COMEBACK STORIES: THE THIEF ON THE CROSS

LUKE 23:32-43

 

We’re in a series of messages called Comeback Stories.  We’re looking at stories of people in the Bible who had great comebacks from setbacks in their lives.  Their comeback stories inspire hope in us that God will give us a comeback of our own. 

 

Today, we are ready for our 7th comeback story.  If you have a Bible with you, please turn with me to the Gospel of Luke, chapter 23.  If you don’t have a Bible with you, you are welcome to use one of the Bibles in the book rack in front of you.  The Gospel of Luke, the 3rd book of the NT.  Chapter 23.

 

The 18th century Methodist preacher, John Wesley, was returning home from a church service one night when he was robbed.  The thief must have been disappointed.  John Wesley had very little money on his person.

 

As the bandit was leaving, Wesley called out, “Stop!  I have something more to give you.”  The robber paused.  John Wesley told him, “You may live to regret this sort of life.  If you ever do, here’s something to remember.  The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin!”

 

The thief hurried off.  And Wesley prayed that his words might bear fruit in the heart of the man who robbed him.

 

Years later, Wesley was greeting people after a Sunday service.  He was approached by a man he thought was a stranger.  But they had met once before.  He was surprised to learn that this visitor, a believer in Christ, and a successful businessman, was the one who had robbed him years before.

 

Referencing his comeback from a life of sin, the crook turned Christian, told Wesley, “I owe it all to you.”  Wesley replied, “Oh no, my friend.  Not to me, but to the precious blood of Christ that cleanses us from all sin.”

 

Today’s comeback story is about another thief who owed his comeback from a life of sin to the precious blood of Christ.  I’m referring to the thief on the cross.

 

READING FROM LUKE 23, BEGINNING WITH VERSE 32.  LUKE 23:32-43.

 

This is one of the greatest comeback stories in the Bible.  In this story we will see 2 prayers and a promise.  Here is the first prayer:

 

1.A PRAYER OF FORGIVENESS

 

While dying on the cross Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

 

Jesus’ prayer accentuates the central message of the Gospel: Forgiveness. Forgiveness is why Jesus died on the cross.  He died for our sins.   Eph. 1:7 says:

 

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace” -Ephesians 1:7

 

Jesus’ blood was the price that was paid to purchase our salvation.  2 Cor. 5:21 speaks to what happened to Jesus while he died on the cross:

 

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” – 2 Corinthians 5:21

 

Jesus had no sin.  But we took our sins.  The prophet Isaiah stated that the Lord laid on Jesus the iniquity of us all.  He who had no guilt of his own, assumed our guilt.  The one who never did one shameful thing in his life, bore the shame of our sin. 

 

We did so in order that you and I might be made right with God.  Forgiveness of sins is the message from the cross.  It was the first prayer heard from the cross, from the lips of Jesus: “Father, forgive them.”

 

For whom did Jesus pray that prayer of forgiveness?  I think he prayed it for….

The Jews who demanded his death.

For Pilate who allowed Jesus to be crucified.

For the Roman soldiers who crucified him.

For the two thieves being crucified on either side of him.

 

Both robbers needed forgiveness.  In his Gospel account, Matthew notes that, at first, both thieves insulted and ridiculed Jesus.

 

Does it surprise you that these thieves insulted Jesus?  To a certain extent, it does surprise me.  Think about it for a moment.  They were all on death row.  Their executions were being carried out.  You would think they would have some sympathy and compassion for one another.  Yet, they were insulting another man who was being crucified, while they themselves were being crucified.

 

Crisis has a way of revealing character.  And this crisis revealed that these two thieves had none.

 

But suddenly, a transformation takes place in the heart of one of the robbers.  He repents.  He believes in Jesus.

 

What made him change?  What was it that transformed his cold-hearted, hard-hearted heart?

 

I have to believe that it was the prayer of forgiveness that Jesus prayed.  Hearing about the grace of God can soften the heart.  And on that day, the grace of God softened the hard heart of one of the thieves.

 

He turns to Jesus.  He prays the second prayer in this comeback story.  His prayer was…..

