Teaching Sermons For Pastors and Laymen

 The Thief That Believed

“And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.  And Jesus said unto him, "To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.”-Luke 23:42-43.

And there were also two other, malefactors, led with him to be put to death.  And when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified him, and the malefactors, one on the right hand, and the other on the left.  Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots.  And the people stood beholding. And the rulers also with them derided him, saying, He saved others; let him save himself, if he be Christ, the chosen of God. And the soldiers also mocked him, coming to him, and offering him vinegar, And saying, If thou be the king of the Jews, save thyself.  And a superscription also was written over him in letters of Greek, and Latin, and Hebrew, THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.  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 23:32-43 (KJV)

The story of the dying thief is a perfect example of Christ’s power to save and of His generous willingness to receive all who come to Him, regardless of how good or bad they are. The saving of the dying thief is much more similar to our salvation experience than it is different.  In fact, his case may be regarded as typical, rather than an extraordinary incident. Remember, when Jesus saved this thief, He was in a weak state. 
His glory had been flowing away in Gethsemane, and when He stood before Caiaphas, and Herod, and Pilate; but now it had reached its low-water mark.  He was stripped naked and nailed to the cross.  The vulgar crowd made fun of the Lord, as He was dying in agony.  Then He was “numbered with the transgressors”; when His cross was placed between two thieves.  Nevertheless, while in that condition, He accomplished this wonderful act of mercy. 

Take a look at the miracle produced by the Savior, even though He was emptied of all His glory, and even though He made a shameful spectacle as He hung on the cross, on the brink of death.  What greater wonders of mercy can He do today, since His glory has been restored and He is seated at the right hand of the Father? 
He is able to save to the uttermost all those who come to God by faith in Him, and He “ever lives to make intercession for them.” 

If a dying Savior can save a thief, my contention is, He can do even more now that He lives and reigns. 
All power is given to Him in heaven and on earth; can anything at this time surpass the power of His grace?

It isn’t only the weakness of our Lord which makes the salvation of the dying thief so unforgettable; it’s the fact that the dying man saw it with his own eyes.  Can you put yourself in his place and imagine you are looking at a man who hangs in agony on a cross?  Could you believe that He was the Son of God who would soon come to His kingdom?  That was not a small faith which could believe in Jesus as Lord and King. 

If the apostle Paul were here and wanted to add to the eleventh chapter of Hebrews, where God’s faithful are listed, he would certainly add a passage about this remarkable thief.  He would describe the great faith of the thief, who believed in a crucified, ridiculed, and dying Christ, and who called out to Him confident that His kingdom would come. 

The thief’s faith was even more remarkable, because he was in great pain, and about to die.  It’s not as easy to show faith, when we are in pain, as it is at other times.  But this man, even though he was suffering, even though he saw the Savior in such a sad state, he had saving faith.  This dying thief had the type of faith that is seldom seen. Remember, this man was surrounded by a crowd that was ridiculing him.  It is easy to swim with the current and hard to go against it. 

This man heard the proud priests laugh at the Lord, and the common people joined in the disrespect; his companion, who hung on the other cross, joined in and made fun of Him, and perhaps he did the same for awhile.  But through the grace of God he was changed and he believed in the Lord Jesus in the teeth of all the ridicule.  His faith was not affected by his circumstances, and even though he was dying he confidently declared that Jesus was innocent of any crime, while those around the cross cursed Him. 

His, is a faith that we should imitate.  There wasn’t a part of his body that was free, except his tongue, and he used it wisely to scold his brother criminal, and to defend his Lord.  I don’t want to praise the thief for his faith, but instead I will praise Christ for giving him the faith and then saving him by his faith. 

I want to show how wonderful our Savior is, for he can save to the utmost, even at a time like this.  And that he could save a man like this and give him such great faith, and so quickly prepare him for paradise.  Can you begin to see the power of Christ, who can produce such great faith in such an unlikely man, and in a climate so hostile to Him?

Now, we have laid the foundation for today’s message.  There are three points that I want to make. 
First, let’s note that this man was our Lord’s last companion on earth. 

Second, note that this same man was our Lord’s first companion at the gates to heaven. 

And then third, let’s note the sermon that our Lord preaches to us from this act of mercy.



Jesus sure selected some sorry companions when He was here.  He didn’t unite with the religious Pharisees and the scholarly Sadducees, but He was known as “the friend of Publicans and sinners.”  I think that is great, because now I know that He will not refuse to associate with me.  When the Lord Jesus made a friend of me, He certainly did not make a choice that brought Him applause.  Do you think He gained any honor when He made a friend of you?  Did he gain anything from either of us?  No, I don’t think so.  If Jesus had not stooped very low, He would not have found me, and if He did not seek the most unworthy, He may not have found some of you. 

