Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, “If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.” But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.” (Luke 23:39-41)
The Other Thief On A Cross
One of the remarkable stories from the cross of Jesus is His conversation with a thief crucified with Him. Three men were crucified that day. Two robbers found guilty of their crimes and one innocent man who had never sinned in His life. In the beginning the two thieves railed against the Lord but then one had a turn of heart. He begged compassion from Jesus and was granted a place in Paradise. The other thief was not as gracious. He apparently suffered and died still desperate to find rescue. Remarkably, escaping crucifixion was nearly impossible as the Romans had perfected the instrument of death that if the nailing of the body to a tree did not kill them the thrust of the centurions sword would. Death was unavoidable.
The other thief began mocking Jesus. Then he turned to desperation. Luke tells us the manner of his plea was not a sincere belief that Jesus could save him but a frantic plea to save himself – even blaspheming the Lord. Defiant to death the thief was looking for a way of salvation for only himself. He did not care about the other thief, the man in the middle, those pitiful people watching him or the hatred Romans that convicted him of robbery. If he could affect an escape he would use any means to do so. One could assume (and not likely) that if it were possible the thief could somehow get away he would continue in his crimes. His heart as he faced death was just as defiant as it was before. There was no change in him. His predicament did not move him to have sympathy for anyone but himself. When he pleads for the Lord to save Himself he was hoping that he would be saved escaping to continue his wickedness. One thief died with the promise of Paradise and the other thief died cursing the Lord he would meet in judgment.
Imagine his regret when (like the rich man and Lazarus) he lifted up his eyes in torment and saw Jesus of Nazareth in the bosom of Abraham. There was no water to bring. There was no hope. He saw the other thief securely held in the place of Paradise and he was in torment. He lived and died cursing God. Now he was lost. Crucified next to him was the only hope he had and he could only blaspheme Him. With his dying breath, he was looking for the wrong kind of salvation. One thief was saved and one thief was damned.
The image of Jesus crucified between two men represents the hearts of all men. On the one hand, there are those who are changed by the life of Jesus and find peace in the promise of salvation. The other side of the cross of Jesus hung the man who embodies the spirit of most people in the world. Jesus had warned in the sermon on the mountain that most people will be lost; only few will be saved. Jesus Christ stands between those who will see His glory and find peace when they follow the words of the Lord, and the people that will deny God on their deathbeds cursing him to damnation. The majority of folk who walk upon the face of the earth die with no hope of salvation. How tragic.
God is not willing that anyone should perish but like the thief on the cross, most men deny the only means of salvation. The thief had the answer right next to him and cursed Him. Today the word of God is revealed in the Bible and men will curse the Bible as a book of myths and fairy tales. How surprised they will be in torment when they learn too late the message of hope was contained in that book about Jesus Christ. There is only one way to the Father and that one way is the Lord Jesus Christ. The question is this: which thief are you? Will you believe that Jesus is Lord and serve Him? Will you live seeking your own salvation and be lost? The choice is up to you.
One of the confusions of the damned will be that they will be condemned by their own reason, which they now use to condemn Christianity. (Blaise Pascal, Pensees, 1670)