New Life for a Dying Malefactor From the King Of Life Eternal
"And Jesus said into him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in Paradise" (Luke 23:43).
God is concerned with individual souls. Men who deal with other men in large numbers are prone to lose sight of individuals and think only of groups and masses. But God never does so. On the contrary, He appears sometimes to have more regard for one particular soul than for a whole multitude of others. And the soul that gets His attention is the soul that looks to Him in faith. Such a soul was the malefactor to whom Jesus spoke in the words of our text.
Two malefactors, or evildoers, as Luke calls them, were crucified with Jesus. Matthew and Mark call them thieves, and Mark adds that so the scripture was fulfilled, "He was numbered with the transgressors." (Mark 15:28) One Who had done only good, and two who had done only evil: these three were crucified together. From the salvation of one of the evildoers we may draw several important lessons.
A Common Need
Surely it is obvious enough that both these thieves were in desperate need of salvation. Their lives in this world were already ruined and nearly ended; above all else they needed a spiritual salvation for the life to come. Certainly they needed the forgiveness of sins, deliverance from eternal punishment, admittance to a better world.
Even so, you and I also need the salvation of the Lord. Granted some difference in variety or degree of sin, there is yet no difference in the fact that "all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23) "There is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not." (Ecclesiastes 7:20)
We need not be nailed to a Roman cross to be lost. "In Adam all die" (1 Corinthians 15:22), and this death is spiritual, physical, and eternal unless we obtain the salvation provided in Christ. The need of the thief may be more apparent, but our need is no less real.
Grace in Salvation
One malefactor got saved while the other remained lost. "Why? Certainly NOT because the one was any better than the other. Both alike are called thieves, transgressors, malefactors. Both alike, for a time, mocked and reviled Jesus. (Matthew 27:44; Mark 15:32) But finally one of them changed his mind, and rebuked his partner in crime.
"Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss." (Luke 23:40, 41)
Divine grace had changed this man's way of thinking, and so he changed sides. Now he rebuked sin, confessed his own guilt, and justified God. So it is always when God's grace brings a sinner to salvation.
If this sinner was to be saved at all, it had to be by grace. He was in a position where he could not contribute anything to his salvation. But neither can any other sinner, whatever his condition or means, because the only salvation that God has for sinners is salvation by grace. He never did save anybody any other way, and He never will.
Simplicity of Salvation
The dying thief was saved the same way that Abraham was saved, the same way that Paul was saved, the only way that any sinner ever was or can be saved, through simple faith in Christ. "It is of faith, that it might be by grace." (Romans 4:16)
No doubt this dying man experienced such a change of mind and heart that if he had been given time and opportunity he would have lived a quite different life from that which he had lived. But it was too late for that.
He could not join a church, because church members were scattered and in no condition to receive him. He could not be baptized because he was nailed to a cross. But after all, God never did tell anybody to join a church or to be baptized in order to be saved from hell. "To him that worketh NOT, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness." (Romans 4:5) Well this dying thief was too near gone to do any work, but by God's grace he could believe; and that is all that any sinner can do to obtain salvation. It is that simple, and so it is hid from the wise and prudent, and revealed unto babes. (Matthew 11:25)
"Lord, remember me when thou comest in thy kingdom," were the words of the malefactor. God generally gives us more than we ask for. No doubt the dying thief had in mind a future manifestation of God's kingdom on earth, but Jesus had a promise for that very day:
"Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise."
To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. (2 Corinthians 5:8) Certainly there are still future aspects of salvation, including the resurrection of the body; but Jesus saves immediately every soul that trusts in Him. Our experience of salvation begins in regeneration, continues in sanctification, and will be completed in resurrection.
Even if you are in your dying hour, you can still be saved, as the malefactor was saved, through faith in Christ. But if you have some longer time to live, why live it like the thief, robbing yourself and God of the joys of salvation that could be yours right now? Trust Jesus now, and He will save you now.
[From the Ashland Avenue Baptist paper, various issues. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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