I am thankful that He came “not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”  But I think He did make a good choice when He saved you and me, because in us He found a lot of room for His mercy and grace.  There was a lot of elbow room for His love to work in within us, due to the emptiness caused by our sin and our great need for forgiveness. 

He has done some great things for all of us, and we are glad He did. Just in case anyone here would say, “He will never do that for me,” I want you to notice that the last companion that Christ had on earth was a sinner, and not just an ordinary sinner.  He had broken the laws of man, because he was a robber. 
He might be called a “bandit” and that was probably the case. 

In those days bandits murdered those they robbed; and he probably traded in arms to be used against the Roman government.  He had been arrested and condemned by a Roman tribunal and that was justice served in this case, because he himself said it was a just sentence.  The crucified criminal who believed, was being executed for his crimes. 

This convicted felon was the last person on earth that our Lord spoke to.  He is certainly a lover of the souls of guilty men.  How low He stoops to reach the very lowest of mankind!  It was to this most unworthy man, that our Lord spoke just before He died.  You can search the scriptures, but I don’t think you will find any more wonderful words: “To-day shalt thou be with me in paradise.” 

There may not be anyone in this building who has been convicted of a serious crime, but if there is, I would invite them to find forgiveness in the Lord Jesus Christ.  You may come to Him; whoever you may be, because this man did.  Here is a person, who was guilty by God’s law and man’s law, but he acknowledged what he had done, he didn’t offer any excuses, he was close to death, and yet he believed in Jesus, and prayed to Him, and he was saved on the spot. 

Jesus saves others just like him.  Let me make this very clear, so there’s no mistake about it.  No one is excluded from the mercy of Christ, no matter how great your sin is: if you believe in Jesus He will save you.

One more thing to note about this man is that he could do no good works.  If salvation had been by good works, he could not be saved, because he was fastened to a cross of death.  It was all over for him as far as being able to do any good deeds.  He could say a good word or two, but that was all.  If his salvation depended upon living a useful life, he could have never been saved. 

He could not have any convictions and he couldn’t even confess all his sins, because he had just a short time to live.  His end was very close, and yet the Savior could save him, and he did it so well, that before the sun went down he was in paradise with Christ.

This man, whom we have been discussing, was a person who believed in Jesus and confessed his faith in Him.  He knew Jesus was a man and he called him that; but he also knew that he was Lord, and he called him that.  He said, “Lord, remember me.”  He had such confidence in Jesus, that, if he would only think of him, when He came into His kingdom, that would be all that he would ask of Him. 

The problem with many is that they know all about Jesus, but they do not trust Him, and trust is the saving act.  But this man did not hesitate: he grasped the only hope he had. 

Notice also that this man prayed a humble but fitting prayer, “Lord, remember Me.”  This prayer doesn’t seam to ask for much, but to him it expressed his heart’s desire.  He believed that if the Lord would just think of him, that his soul would be safe for eternity. 

Our Lord never forgets any of His sheep.  Anyone can pray to Him and secure a place in the memory of the Lord Jesus Christ.

What we see in this man is a portrait of you and me.  He will save you and me just as surely as he saved this thief.  Jesus graciously says, “Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.”  This means that if you come and trust Him, whoever you may be, He will for no reason, and under no circumstances cast you out. 

Now where did our Lord go when He left the body that hung on the cross?  There are scriptures that say He descended into the lower parts of the earth.  But He didn’t stay there long.  Remember, He died an hour or two before the thief, and during that time He passed through the underworld, and was entering the gates of paradise just when the pardoned thief was entering the eternal world.  Many had passed through those gates, including martyrs, apostles, and patriarchs.  But the one that entered in at the gate of paradise on this occasion, with the King of Glory, is a thief, who was saved at his death.  His salvation was not inferior in any way, and his reception into paradise was not diminished in any way, because Jesus said that those that are last shall be first. 

And when he went in, I believe there was a great shout from the angels, for there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over sinners that repent.

For just a moment, consider how wonderful this place is that Jesus brought this newly saved soul to. 
Jesus said, “To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.”  Paradise means a garden filled with enjoyment.  Our Savior took this dying thief into the paradise of infinite enjoyment, and this is where He will take all of us sinners who believe in Him.  If we are trusting in Him, we will ultimately be with him in heaven. 

