become angry at the fact that some work long in the faith while others come to it just before death. Instead let us glorify God for his gracious will to bring any sinner to repentant faith in Christ.
“The LORD bless you, and keep you;
The LORD make His face shine on you,
And be gracious to you;
The LORD lift up His countenance on you,
And give you peace.”