WHO PRAYED FOR THE THIEF ON THE CROSS?
Luke 23:39-43 (KJV)
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.
Any person who objects to sudden conversions should give attention to how this man was converted. For if a person must live a consistently good, and errorless life to get to heaven, this thief on the cross did not have a chance. It was only the worst of the criminals who were condemned to the cross. This thief was not a insignificant and minor burglar guilty only of trivial crimes. Whatever his crimes, they were serious. This thief was on the borders of hell-fire, in the grasp of a merciless devil. Christ saved one of the two thieves who while hanging on the cross changed from a reviler to a saint.
The thief is called a "malefactor" in Luke. The word used, "kakougos", is one of two which could have been translated as such. Luke did not use "kakopoios" which was a milder word meaning "a bad doer". The word that Luke chose to describe this man was much, much stronger, and means "one who creates, and originates with energy, aggressive criminal acts."
Therefore, this man was very evil, diabolic, sinister, profane, and corrupt.
What was it that converted this thief? He had reviled Christ shortly before salvation. What brought the change? Justice demanded death, but Christ was there to give eternal life. Christ did not offer judgment, but offered concern, and comfort. Some today are so very evil, immoral, and corrupt that Christ Jesus, and those who truly are in tune with His nature will have mercy.
Perhaps it was the prayer of Christ Jesus that changed the thief's heart. This thief had heard Jesus pray:
"Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!"
This thief had likely been beaten, scourged, and publicly condemned, but what all that could not do, a prayer from the lips of Jesus changed, converted, and transformed him. This thief realized that this Jesus is not the same stock as others he had met. For he had watched Jesus be mocked, reviled, spat upon, have his garments stolen, and yet this same Jesus was asking for God to have mercy on them. This great love of Jesus "moved" the thief. It is the "goodness of God that leadeth men to repentance." The goodness of Jesus, the forgiveness of an innocent man being unjustly punished, made a change come upon this thief.
This thief was saved, and then promised by our Lord to be with Him in paradise that same day. This place that Jesus promised to the thief, was in a place in the earth, known as SHEOL. Jesus had prophesied that He would be in the "heart of the earth" for "three days and three nights". So when Jesus died, He went into the earth to SHEOL.
"For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth."
In sheol, there is a place called "paradise", a place called the "abyss" and the dreaded place called "hell". The repentant thief met Jesus in "paradise", and the other thief went to "hell". Jesus did not go to hell for three days, He went to paradise. He preached to the Old Testament saints that awaited Him there.
"Wherefore, He saith, When He ascended up on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. Now that He ascended, what is it, but that he also descended first, into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above the heavens, that He might fill all things."
The thief seemed to know that Jesus had never sinned, and that Jesus was beyond reproach. Surely, the thief saw a difference in Jesus at that current time, but how had he learned about Jesus’ previous behavior. Seeing Jesus on the cross would have normally made anyone assume Jesus to be a criminal as were the other two.
Well, the early church writings tell us this was a brother of Luke. Luke was one of the seventy disciples of Jesus. Luke would obviously have loved this sinful brother much, though the chances of this very wicked, murderous brother was likely slim. Yet, I am sure that Luke prayed much for this wicked brother. In answer to those prayers for his brother, God had this nearly unchangeable brother be one of the two thieves on the crosses with Jesus in their midst.
Many in churches today, tend to doubt God's ability to really save and change some of the sinners of the day. They look at someone's past and want to hold it against them for the rest of their life. Let us truly consider how much change there had really been in this thief named Titus.
This brother who was so evil that it might have been assumed by many then and today, that he was UN-SAVE-ABLE.
a. believed completely.
Many do not trust in Jesus very much, yet, they call themselves "believers". Some do not have the courage to admit openly in the midst of 'Christ-haters' that Christ Jesus is their "Lord". Yet this thief, admitted in front of revilers, Roman soldiers who had crucified this Lord Jesus, that he saw Jesus as his "LORD".
Many others did not have such faith. A little maid had pointed a finger at Peter, and he denied that he knew Jesus. Judas was offered 30 pieces of silver, and he betrayed Jesus.
Other disciples saw the soldiers, and suddenly decided to "follow afar off".
Today, some will not believe in the Lord too much, for if it rains, it is "too wet" to go to church, or if it does not rain, the golf course calls them more loudly than does their faith in Jesus. They call Jesus to be "LORD", but they serve hobbies, jobs, money, prestige, social relationships, etc. The weak faith of many today is in contrast to that of the thief!
b. learned to pray very quickly.
He did not need lessons on how to pray. He simply called on this loving Savior to consider him. Few today learn to pray well. Many do not pray much. Yet, this thief called out, "LORD, REMEMBER ME!" Do not be afraid to talk to Jesus, call out to Him.
c. took Jesus at His word.
He did not try to have good works so he could be saved, he simply accepted the free gift of salvation. Good works follow salvation, and are not a pre-requisite to salvation.
All four gospels record the story of the thief who accepted Jesus. All four writers realized the marvelous miracle this event portrayed... His salvation was a marvelous miracle. They did not ignore this story, as many do today.
In the morning, he was led to the cross as a sinner, vile and evil. In the evening, he was in paradise with Jesus. In the morning, there was not an eye to pity him, but in that same evening, he was amidst the "HALLELUJAH"s of paradise.
Christ died a little before the thief, I imagine that Christ was anxiously awaiting to welcome this changed thief, when he arrived. Can you imagine the arrival, a loving Savior, welcoming with open arms, a person that less than 24 hours earlier was evil, vile, hateful, and contemptible. Yet, changed now to a man of faith, a man of prayer, a witness for the Lord, and a person who trusted whatever the Lord would say.
Many today accept Christ, but do not want to change. Jesus can change your life, take away the hatred, anger, self-pity, grudge, guilt, shame, and sins that you think are impossible to part with. The story of the thief is recorded by all four gospels to tell sinners that, and to give faith for such a change to any who will accept this same Jesus!
It also illustrates the need to be patient, not hurry God, concerning the salvation of our loved ones. Luke perhaps had faith to believe the evil brother would get saved, but as evil as he was, and the fact that he was arrested and soon to die, it would take a mountain of faith. Luke probably wanted to hurry the salvation before it came to this judgment day for his brother. Yet, the Lord still had time to answer Luke’s prayers. At the final moments of the life of Titus, Luke’s brother, he came to Jesus. He was blessed with a special talk with the Lord in paradise, something many saints like Abraham, Jacob, etc. had longed for many decades. Even though we try to hurry God, He always has time to get His work done.