The Faith of a MalefactorFebruary 17, 2015
All four of the gospels tell of them. In John 19:18, they are simply mentioned as being present. We learn nothing about them; only that they were crucified at the same time as Jesus with one being on his left and the other being on his right. In Mathew 27:44, we learn that these other two were thieves and that they “cast the same with his teeth.” In mark 15:32 we discover that “they which were crucified with him reviled him.” But in the gospel of Luke, we discover that, as they were in their final moments, one of these thieves had a revelation. A revelation which, not only highlights the truth that salvation is by faith alone, it reveals that Jesus will save anyone who turns to him in true repentance. Those who attempt to incorporate baptism, keeping of the torah, good works, church affiliation, or any other action into salvation cannot account for the thief on the cross. While good works and fruit will certainly follow as evidence that one has been born of the Spirit, they are not a part of the equation insofar as “what must I do to be saved?” The account regarding the thief on the cross is as follows:
Luke 23:39-43 “And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be the Christ, save thyself and us.
40 But the other answering, rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation?
41 And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss.
42 And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.
43 And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, to day shalt thou be with me in paradise.“
There is so much information contained in this short passage that relates to us today. The short of the matter is this: one of these malefactors went into eternity saved, and the other went into eternity lost. When we reach our final moment in this world, the only thing that matters is our standing with Jesus. All other endeavors, passions and titles become as nothing. Our treasures are scattered, our position is filled by another, and within a few decades, the memory of us is lost. A name on a tombstone, accompanied by two dates that carve out a span of time, will be the only indicator by which future generations will know of our venture through the land of the breathing. In regards to the two malefactors who were crucified at the same time as our Savior, they were secured into a situation which would end their time in the physical realm. As the minutes passed and reality set in, the reviling subsided. They began to respond to the inevitable in two different ways.
Luke 23:39 “And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be the Christ, save thyself and us.”
One could write volumes on this statement alone as it reveals the hear of one who, despite being in their final moments, is unrepentant and unbelieving…….beginning with the words “if thou be the Christ.” There is a world of difference between “if thou be the Christ” and “I believe that thou art the Christ.” This man was in the situation which would send him into eternity. He would never again return to his friends or the life that he once lived. Next to him was the one person in all of history who could grant him eternal life…….and all that he could come up with was “if thou be the Christ.” Following this utterance, we find the motivation behind it. “save thyself and us.” In other words, he was making a last ditch effort to escape his situation and get back to where he once was. His thoughts were completely on the temporary, with no regards to the everlasting. Undoubtedly he had heard about a coming Messiah and most likely was aware of the stories about Jesus. But an unquenchable lusting for this world prevented him from giving thought to the everlasting, even though it was but a few short hours away.
I fear that many professing Christians today are in the “if thou be the Christ” category. They may have a form of godliness and even be able to point to a date in history when they said a sinners prayer. But somehow, the word that they heard did not resonate and, instead of believing on Jesus, they are trusting in having said a sinners prayer……or…….like the malefactor mentioned above, they simply wanted to avoid hell and so they did what the presenter of the gospel instructed them to do. If there is not a distinct change in lifestyle and convictions following the saying of a sinners prayer, there was no conversion – it was merely the seeking of a fire escape. A truly born again saint will have a new nature which will manifest outwardly. The apostle Paul admonished us to give all diligence in settling this matter, as failing to do so will have everlasting ramifications.
II Corinthians 13:5 “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?”
The apostle Peter also spoke in regards to this:
II Peter 1:10 “Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall: (please visit verses 5-9 for a listing of things that accompany faith)
The other malefactor began to give serious thought to the situation. Undoubtedly, he was aware of Jesus and knew that he had not engaged in any wrongdoing. As he hung between life and death, he must have heard the conversations going on nearby. The mocking of the soldiers, the hatred of the religious crowd, and the words of anguish spoken by those who knew and loved the Lord Jesus. The thoughts of the second malefactor were no longer on the temporal world; a truth that is revealed in his response to the first malefactors desire to escape this end. The life that he once knew was no longer in the equation as his thoughts turned to what really mattered. Besides, even if he were to escape this situation, death catches up to everyone sooner or later. A lifetime; be it a hundred years or just a few, isn’t even a drop in the proverbial bucket when compared to the everlasting.
Luke 23:40-41 “But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost thou not fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation?
41 And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss.”
As his final moment was approaching, he understood the whole of the situation. He knew that he had been sentenced to this end; not because of any misfortune or betrayal, but because he had been caught engaging in unlawful activity. He also knew that Jesus was innocent. Not only was he innocent, he was going to his kingdom. This man understood who Jesus is.
Luke 23:42 “And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.”
He didn’t ask Jesus to save him; not even eternally. He must have thought that salvation was out of range at this point. he didn’t say a sinners prayer. He understood his situation had had resigned himself to accept his just reward. His only request was remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.” But just when all seemed lost, he heard the most incredible words that anyone will ever hear.
Luke 23:43 And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, to day shalt thou be with me in paradise.”
From that moment on, the two thieves were on different paths. The one who believed has now been in the presence of Jesus for over two thousand years. In life he had been a criminal; moving amongst the shadows and securing gain at the expense of others. But as he was nailed to a cross for his participation in such deeds, revelation was granted. He realized who Jesus is……and that he was being crucified unjustly……“but this man has done nothing amiss.” In fact, during the thirty three years that he walked in a body of flesh, Jesus had been tempted in all points as we are, and was yet without sin. “And what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh.” He had fed multitudes in the wilderness, cast devils out of those who were tormented in such manner, healed all manner of diseases, and shared the words of life everywhere he went. Finally, on an old rugged cross, he paid the sin debt of us all with his own innocent blood.
It is imperative to diligently give thought to our great salvation; lest we become forgetful and careless. Less something else becomes our first love and we begin drifting toward the jagged rocks. Lest we faint along the way and partake of that for which there is no remedy. It’s equally imperative that we do not complicate, or add to salvation by faith. Without a doubt, true salvation will produce fruit and result in works as such will be in the heart of one who has been born of the Spirit. But works can never save us. Even baptism is an act that one undergoes after believing on the Lord Jesus. If a person continually puts it off, it becomes questionable as to whether or not they ever truly believed on Jesus.
I Peter 3;21 “The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
Well I have to go for now. My prayer is that all of us will be continually mindful of a salvation so profound that none of our words are adequate in trying to describe how incredible it is. Each one of us; if we had died the day before we believed on Jesus, would be in hell at this very moment……along with the rich man in Luke chapter 16, the first malefactor, and all who rejected the love of the truth. May we look steadfastly toward Jesus and hide his word in our heart, as we navigate the most perilous season that the world has ever known; that being the end of the age.
Blessings in Jesus name.