 

2.A PRAYER FOR FORGIVENESS

 

“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

 

Louie Giglio wrote about this commentary on the prayer of the thief-“A nine-word prayer.  It wasn’t a grand theological statement, and it might have been the only prayer this thief ever prayed in his life.  Yet it demonstrated that he had a clear view in his heart of who Jesus was and what Jesus was capable of doing.”

 

This thief knew that Jesus was the Messiah.  He knew that Jesus could forgive him for his lifetime of sin.  All he had done his whole life was rob others but now he wanted Jesus to give him eternal life.

 

We so often just focus on this man’s prayer.  But, prior to his prayer, he made a confession.  We dare not miss it.  READ VERSES 40 & 41.

 

There are 3 crucial phrases in this confession.

 

Phrase number one: “Don’t you fear God.”   He acknowledged that Jesus was God.

 

Phrase number two: “We are punished justly.  We are getting what our deeds deserve.”  He admitted that he was a sinner.

 

Phrase number three: “This man has done nothing wrong.”  He knew that Jeus was innocent.

 

This thief knew precious little about Jesus.  But the little he did know was precious indeed.  Jesus is God.  I am a sinner.  Jesus is not.  That is the essence of the Gospel.  And in the thief’s confession, we hear the Gospel According to a Crook!

 

He was guilty, but Christ was innocent.  He had done many things wrong.  Jesus had done nothing wrong.  I am wrong.  Jesus is right.

 

Each of us has to come to Christ in the same manner.  We have to come to Christ with empty hands.  Naked of personal accomplishment.  Dressed in the consequences of our own mistakes.  We have to ask Christ for everything because we have nothing to bring to the table of salvation.

 

The thief realized it.  He got it right where so many get it so wrong.  He had nothing to offer Jesus, save his soul.  And he was asking Jesus to save his soul. 

So, he humbly prayed, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  In response, Jesus makes…..

 

3.A PROMISE OF FORGIVENESS

 

In the final conversation Jesus had prior to his death, Jesus bestows a divine pardon on this penitent thief: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

 

And just like that, in the span of one sentence spoken from the lips of the Savior, the sinner becomes a saint.  Forgiven.  Redeemed.  Saved for all eternity.

 

This was the ultimate comeback.  Not only was this thief standing at death’s door.  He was standing on hell’s front porch.  But, with one word from Jesus he’s on his way to heaven, ushered in by none other than Jesus himself!

 

The thief on the cross is EXHIBIT A that, as long as you’re alive, it’s never too late and you’re never too far away from God for a comeback!  That’s good news because, on a spiritual basis, we’re no different than the thief on the cross.

 

READ EPHESIANS 2:1-5

 

Before we each came to faith in Christ, we were as guilty and as dead in our sins as the thief on the cross was in his.  We were, like the thief was, an object of God’s wrath.  But, just like the thief, we’ve become the recipients of God’s mercy and grace.

 

We often think that we have to do something great in order to have a comeback. But, comebacks happen only through Jesus.  Only by coming to him in simple faith.  With only a hope and a prayer- “Jesus, remember me….Jesus, redeem me…Jesus forgive me..”

 

Max Lucado tells the story of sitting next to a young lady on a plane.  She told Max that she was deathly afraid of flying.  And, as Max said, the way she coped with her anxiety was to talk non-stop.

 

Max said that he reached into his satchel and took out his Bible.  He turned to the 23rd Psalm and told her, “I think you need to read this.”  So she began reading it out loud-“The Lord is my shepherd.”  She stopped.  “I know this,” she said.  “But it’s been a very long time since I have read this.”

 

Max went on to share with her the message of God’s grace.  He asked her, “Do you believe in heaven?”  She responded in the affirmative.  Then Max asked her, “Do you believe you’ll go to heaven.”  Again, she responded yes.  And then she recited her list to Max.  She listed all the good things she had done that she thought made her good enough to go to heaven.

 

WHAT’S ON YOUR LIST?  We all have one or we had one at one time.  The what makes me good enough for heaven list.  The what I’ve done that qualifies me for heaven list.

