With the Thieves
(Some comments from G. Campbell Morgan on Luke 23)
What, then, had he (the one thief) seen and heard? He had first seen the amazing sight of a Man submitting Himself to the brutality of crucifixion without any protest, without any whimper;
"He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep that before its shearers is dumb, so He opened not His mouth."
Then he had heard Jesus pray,
"Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”
He had also heard the voices of the rulers, laughing at His Messianic claims, and the voices of the soldiers mocking at His Kingship.
Then this remarkable thing happened. Suddenly, in the midst of the gloom, in the midst of the tragedy, in rhe midst of the ribald mockery of these priests and soldiers, a voice was heard speaking on one of the crosses. One of the malefactors was speaking across the body of Jesus to the other malefactor, and reproving him. NOW mark carefully the terms in which he did this. He said,
"Dost thou not even 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."
Those words reveal the fact that an amazing revolution had taken place in the soul of this man. Luke describes him as a malefactor, that is, a criminal, a lawless man. That means a man who had put God out of count, and one who had no respect for his fellowmen, save to exploit them in his own interest, and if necessary to kill them. Yet now we hear him, recognizing God, "Dost thou not even fear God;" and recognizing the rights of his fellowmen; and owning that his punishment is just. That is repentance.
Then we hear him speaking to Jesus;
"Jesus, remember me when Thou comest in Thy Kingdom."
This is an amazing thing. Jesus was nailed to His Cross; He was dying. The dying malefactor was himself in extremis, and he knew that Jesus was. But, he had heard Jesus talk to One out and beyond, and call Him Father, and he had heard Him pray, that the men who were wronging Him might be forgiven. He now made his appeal to Jesus, convinced that He was coming into His Kingdom, into a spiritual Kingdom of power and authority. Thus, in extremis, when Roman power had done all it could do with Him, had impaled Him upon this bitter tree, when there was no other earthly tribunal to which he could appeal, he had suddenly discovered that there was another Throne, higher than the throne of the Caesars, another realm where there was a Father, Who could extend mercy. He saw in Jesus the One Who had the right of appeal to that Throne, to that Father, and he flung himself out into that wider area, into that higher reach of being,
"Jesus, remember me, when Thou comest in Thy Kingdom.”
That was faith.
The answer of the Lord was the reply of Authority to that appeal;
"Today shalt thou be with Me in Paradise;"
Paradise, the region of Sheol or of Hades, where are the spirits of the just made perfect.
Has it ever occurred to you what that meant for Jesus? Reverently attempt to get back into the mind and heart of Jesus. Forsaken of His disciples, the butt of brutal mockery on the part of the rulers of His people, spit upon, cast out, all the howling mob round about Him, and suddenly this blaze of glory, this flame of light, one man recognizing His redeeming Kingship, and flinging himself out upon His mercy. Right there and then in measure, He saw of the travail of His soul, and was satisfied. As He swung the gates of the Kingdom of heaven open to the dying malefactor. He entered into the joy that was set before Him, for which even then He was enduring the Cross.
(Painting by Rembrandt)