Arminian Today

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The Salvation of the Thief on the Cross

One of the most amazing stories in the midst of the mockery of the trials of Jesus Christ before and His crucifixion is the salvation of the thief on the cross.  Here is Jesus dying on the cross for the sins of the world and the Jews and the Roman guards are mocking Him and beating Him and laughing at Him.  Yet in the midst of this, Jesus saves the very man who is hanging next to Him on the cross.  We read this account in Luke 23:32-43:

32 Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. 33 And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. 35 And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”

39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

What is amazing to me about this story is that Jesus’ work on the cross shows us that this was not in vain.  Jesus was not dying hoping to bring people to salvation but this event would ensure that millions would be saved through the cross.  Even at this dark moment, the Spirit of God was working on the very criminal who is hanging next to Jesus to bring Him to salvation.  There are so many pictures of God’s salvation in the crucifixion of Jesus.  We read in Matthew 27:15-23 that the Jews chose Barabbas over Jesus, a guilty sinner over the perfect Son of God.  This is all of us!  We are Barabbas!  We are guilty before God Almighty of sinning yet He sent His one and only Son to die for our sins (1 Peter 3:18).  Jesus faithfully obeyed the Father to save sinners like us, like Barabbas, like the thief on the cross.

Matthew 27:44 tells us that the thieves on the cross mocked Jesus along with the Jews and Romans.  Yet here in Luke 23 we now find a broken man.  What happened?  What moved this thief to come to see that he needed to be saved?  What was it about Jesus that caused him to come to repentance.  We know that he repented because of his statement in Luke 23:41.  He even recognized in Luke 23:40 that Jesus’ death was a vicarious death.  Jesus was dying as an innocent man and this thief knew this, he knew that Jesus was dying for others.  He begs Jesus for forgiveness in Luke 23:42 and Jesus gives him the assurance of heaven in Luke 23:43.

I use to read this passage and while I acknowledged the forgiveness of the sins of the thief, I use to mock those who would use this passage for salvation today.  After all, Jesus had the power on earth to forgive sins (Mark 2:10) and this event took place before the final death of Jesus and His resurrection.  Yet I see in this story the beauty of justification by faith.  This thief is hanging on a cross, he is nearly dead and there is nothing he can do to earn God’s forgiveness nor the favor Jesus.  He simply must come to Jesus.  Jesus alone, hanging on the cross next to Him, is his only hope.  Is that not us?  Is that not me?  I am dead without Jesus (Ephesians 2:1-3).  I cannot live without Jesus (John 15:1-11).  I can live but I cannot live forever with the Son of God.  I am sinful before God.  My entire being is tainted by sin (Romans 3:10-18) yet Jesus, the perfect Son of God who never sinned, took my place and He reconciled me to God (2 Corinthians 5:18-21).  It was His work and not my works that saved me (John 19:30; 1 Corinthians 1:30-31).

I pray that this day we would rejoice in knowing that Jesus died for our sins (Galatians 1:4).  His death was necessary so that we could be forgiven and through faith in Him, we are forgiven (Acts 13:38-39; 15:11).

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Written by The Seeking Disciple

03/29/2013 at 9:42 PM

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