God's Grace
And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us. But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise. Luke 23:39-43

Many people have a very difficult time trying to understand God's grace. The Bible tells us we are saved by GRACE through faith; and that grace is not something we've earned or deserved for ourselves; it is the gift of God. (Eph. 2:8) I urge you, to study God's Holy Word to understand God's grace. Everything we need to know is revealed in His Word.

There are those who think that they will be saved by strict adherence to a set of religious laws or rituals. Not true! The Bible says that if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain. (Galatians 2:21). Christ didn't die in vain; He is the only way to God's grace and mercy! Ephesians 1:7 tells us that we have redemption through the blood of Jesus Christ, and the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of God's GRACE. Romans 6:14 says:"For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace." Obviously, keeping religious laws is not the answer.

Others seem to think that if they pile up enough good works, they will be saved. To them, salvation is like a scale: if they have enough good works on one side to out-weigh the sin on the other side, they'll come out okay. Again, not true! The Bible tells us: "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast." (Ephesians 2:8,9) Obviously, our good works are not sufficient to save us. In fact, the Bible says all our "righteousness" is as filthy rags in God's sight! (Isaiah 64:6)

One of the thieves on the cross learned about God's grace. As this man was about to die, he turned to Jesus, and Jesus accepted him. This shows that deeds do not save us, as this man had never done anything good in his life. These few little verses are some of the most profound verses in the Bible. They show God's grace, salvation, and the reward waiting for believers.

Right away, we see in these verses that the contrast between the two thieves who were crucified with Jesus is tremendous. The first thief's attitude was uncaring and totally unrepentant. Even nearing his own death, he mocked Jesus, daring Him to prove Himself to be the Christ, the Messiah, by saving Himself and them.

The attitude of the second thief was totally different. We see nine specific differences. We see that he feared God, and he rebuked the other thief for not fearing God. He acknowledged his own sinfulness and recognized his own helplessness. He realized that his own punishment was justly deserved, but that Jesus was blameless. By calling Jesus "Lord", he confessed his belief in Christ's divinity. He asked for Christ's mercy, and expressed faith in Christ's eventual triumph and the establishment of His kingdom.

This second thief, even in the midst of his own despair, recognized the fact that Jesus was exactly whom He had claimed to be. In the very final minutes of his mis-spent, sinful life, he recognized the Kingship of Jesus Christ and the salvation He offered.

The most important thing to learn from these verses is that, first and foremost, the thief REPENTED. There can never be salvation without repentance! Repentance consists of three things, and we see all three in these verses:

  • He recognized the fact that he was a sinner, deserving of punishment, even death. No one can ever be saved unless they first realize that they are lost. Most people think, "Well, I'm a pretty good person." or "I'm no worse than anyone else." or "I'm just as good as you are." We can never be saved until we realize that we are lost sinners in need of salvation.
  • He recognized his own helplessness, or his inability to save himself. He knew couldn't get down off that cross and turn over a new leaf. He would never have a chance to do any good works. He would never be able to tell anyone else about Jesus. He recognized that there was not one single thing he could ever do to help or save himself. If we are ever going to be saved, we need to come to that same realization: We cannot help ourselves. We cannot be saved through any effort on our part. There is nothing we can do. We are helpless sinners in desperate need of a Savior.
  • He confessed his sin. We see how important confession is to God. The Bible says:
    " He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy." (Proverbs 28:13)

    "Also I say unto you, Whosoever shall confess me before men, him shall the Son of man also confess before the angels of God." (Luke 12:8)

    "That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved." (Romans 10:9)

    "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9)

The second thing we see in these verses is that the thief BELIEVED in Jesus Christ. The second thing anyone has to do to be saved is BELIEVE !!! Go back and read Romans 10:9 again. We must confess with our mouth, just like the thief on the cross did, and believe in our hearts, just as the thief did.

What did the thief believe? We see four major things here that the thief believed. We need to believe these things, as well.

  • He believed in Christ's sinless perfection. Just as he knew that he and the other thief deserved the punishment they were receiving, he knew Jesus did not.

