As we take up part two from our text in the Luke 23 account of the two thieves, one on each side of Jesus, we remember that the first thief very clearly condemned Jesus. His mocking words demanded power through performance rather than as displayed through restraint. Jesus in restraining his power fulfilled the unchanging plan of the Father, rather than meeting the temporary preferences of man. The second thief instead of embracing the stubbornness of ignorance experienced CONVERSION in our text from Luke 23:40-42:
40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence?41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.
Why bother changing now after an entire life lived in sin? It was with death quickly approaching, the pain of the nails pulsing through his body, each breath more difficult than the last that the impact of sin was never more real. In our own lives sin is never more real than when we are hurting as a result, time seems to slow down, the clock stops ticking! Instead of mocking, he approached in reverence. Confessing his sins and recognizing his condition he saw Jesus for who he is, rather than simply where he was (The Lamb of God which takes away the sins of the world). With that clarity he called on to be part of God’s plan rather than just demanding a performance. He asked that the consequences of sin be overshadowed by the compassion of the Savior! Even when I don’t deserve it, remember me! It is the same call we make, “God, I’m going through a difficult time–watching a loved one wither away–Remember me! I’m falling short fighting sin–Remember me! I’m struggling with loneliness and depression–Remember me!
Of all the days he stood in formation, a young private remembered one day in particular. As the emperor Napoleon rode on horseback among the troop lines, reviewing his army his horse, seeing a snake in the grass suddenly bolted out of control, putting the military genius and emperor in jeopardy. Risking life and limb, the young private jumped from his ranks, grabbing the reigns of the horse quickly calming him. Napoleon without hesitating said, “Thank you, Captain!” giving him an instant promotion. As the private turned captain walked to the tent with the captains and officers, the group began to rebuke him, “You don’t belong in here. What makes you think you can come in here private? Who do you think you are breaking ranks?” In that moment he realized he didn’t have the uniform of a captain, nor the insignia, nor fulfilled the duties, so he simply pointed to the emperor and said, “He said it!” Instantly their demeanor changed, “Sorry Captain, we didn’t know!” All he had was the word of the emperor, but that was enough!
When we accept Jesus Christ as our Savior, in many ways we don’t look the part or fit the rank, and yet Hebrews 4:16 calls on us to have confidence, not in the word of an emperor, but in the Word which was from the beginning. With confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Like the 2nd thief when seemingly everything is against us—the bigger the trial, the great the testament to God’s power! In our weakness we are pushed away from what keeps us comfortable towards what makes us healthier. Not just close to Jesus, but finally confident in what Christ has done for us on the cross!
In the final installment, part 3, we will finally hear the words of Jesus in response to two men who responded differently to death!