One of the most wonderful depictions of love our Lord displayed during His earthly life and ministry was with the dying thief on the Cross. When Jesus died He was not alone in His death, because on each side of Him was a transgressor, a thief- Isaiah prophesied about it 53:12. Our Lord’s purpose in coming into the world was that He might save sinners (Matthew 1:21; Luke 19:10; 1 Timothy 1:15), and in this account we see Jesus doing this work of saving the lost. Notice how great was the compassion of Christ; here He was suffering the most terrible agony and pain, and yet in the midst of His own great sorrow, He thought of this dying thief and extended His grace to him. Here, even in His dying hour, we have the evidence of Jesus’ power to save!
The deepest significance of this account is the fact that what He did for this thief He is ready and willing to do for us, for anyone, for everyone. The incident happened 2000 years ago, but our Lord Jesus Christ is just the same today. As the old hymn reminds us:
The dying thief rejoiced to see
That fountain in his day;
And there may I, though vile as he,
Wash all my sins away.
So many people think that it is hard to be saved, hard to come to Christ and to become a Christian. The Devil has blinded the eyes of men, as we read in 2 Corinthians 4:4. But God has made the way so plain and very easy to understand (Isaiah 35:8). See exactly how Jesus saved this man. He was saved simply by asking the Lord to save him – refer to verse 42. In his request that the Lord would remember him in His kingdom are implied three things:-
1. He felt and confessed his need of salvation.
2. He believed the Lord could and would save him.
3. He committed himself to the Lord and trusted Him to save him.
That is the only way to be saved. There is no other way. It is as simple and as amazing as that - Romans 10:13! Have you called upon Him to save you? Have you trusted Him as your own personal Savior?
The vilest sinner may be saved. This man was a criminal. He had broken the laws of the land and he was being crucified for that reason, but the measure of his sin did not alter his chance of being saved one bit! Many people think that they are too bad to be saved, that their sinfulness is unforgivable and this keeps them from salvation! We need a Savior BECAUSE we are sinners (Matthew 9:13). The most wretched person in the world may be saved by Christ who came to save sinners (Isaiah 53:5-6).
Here, salvation is instantaneously received. Compare the prayer of the man in verse 42 and the response of the Savior in verse 43. How can we read this account and not believe in sudden conversion? The thief was brought into the kingdom and given assurance of salvation - just as Zacchaeus was suddenly converted (Luke 19:1-10); Saul (Acts 9:3-9). At this very second, if you are not saved, you may call on the name of the Lord, as the dying thief did, and He will hear and answer your prayer and make you His own. The thief said “WHEN”” (verse 42), and Jesus answered by saying “TODAY” (verse 43). “Today” is the Lord’s time - look up Joshua 24:15; Proverbs 27:1; Luke 19:5; 2 Corinthians 6:2; Hebrews 3:7.
Salvation does not depend upon rituals, ceremonies, good deeds or service. This dying thief had not been christened, confirmed, dedicated, baptized, made a member of the Church, nor had he come to the Lord’s Table. Now when we open the scriptures we find a clear command to be baptized (Acts 10:48); to join in fellowship with the Lord’s people (Hebrews 10:25); and to come to the Lord’s Table to remember Him in His death (1 Corinthians 11:24-25); but these are not necessary to salvation. We do these things after we are saved, as a confession that we are trusting Christ AND because we love Him (John 14:15). Also notice that the dying thief was saved without doing one single good deed. We are not saved by our good works, but after salvation we are only too glad to work for the Lord (Romans 3:20; 4:5; Ephesians 2:8-10; Titus 3:5).
In this example we may be absolutely sure of our salvation. The dying thief was. He was sure because he had the word of Christ to give him assurance. Notice what Jesus said in verse 43. He had the word of Christ, the promise of Christ, to rest upon, just as we have (John 5:24). Have you believed in the Lord Jesus Christ as your own Savior? Then on the authority of God’s Word you may be sure that you now have everlasting life, that you will never be judged for your sins because Christ has borne that judgment for you, and that you have already passed out of death and into life.
He’s a good, good God!