  • He believed in Christ's divinity. A name is a powerful thing, and he referred to Jesus as "Lord". By doing so, he was acknowledging Christ's Lordship, or divinity.

  • He believed Christ was a King. The soldiers and the crowd had mocked Jesus. The inscription that was placed on the cross, which said "THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS." in three languages (Greek, Latin, and Hebrew) was placed there in sarcastic, hateful mockery. The other thief mocked Jesus even as they faced death together. But this thief recognized and believed that Christ truly was exactly who He had said He was -- a King.

  • He believed Christ would have mercy on him, and could save him. "Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom". He believed that very soon Jesus would come into His kingdom, and would have the power to intervene in behalf of even a wretch like himself. This is exactly the kind of faith we need when we turn to Jesus! We need to set aside our pride, our haughtiness, our self-justification. We need to realize that we are sinners and cannot begin to save ourselves. We need to simply believe in Christ's willingness and ability to save even wretches like us!

In fact, at this point the faith of the thief on the cross was greater than that of the disciples of Jesus. Although His followers still loved Jesus, their spirits were crushed by His death, and they went into hiding. Their hopes that this was the Messiah who would redeem Israel died when Jesus died on the cross. (see Luke 24:21) They didn't understand that Christ's death offered the greatest redemption of all, not from their nation's enemies, but from the bondage of sin and it's penalty.

We have to wonder, why didn't Jesus tell this man: "You're too late; you should have believed in me long ago." or "Your whole life has been nothing but a waste, don't come to me now?" or "You should have come sooner; you waited too long."? Why? It's very simple: Because Jesus had already said, "WHOSOEVER."

"WHOSOEVER therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven." (Matthew 10:32)

"Also I say unto you, WHOSOEVER shall confess me before men, him shall the Son of man also confess before the angels of God." (Luke 12:8)

"That WHOSOEVER believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life." (John 3:15)

"And WHOSOEVER liveth and believeth in me shall never die." (John 11:26)

" I am come a light into the world, that WHOSOEVER believeth on me should not abide in darkness." (John 12:46)

"And it shall come to pass, that WHOSOEVER shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved. (Acts 2:21)

Whosoever. Anybody, and everybody. Jesus did not make any exceptions, nor any add any other requirements. "Whosoever". Any one. Any time. Any place. Even a thief on a cross. Even you or me.

Many people mistakenly believe that the thief was saved by a special dispensation of grace. This is not biblical at all! If that were so, it would indicate that God is a respecter of persons; that God treats one person differently than He treats another. The Bible says in Rom. 2:11 "For there is no respect of persons with God." And Acts 10:34 says again that God is no respecter of persons. He treats us all the same. You, me, or the thief on the cross. We are all saved the same way. The thief did not receive any special dispensation of grace. He was saved by the same grace of God that saves us today when we repent and confess our sins, and believe in Jesus Christ as the only begotten Son of God.

It is never too late to turn to Jesus. Even those who turn to Him in the very final moments of their lives, like this thief on the cross, will be accepted by Him. Our lives would be far more fulfilling and useful to God if we turn to Him earlier, but Jesus will never turn away a truly repentant sinner, even if it is in the last few moments of life.

However, never think that you can live any wicked way you choose, and then wait until the very last few minutes of your life to accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. First, you may not get the chance. None of know when we will draw our last breathe on this earth. Death may come instantly, without warning. And second, if Christ has never been important to you in life, there is a very good chance you will not turn to him in death either, even if you do have the opportunity. The second thief never did. Never once do we read that he ever turned to Jesus for forgiveness and mercy. Even nearing death, he mocked Jesus. He lived his whole life as a lost, wretched sinner bound for hell, and he died the very same way.

My friend, don't take that chance! Turn to Jesus today, and trust Him to show you the same grace and mercy that He showed to the repentant thief on the cross. He will, you know. We have His Word on it. He said "WHOSOEVER". Any one. Any Time. Any place. Won't you turn to Him today?

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