I recently had to privilege of studying Luke 23:39-43 which is the scene of the criminals and their encounter with Christ on the cross. This passage is blaring of God's grace for sinners like you and me. We read in Matthew and Mark both criminals were mocking Christ:
"Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe. Those who were crucified with him also reviled" (Mark 15:32)
But when we read Luke's account he starts verse 39 saying, "One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him." This should make us wonder, "What happened to the other criminal?" Both were once reviling but now only one. As we continue on in the text we quickly discover the other thief had been changed by the grace of God. One criminal is still mocking Christ with a concern only for his temporary condition. He is still screaming at Jesus, "Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!" This criminal only wants releif from his suffering. He wants to escape his physical death but what he fails to see is something worse is ahead.
But the other criminal has had a heart change. He proceeds to rebuke his former cohort saying, "Do you not fear God"? This is a great first question to ask an unbeliever. The fear of the Lord is holy reverence and a healthy dread for the One who Created us. Proverbs tells us many things about the fear of the Lord. It tells us that "the fear of the Lord is a fountain of life" (Prov. 14:27) and no doubt this criminal has found life in his death. The hymnwriter nailed it when he wrote, "The dying theif rejoice to see that fountain in his day." He found life because of God's grace being poured out to him through the blood of Christ.
This criminal proceeds to say, "Since you are under the same sentence of condemnation. And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds." It has been rightly said that a fear of the Lord will produce a proper knowledge of sin. This criminal understands the what is due to him because of his sin. I don't believe this is only in the physical sense but he also understands his spiritual condition. He understands that he has earned death because of his sin.
But he also notices their is One who has not sinned. He says, "I am a sinner getting what I deserve; 'but this man has done nothing wrong'." The eyes of his heart see Jesus as the perfect Lamb slain for sins. He has gone from a God mocker to a God fearer simply because of grace. But his next statement is shocking. "And he said, 'Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom'." The King James Version reads, "And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom." No doubt this man now saw Jesus as the God-man. He calls him Lord and acknowledges that he has a kingdom.
We must remember Jesus was not sitting on a throne with a robe, crown and sceptor. Jesus was a beaten and bloody man hanging on a cross dying a criminals death. What would make this man think Jesus has a kingdom? Nothing but the sheer grace of God. God's grace is all over this passage. Tomorrow I want to look at why people hate grace by looking at the response of Christ.
Grace upon grace,