Dave preached from Luke 23:32-43 last night, looking at the salvation of the penitent thief. Initially he considered the many ironies of Calvary:
1) how Jesus was mocked there by those who said He could not even save Himself and yet He actually saved the thief (and the world) precisely because He did not save Himself
2) how Jesus was ridiculed by those around Him who mocked Him in calling Him a king, clearly not believing this, and yet in actual fact He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords
3) how the blasphemers accused the one being blasphemed of blasphemy
4) how Jesus was cursed by his enemies but actually became God’s curse for us, cursed by His loving Father
5) how Jesus gives life and is the life, but actually had to die to bring us life.

There were actually two thieves crucified along with Jesus, and the accounts of the Crucifixion given in Matthew and Mark tell us that both joined in the blasphemy and mockery of the soldiers and crowds. Luke, however, shows us that one of them is affected by all He witnesses as Jesus hangs there on the cross and soon changes. He becomes penitent – feeling and expressing remose for his own misdeeds. He sees the reality and truth of what Jesus is accomplishing on the Cross, rather like Paul is changed totally and irrevocably by His encounter with the risen Lord on the road to Damascus.

Salvation is truly a sovereign divine miracle. It has three stages. The first is an awareness of God and a fear of God, which the thief demonstrates in vs 40-41. The second stage is an acknowledgment of our own sin. Repentance means coming to one’s senses, as the Prodigal Son did. A true convert pleads nothing, but confesses his dependency and need of mercy and grace. That third stage is a recognition of the sinlessness of Christ and His ability to save us. We ‘believe in the Lord and are saved’ (Rom 10:13)

The thief acknowledged his own wrongdoings but also knew that Jesus had done nothing wrong (vs 41). His repentance and faith led him to say “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He has heard Jesus pray to His Father, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). He knows his only hope now is for forgiveness. He is aware of the wrath of God and the guilt of sin, but he is also aware of the glory of Christ and the hope of forgiveness.

Nobody survived crucifixion. In acknowledging that Jesus would have a kingdom, the thief is convinced that He will live after the crucifixion. He knows he has no right to be with Jesus, but this is grace: “today, you will be with me in paradise.” The thief is given the assurance from Jesus that he will receive that forgiveness, for he is given the promise he will be with Jesus in paradise – absent from the body, but present with the Lord.

In all conversion, we have to fear God and acknowledge our son sin and recognise the sinlessness of Christ and His ability to save us. None of us knows how long we will live. Earthquakes, accidents, illnesses all strike, often unexpectedly and suddenly. We need to be sure that we are in a right relationship with God.