 

Your list might include or might have included at one time things like:

 

I pay my taxes and I don’t cheat on them.

I’m a good neighbor.

I give some money to panhandlers.

I pray every day and I read my Bible

I’m a good employee.

I attend church.

I tithe.

I try to follow the Ten Commandments.

I don’t fall asleep during Dennis’ sermons

 

Usually, most people’s lists include a moral comparison.  “I’m better than Hitler, or Mussolini, or Sadaam Hussein, or Ted Bundy, or my reprobate neighbor, or the thief on the cross.

 

Our “good enough” lists are based on the premise that basically good people go to heaven.  I’m basically a good person.  Here’s my list.

 

The problem with the premise that good people go to heaven is that it doesn’t stand up under the test of Scripture.  The apostle Paul wrote 2 verses in Romans 3 that dismisses the idea that any of us can be good enough for heaven.  He wrote: “there is no one righteous, no not one” and “all have sinned and are not good enough for God’s glory.”

 

So, tear up your list.  You can’t use it.

 

The apostle Paul had his list.  He shared his list in PHILIPPIANS 3:5-6.

 

READ PHILIIPPINAS 3:5-6

 

At one point, Paul relied on his list.  But when Paul came to faith in Christ, he realized that his list was worthless and useless.  READ PHILIPPIANS 3:7-9.

 

Paul tore up his list and threw it away.  He simply embraced grace.  We need to do the same.  Look at what Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:8-9:

 

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, NOT BY WORKS, so that no one can boast.”

-Ephesians 2:8-9

 

Salvation is based on grace and faith.  The thief on the cross didn’t have a list.  All we know about him is that he was a thief.  As far as we know he……

 

He never prayed until he was dying

He never went to temple

He never attended a Bible study

He never volunteered at a mission or served on a church committee

He never wrote one check to the church

 

As far as we know, he never did one good thing in his life.  All he did was, in the last moments of his life, with one of his last remaining breaths of life, he trusted in the goodness of Jesus Christ to save him.

 


“Jesus, remember me.”  That’s all he could say.  But it was enough.  Jesus answered his prayer and his plea- “Today you’ll be with me in paradise.”

 

Jesus will do the same for you if you’ll just trust in his grace to save you.  He will forgive you.  He will remove your sins from you, as promised in Psalm 103:12:

 

“as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” -Psalm 103:12

 

Would you?  Would you make the three-fold confession of the thief? The first confession is….

 

“I believe.” When someone is baptized, we don’t ask them to produce their list.  All we ask them is one simple question-“Do you believe that Jesus is the Son of God?”

 

Brennan Manning said-“When we all get to heaven, Jesus will meet us at the gate and ask each of us just one question.  That one question is-“Did you believe me when I said I love you?”

 

Confession  # 2- “I am a sinner.”

 

Will you confess that you are a rebel by nature, and you need to be redeemed?

If you are sick, it does you no good to pretend that you are healthy.  The first step in being healed is to admit that you are sick.

 

The first step to receiving Jesus as your Savior is to admit that you need to be saved.  Honestly, this is the stumbling black and sticking point for so many people.  We like our lists; our accomplishments.  We don’t ilke to admit that we are sinners.  But that admission is what is necessary to be admitted into heaven.

 

Confession # 3-“Christ is sinless and I need him to save me.”

 

Would you make those confessions?  Once you place your faith in Jesus, the Bible points us to baptism.

 

A boy once told his pastor, “I’m not good enough to be baptized.”  His pastor responded-“We don’t get baptized because we are good enough.  We get baptized because we are too bad to do anything else.”

 

It is in our baptism that God washes away our sins.  Jesus said-“Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.”

 

We are going to sing our commitment song-JUST AS I AM.  If you want to receive Jesus as your Savior and be baptized this morning, walk forward and meet me down at the front as we stand and sing.

 

 

 

Contact Us

Lebanon Christian Church

409 Yorktown Road

 

Newport News (Lee Hall), VA 23603

 

Phone: 757 887-5536

 

  

CCS #8003



 

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