Numbered With Transgressors
Tuesday, September 7, 2010 at 9:50AM
Jeff Smith in Godhood, Jesus Christ

The story of the cross has always fascinated readers, but of all the characters who make their brief appearance on the Bible stage there, the thieves hanging on either side of Jesus hold a peculiar place in peoples’ hearts. Many, for some reason, look to one of those robbers for an example of their own salvation, and yet while he was promised paradise, it is undeniable that he took an unusual path to get there, and surely not the best.

I. Bruised for Our Iniquities

    A. Prophecy

        1. the Jews had been looking for their messiah for hundreds of years at least, looking for someone to rescue them from Gentile domination and to restore their kingdom and boundaries

        2. amidst their inspired prophecies of victory, however, resided a strange message from Isaiah, written about the year 700 B.C., that initially dealt in a typical way with Israel’s immediate earthly affairs (Isaiah 7:13-14, 9:6-7)

            a. it is apparent, however, that God has an antitypical fulfillment in mind as well

            b. and that is all connected to the coming of the messiah later on (Isaiah 53:1-12)

        3. from the start of his ministry, Jesus understood he had an appointment with that destiny and confirmed it as he approached Jerusalem amid heightened tensions between his company and the religious leaders in the city – the scribes, Pharisees and Sanhedrin


    B. The Cross

        1. after a final supper with his closest friends, Jesus was betrayed into the hands of his enemies by Judas Iscariot; Jesus was arrested under cover of darkness and tried by the high priest on a charge of blasphemy while most of Jerusalem slept

        2. condemned by the rooster’s crowing, his execution was settled by Pontius Pilate, whose weak attempts to win his release failed

        3. Jesus was led away to Golgotha to become everything Isaiah foresaw (Luke 23:26-31)


    C. Numbered With Transgressors

        1. Jesus did not go to the cross alone (Luke 23:32-38)

            a. the criminals on either side of Jesus were robbers (see Matthew 27:38), probably not as sophisticated as insurrectionists or even as vile as murderers, but guilty nonetheless of harming their neighbors and taking advantage

            b. Jesus had spent his life seeking out companions like these – seedy harlots, greedy publicans, violent soldiers – and now he would spend his last moments in their midst

        2. the attention of the spectators, however, was entirely trained upon the prisoner who had made such fantastic claims and spoken with such great contempt of the Pharisees and other religious leaders

            a. they scoffed at his claims and tried to provoke him to struggle against the nails and to expend his breath and blood in a vain attempt to strike back at them

            b. instead, Jesus uttered immortally patient words, words that would prove so prophetic on Pentecost, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

        3. transgressors are all about him – hanging on crosses, dancing on hallowed ground, hiding in the Council, and yet Jesus consented to die as a sheep to slaughter


    D. Remember the Robber

        1. one of the transgressors was not interested in having one last laugh at the Lord’s expense (Luke 23:39-43)

        2. while his compatriot sneered, the penitent thief confessed his faith and begged for relief on the other side of certain death

        3. his faith was wholly rooted in the fear of God, which surely should be revived when the shadows of death are hanging so low, but his fear motivated him to beg for everlasting mercy beyond death

        4. he confessed his faith, acknowledged his sin and reached out for help and received it – a promise of transport to Paradise when the business of dying was ended


II. Saved Like the Thief

    A. Anyone Can Be Saved

        1. we learn from the thieves on their crosses that anyone can be saved and anyone can be lost; two men who appear to be so similar, at least in offense, respond so differently when eternity is on the line

        2. even today, some will react that way: “To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled” (Titus 1:15).

        3. two people can be guilty of the same sins, or come from the same parents, and react entirely differently when challenged by something new to them like the gospel

        4. what made one man repent and the other reproach?

            a. the one man feared God and knew he was about to fall into his hands (Second Corinthians 6:16-7:1)

            b. fear of God does not mean being so terrified of God that you avoid him, but having so much respect for him that you do his will to please him

            c. fear of God, however, includes an acceptance that there is a judgment and a place called Hell (Hebrews 10:26-31)


    B. Anyone Can Be Saved Anytime

        1. talk about the skin of his teeth; the penitent robber waited until the last possible moment to turn his life around and over to the Lord

        2. if he had it to do over again, he would surely recognize just how much of his time and life he wasted on robbing people when he could have been a faithful child of God all along

        3. there will always be people who hope to beat the system and get to live like the devil until the last moment and then call King’s X by jumping into Christ just before death, but precious few have that time and the insincerity of such a plan is fatal to it

        4. that’s why the Bible teaches, “Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come” (Ecclesiastes 12:1).

        5. the dangers are threefold

            a. Jesus returns before you are ready (First Thessalonians 5:1-6)

            b. you die unexpectedly and suddenly (James 4:13-17)

            c. your interest in ever coming to God wanes the longer you live with the devil (Hebrews 12:12-17)


    C. Saved Like the Robber

        1. of course, there are many who say that they want to be saved like the thief without much effort on their part

        2. I think they overlook the effort it took – physical because he was hanging on a cross and spiritual because he was humbling himself – to make the confessions he did

        3. but they argue that he never had to suffer the indignity of water baptism or church attendance and that is how they envision their own salvation

            a. I am not sure how they know that he was never baptized – many were at the teaching of John and Jesus and that surely included some who later regretted it and went back to things like robbing people

            b. and the church did not exist yet while he lived, but every saved person from Pentecost on has found a church relationship to be integral to salvation

        4. the fact is that the penitent thief lived on a side of the cross that no one today does and the law has changed with the accomplishment of the cross (Colossians 2:11-15)

            a. to be saved like the thief is to remove Jesus from the office of high priesthood (see Hebrews 7:12)

            b. to be saved like the thief is to replace the graceful new covenant with the sting of death (Galatians 5:4-6)

            c. as of Pentecost, Peter was preaching the purpose and necessity of baptism (Acts 2:38-41)


    D. Paradise

        1. what the thief sought, he was promised – transport to Paradise upon his death

        2. one could easily imagine that Jesus would be going somewhere else upon his demise, but the Scriptures tell us that he also spent three days in the bosom of Abraham, waiting for his resurrection (see Acts 2:25-28)

        3. that Paradise is not exactly Heaven, for man must wait until the general resurrection and final judgment to enter heaven or hell, but Paradise is clearly superior to the alternative (Luke 16:19-25)

        4. Paradise is a taste of heaven to come, a restoration of fuller fellowship between man and God, a reunion of the redeemed of every age, liberty from the trials and travails of fleshly life



With the end of his life in plain view, the thief on the cross thought only of redemption. Today, even those who would be counted chief among sinners or have wasted decades of their lives on sin, can have confidence in making the same claim if they have only the sincerity to seek forgiveness in the fear of God.


Questions For Review

  1. What is it about the cross that confounded Jewish minds in the first century?
  2. Why did the authorities want to arrest Jesus under cover of darkness?
  3. What were the men like who were also on trial that day before Pilate?
  4. What single attribute distinguished one robber from the other?
  5. What might interfere with someone’s plan to put Jesus off until later?
  6. What keeps people today from being saved just like the one robber?
  7. What is Paradise?
Update on Monday, June 13, 2011 at 1:31PM by Registered CommenterJeff Smith

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