THE CASE OF THE DYING THIEF |Luke 23:32-43
This text presents three men. It speaks of three men who have been nailed to three crosses, dying three terrible deaths. The differences in their suffering were minimal. The differences in the men were enormous.
First, on one side there is a thief dying in his sins. He has lived a life of crime, broken the laws of Rome, and has been sentenced to die. The sentence is being carried out, and this man is dying a horrible death. This man is rude, arrogant, and proud. He is in a hopeless situation. He is dying in his sins.
Secondly, on the other side, another thief is dying for his crimes. He is just as guilty as the first man. He has committed the same crimes, offended the same government, and has received the same sentence. He is paying the same price, feeling the same pain, and dying the same death. Yet, he is different from the first man. While the first man is dying in his sins, this man is dying for his sins. This man is well aware of what he is facing. His eyes are opened to his condition and he is willing to do what it takes to get God’s help. Yet, he is still in a hopeless condition.
Third, in the middle another man hangs on a cross. He has offended some very powerful people. This man has spent the past three years traveling around the country preaching and teaching. This man has healed the sick, fed the hungry, and raised the dead. He has done nothing wrong except expose the corruption of the religious leaders of the nation of Israel.
The man in the middle is very different from the other two men. He is so different from others because that He has never done anything wrong. He has never sinned. He has never committed a crime. He has never treated anyone badly. Yet, He is feeling the same pain, paying the same price, and dying the same death as the guilty men on either side of Him. This man, the man in the middle, is dying for sin. That is what makes Him different.
From every appearance this text details a hopeless situation:
- Three men are nailed to three crosses.
- Three men are dying terrible deaths.
- Three men dying deaths so horrible that we cannot imagine how bad they were.
By the time the sun goes down, all three of these men will be dead and in eternity. It really is a hopeless case.
I would like for us to spend some time at Calvary today considering this terrible scene. I want to show you once again how the Lord Jesus is able to bring hope to the hopeless. Our Lord is able, by His power, to transform any hopeless situation into a time of hope and blessing.
Let’s examine The Case of the Dying Thief and note the ways this passage teaches us that there is Hope For Hopeless Cases.
VERSE 32-38 HIS HOPELESS SITUATION
The description here clearly declares that this man is in terrible trouble. He is in a hopeless situation. Notice why:
Verse 32-33 The Thief and His Sin – This man is called a “malefactor.” This word means, “evil doer.” Matt. 27:38 says that he was “a thief.” He is guilty of breaking the laws of men.
His problem is far more serious than that because he is also guilty of breaking the law of God. He was a “thief.” That means that, among other things, he is guilty of breaking the 8th Commandment, which says, “Thou shalt not steal,” Ex. 20:15. Beyond that he is guilty of committing blasphemy in that he openly joined the Jews and the other thief in mocking Jesus Christ. Matt. 27:39 says the crowds “reviled” Jesus. Then, Matt. 27:44 says, “The thieves also, which were crucified with him, cast the same in his teeth.” Which means that the thieves “reviled” and “mocked” Jesus just like the crowd did. What is tragic is that the word “reviled” means “to blaspheme.” In other words, the crowd and the thieves were guilty of speaking evil, wicked things against the Lord. They committed a serious offense, and they sinned against the Lord.
This is a reminder to us all that we are sinners before God. We may not be guilty of things like theft or murder, but we are sinners. One day, we will face His wrath. The only possibility of escape for us is Jesus Christ.
In Verse 33 we see “The Thief And His Sentence” – Verse 33 tells us that this poor thief suffered the worst possible sentence for his crime. He was “crucified!” Crucifixion was a means of execution perfected by the Romans.
We see also in Verse 33 “The Thief And His Sorrow” – What is truly tragic is that two of the men dying that day are facing something far worse than the cross when they died. These two thieves were sinners, who are not prepared to face death. They are both headed to Hell. Hell is a place far worse than any cruelty devised by man.
This man, who was dying so difficult a death, is not going to a place of peace and rest. Death for him would not be a sweet release from the pains and problems of life. He is not going to a place of rest and safety. He was headed to a place called Hell. He is headed to a place of eternal fire, eternal torment, eternal damnation, and eternal separation from God. This thief is in a hopeless situation. He is nailed to a cross! He will die there! At this moment in time, he is lost and headed to Hell!
And, in this condition, He is a picture of every lost sinner in the world. Keep listening! There is hope for you, and His name is Jesus!
VERSE 39-42 HIS HONEST SUPPLICATION
Sometime, somehow, during those hours on the cross, this man became aware of just how much trouble he was in. When his eyes were opened to his situation, he did the only thing he could do: he reached out to Jesus.
