The Thief On The Cross…(What Receiving Salvation Looks Like)

Thief on the Cross (4-22-13)

Let’s a take a walk together through Luke 23:39-43, five brief but powerful verses that help us understand more clearly what salvation–receiving Jesus as our Lord and Savior for the forgiveness of our sins–looks like.

39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at [Jesus]:

“Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

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.[a]

43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Two justly convicted/punished criminals on either side of the One unjustly convicted/punished eternal Son of God–one receives the earthly consequence of his sin but then departs to receive the heavenly gift for his faith in Jesus; the other also receives the earthly consequence of his sin but then departs to receive the eternal wages for his lack of faith in Jesus.

Why the difference? What is the distinction between the two criminals? How could two felonious lives so similar for decades take two such abrupt and opposite paths for eternity over the course of mere moments during their much-deserved public executions?

Criminal #1 looked to Jesus only for what he could get out of Jesus, e.g. to get himself out of the punishment he deserved and for which he was clearly not repentant for/sorrowful over. This criminal showed the lack of faith in his heart by insulting Jesus when Jesus didn’t live up to his expectations, when Jesus didn’t give him what he wanted, when he wanted it, and in the way he wanted it. This criminal didn’t trust Jesus’ claims about His identity as God the Father’s True Son, as the promised Messiah (Savior, Chosen One) sent to offer forgiveness to the people of the world. Instead, this criminal mocked Jesus’ claims and challenged Jesus to prove His identity according to the criminal’s terms/standards. Jesus didn’t play by the criminal’s rules and He won’t play by ours.

Criminal #2, on the other hand, displayed saving faith in Jesus by

A. reverently/respectfully/fearfully realizing that there was another more important judgment to come after his earthly life ended (i.e. there is more to life than what we see, more to eternity’s book than our current chapter)(verse 40);

B. taking personal responsibility for his own sinful actions (verse 41);

C. believing that Jesus was sinless, was truly undeserving of His death sentence (verse 41);

D. acknowledging in advance that Jesus wouldn’t stay dead for long, that Jesus was more powerful than death and would conquer it by coming back to life again (verse 42);

E. realizing/accepting/declaring that Jesus is the KING of everything (verse 42);

F. announcing his unworthiness to be part of Jesus’ Kingdom but nevertheless humbly requesting–per Jesus’ approval–that Jesus would simply remember who he was when He assumed His rightful throne (verse 42).

G. calling on Jesus specifically–not false deities of other belief systems with different names, not the safe/generic word “God”–for forgiveness (verse 42). 

Wow. What humility! What faith in Christ! What wisdom!

Criminal #2 fulfilled what the apostle Paul would later write in Romans 10:9 is the condition on which humans can be saved, can be forgiven by God, can receive His free un-earnable gift of eternal life:

“If you declare with your mouth that Jesus is Lord
and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead,
you will be saved” (NIV).

Criminal #2 also fulfilled Peter’s further clarification of what it means to be forgiven by God, of what it means to trust in Jesus as Lord and Savior–criminal #2 repented of his sins (i.e. took personal responsibility for them and was truly sorry for having committed them [not just sorry for getting caught/punished]:

“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38 NIV).

Finally, Criminal #2 called out the name of Jesus for deliverance, forgiveness, eternal life–Criminal #2 went specifically to Jesus Christ and no one else, thus fulfilling Peter’s words in Acts 4:12:

“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved” (NIV).

What a difference in faith between the two criminals,
and what a difference in their eternal dwelling places!

I’m a criminal as well--guilty of high crimes and treason against the One God of heaven and earth. Yet the Holy Spirit helped me to reach out to the Lord Jesus–like criminal #2–to accept through faith His free gift of forgiveness.

Criminal #2 did no physical acts of religious obedience to be forgiven by Jesus;
Criminal #2 lived (up until his final moments) an earthly life of distance from the Person of God and His rules/way of life;
Criminal #2 was not “cleaned up/polished” as he asked Jesus for eternal life–he was bloody and dirty and a convicted felon;
Criminal #2 was accepted by Jesus because he displayed a true/childlike faith in Christ.

Will you do the same?

Jesus won’t “leave you hanging” (no matter WHAT you’ve done/failed to do)–
He is able to completely save all who cry out to Him in repentance and faith. 🙂


Oh cry out to Him, come to His nail-scarred feet on your knees & ask Him to be your Savior & King, oh by faith lay hold of His free gift of forgiveness & new life & righteousness & adoption!

If you have questions/still aren’t sure about receiving Christ as Savior, please feel free to contact SoulSpartan at YOU ARE NOT ALONE! :)