The next thing to take note of is the glory of the society that Jesus introduced this sinner to: “To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.”  We shouldn’t need to add another word, because where He is, is heaven to us.  Think of it, you are to live with the beloved Savior for ever.  Where He is, and as He is, so will you be. 

Now consider, if you will, how speedily all this happened.  “Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.”  He didn’t have to lie in purgatory for ages or sleep in limbo for many years; he was ready for heaven at once.  This man was on the road to hell, but Jesus lifted him up and said, “To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.” 

In those few hours this beggar went from the cross to set among princes.  Can you measure the change that took place for this forgiven sinner as his soul left the cross and went to paradise, and there to be clothed in pure white, and accepted in the Beloved.

We have seen that the Lord passed through the pearly gates with this one who had trusted in Him.  There will come a day when you and I will pass through that same pearly gate, clothed in His righteousness, washed in His blood, resting in His power.  I wonder if the angels that guard the gate will be surprised to see us there.


But first, the devil wants to preach a little bit.  If we would allow him, he might say, “You can be saved any time.  Put it off for now.  Wait until you are on your death bed; there’s plenty of time.” 

Don’t listen to him, because he wants to own your soul.  Don’t run the risk of missing paradise.  The Lord will accept all who repent; but how do you know that you will repent?  It is true that one thief was saved; but the other thief was lost.  God is patient, but when a person rejects Christ, he puts his soul in tremendous peril, because he may not have another opportunity.

Think about what our Lord is teaching us in that brief sermon that He spoke from the cross. 

First, we can glimpse the glory of Christ in this final act of salvation.  He is ready to save at the last moment. 
He had almost passed on; His foot was at the doorstep of His Father’s house, when this poor sinner makes his request.  And the Savior smiles and declares that He will not pass through heaven’s gates without him. 
Jesus so easily saves a sinner for whom He painfully died.  Jesus loves to save sinners from going down into the pit of hell.  You will be happy if you are saved, but you will not be half as happy as He will be when He saves you. 

He comes to us full of tenderness, with tears in His eyes, mercy in His hands, and love in His heart.  He is a great Savior of great sinners.

The next principle Christ preaches from this wonderful story is that He permits those who believe, to attach themselves to Him.  This man believed that Jesus was the Christ.  The next thing he did was to attach himself to Christ.  He said, “Lord, remember me.”  As soon as you believe that Jesus is the Christ, grab hold of Him.  The moment that you believe that Jesus is the Savior, take hold of Him as your Savior.  Jesus is the common property of all sinners, who are daring enough to take Him.  Every sinner who has the will to do so can take Him home with him.  He came into the world to save the sinful.  If you trust Him, He must save you.

Next, notice that He preaches of how immediately faith brings salvation. 

"The moment a sinner believes,
And trusts in his crucified God,
His pardon at once he receives,
Redemption in full through his blood."

“To day, shalt thou be with Me in paradise.”  He no sooner believed, than Christ gave him the assurance that he would be with him for eternity. 

Friends, if you believe this morning, you will be saved this morning.  By the grace of God, you could be saved right here, on the spot, and at once.

The next thing is the nearness of heaven and hell.  Think about it for a minute.  Heaven and hell are not places that are far away.  You could be in heaven before the clock ticks again, it is so close.  “Today,” said the Lord; “shalt thou be with me in paradise.” 

Another thing that we know from this story is that if you have believed in Jesus you are prepared for heaven. 
It may be that you have another year to live on earth, or five, or ten, or longer.  But if you don’t live another hour, your death will not alter the fact that your belief in the Son of God means you are ready for heaven.  If anything more than faith is needed to make us fit to enter paradise, the thief would have had to stay a little longer on earth.  But that wasn’t the case; in the morning he was just a dying sinner, at noon he was born again into a state of grace, and by evening he was entering paradise.  It’s true, if a man dies five minutes after he is saved, he is as safe as if he has served the Lord for fifty years. 

The last thing to see is that this is not an exceptional case.  If it were an exception, it would not be found in the Word of God.  The Savior had this wonderful story published, because He plans to repeat this marvel every day.  He is able to save to the uttermost, because He saved a dying thief.  Therefore, I pray that if you have not trusted in my Lord Jesus, that you would trust Him today.  Trust Him completely; trust Him only; trust Him at once.  Then you can sing this song with me-

"The dying thief rejoiced to see
that fountain in his day,
And there have I, though vile as he,
washed all my sins away."



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http://harmonyofthegospels.yolasite.com (Life of Christ)

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http://theepistlesofpaul.yolasite.com (Titus and Jude)

http://paulsepistletotheromans.yolasite.com (Romans)

http://theperiodofthejudges.yolasite.com (Judges)

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