In Verse 39-40 we see His Rebuke – Earlier in the day, both thieves had mocked the Lord Jesus, Matt. 27:44.
- Unrepentant Thief – Sometime later in the day, one of the thieves began to verbally assault Jesus once again. In effect, he says, “If you really are who you claim to be, save yourself, and save us too! If you really are the Son of God, if you really are the Messiah, prove it!” The thief who said that is in pain. He is angry. He wants off the cross. He sees Jesus nearby and he knows who Jesus claims to be, so he unleashes his fury against the Lord.
- The Repentant Thief – the one we have been talking about, he hears his companion mocking Jesus, and he comes to the Lord’s defense. In response, he says, “Do you have no fear of God? You are dying the same death He is!” What he means is that death is coming for all three of them. Now is not the time to attack one another. Now is a time to prepare to meet God.
This gives us a glimpse into this man’s heart. He is dealing with his mortality. He is dealing with the fact that he is going to die. I don’t know what was in his heart, but it seems to me that he is looking back over a wasted life. He is keenly aware that he is where he is because of the path he has chosen in life.
He is also very aware that he is facing an eternity for which he is not prepared. So, he rebukes the other thief for his cold-hearted treatment of the dying Christ. His rebuke is evidence that God has opened his heart and has allowed him to see his condition.
Verse 41 we see His Revelation – The thief we are considering rebukes his fellow thief, then in the very next breath, he confesses his own guilt. He says, “We are guilty, and we are getting just what we deserve.” Then, he confesses how he really feels about the Lord Jesus. He says, “This man has done nothing wrong!”
In his words here, we see two essential components of salvation.
- The confession of sin – Pro. 28:13; 1 John 1:9
- An understanding of who Jesus is – Rom. 10:9
In Verse 42 we find His Request – In the midst of his personal agony; in the midst of his own death, this man looks to Jesus and calls on Him in simple faith. This is amazing! After all, Jesus is dying too!
Jesus must have presented a tragic figure that day. He has been beaten so badly that Isaiah said, “But many were amazed when they saw him. His face was so disfigured he seemed hardly human, and from his appearance, one would scarcely know he was a man.” 52:14. Jesus is nailed to a cross, and He is going to die. Yet, this man is able to see in Jesus the truth that Jesus is more than a man.
This man looks at the dying Lord and he sees more than nearly anyone else saw that day.
Based on what he understands about Jesus, he makes an incredible request. He asks another dying man to remember him when He comes into His kingdom. That is incredible! When this man looked at Jesus Christ, he did not see a dying victim of the Roman system. Everyone else, for the most part, saw nothing more than just another poor man hanging, battered and bleeding on a cross.
- This man looked at Jesus and he saw God, verse 40.
- He looked at Jesus and he saw perfect righteousness, verse 41.
- He looked at Jesus and he saw One Who was going to somehow conquer death; rise again; rule in power and glory and extend grace to the undeserving, verse 42!
- He looked at Jesus, wearing that cruel, mocking crown of thorns and he saw Jesus wearing three crowns.
- He placed Jesus on the throne of the universe by calling Him “Lord.”
- He placed Jesus on the throne of his own heart by saying “remember me.”
- He placed Jesus on the throne of David by saying, “When Thou comest into Thy kingdom.”
VERSE 43 WE SEE HIS HEAVENLY SALVATION
“And Jesus said unto Him…” Jesus reached out to a man who did not deserve anything but judgment.
- This man could not do anything for God.
- This man could not give anything to God.
- This thief did not deserve salvation.
- He did not deserve the attention of the Savior.
- He did not deserve for Jesus to speak to him, to help him, much less to save him.
- He did not deserve for Jesus to do anything at all for him, especially to remember him at some future date in the kingdom.
- When Jesus responds, He says, “To day shalt thou be with Me in Paradise!” Oh what words of love! Oh what words of grace! Oh what words of joy!
- How those words must have comforted and thrilled this poor dying man.
- He had nothing to commend himself to God.
- He would never be able to read God’s Word.
- He would never have the opportunity to repay his victims.
- He would never have the chance to live a productive life.
- He would never go to the synagogue.
- He would never be baptized.
- He would never give his tithe.
- He would never personally tell anyone else about the Lord.
Yet, the Lord spoke to him and promised to give him everything! He promised it all without any strings attached. He promised salvation, hope, grace, joy, and glory and Jesus asked nothing in return! Hallelujah! What a Savior!