The Thief On The Cross

June 20, 2007


The story of the thief on the cross, as it has come to be known, is such a powerful testimony to the wonderful grace of God. While there were two crucified with Jesus we only remember the one because of the change that takes place as he hangs suspended between heaven and earth, oddly enough, about to leave the one for the other, escorted to paradise by the Lord Himself.

As I was doing research on this topic for tonight’s lessons at Madison I did a Google search and I was amazed to find that the vast majority of links that were brought up were lessons being taught by ministers of my tribe. My amazement quickly turned to sadness as I saw that link after link dealt with the necessity of Baptism for salvation and how this conversion was an exception rather than the rule. Over and over again, link after link and little or no emphasis on the wonderful grace of Jesus. Is Grace not the lesson! Is that not why this wonderful story is in the scripture?

There is something in our human nature that causes us to not like the thief. An outlaw hell-bent and hung out to dry one minute, and is paradise bound with an escort by the very son of God the next. With His dying breath Jesus pardons an outlaw who would have zero opportunity for spiritual growth or be able to do one work of gratitude. Hands and feet that might have been used in service to Christ are now fastened to a cross. A tongue that might have been used to praise His name now cleaves to the roof of his mouth from thirst. He had nothing to offer, absolutely nothing to offer.

The world tells us we deserve praise when we are good. We are not comfortable when someone does a good deed for us, until we can find a way to repay. We pride our self’s on being a people who “pull themselves up by their boot straps.” Like the cartoon of the two Pharisees arguing when one says,” We get our salvation the old fashion way, we earn it.” Or have you heard some well meaning person say at a funeral about the diseased, “If she doesn’t make it to heaven, there is no hope for any of us,” as if doing enough good gets our ticket punched.

The only choice that this dieing thief had was to trust by faith. He had no time, no opportunity, so he sought the only thing left…mercy. And he finds out that was all he needed. Oh the wonderful grace of Jesus.

“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. Eph. 2:4-9.



  1. You would not believe (or then again, maybe you would) how much criticism I received for writing the song, “Criminal On The Cross.” The part that seemed to irritate folks was my declaration that “I’m saved like the criminal on the cross.” Works versus grace is a hot topic.

    Thanks, brother for your great insights!

  2. Keith, I am sorry to say, I had never heard that song before. I just found it at YouTube, and it is so powerful! In case any others out there would like to hear it this is the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I_4iDM-M7xA
    Given our legacy of legalism we need to hear the message of Grace often. Thanks brother for stopping by! You are missed.

  3. I’ll have to check our Keith’s song. I find myself in total agreement with you, Lee. Why haven’t we allowed the story of the theif more space in shaping our theology? Perhaps the real theif is the ill-informed minister who robs God of His glory by stipping away grace with the garbage that this wonderful story couldn’t be duplicated today in the event someone wanted to embrace Jesus on their death bed without the possibility of baptism.

  4. Great thoughts Lee. I would love to have been in your class.

  5. Your thoughts are right on Ben. How could we have made this a dispensational thing!??

    Donna, it is always great to hear from you. God Bless!

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