THE CASE OF THE DYING THIEF
Intro: This text
presents three men. It speaks of three men who have been nailed to three
crosses, dying three terrible deaths. The differences in their suffering were
minimal. The differences in the men were enormous.
On one side there is a
thief dying in his sins. He has lived
a life of crime, broken the laws of Rome, and has been sentenced to die. The
sentence is being carried out, and this man is dying a horrible death. This man
is rude, arrogant, and proud. He is in a hopeless situation. He is dying in his sins.
On the other side, another
thief is dying for his crimes. He is
just as guilty as the first man. He has committed the same crimes, offended the
same government, and has received the same sentence. He is paying the same
price, feeling the same pain, and dying the same death.
Yet, he is different from the first man. While the first man is
dying in his sins, this man is dying to his sins. This man is well aware of what he is facing. His eyes are opened to
his condition and he is willing to do what it takes to get Gods help. Yet, he
is still in a hopeless condition.
In the middle another man
hangs on a cross. He has offended some
very powerful people. This man has spent the past three years traveling around
the country preaching a message He calls the Gospel of the Kingdom.
It is a message that promises salvation to all who will believe it. This man
has healed the sick, fed the hungry, and raised the dead. He has done nothing
wrong except expose the corruption of the religious leaders of the nation of
The Jewish leaders have convinced the Roman
governor that this man is worthy of death. Since the Roman governor is afraid
the Jews will start a revolt if he lets the man in the middle go, he gives into
their demands and orders the man in the middle to be crucified; even though he
knows the man is innocent.
The man in the middle is very different from the
other two men. He is so different from others because that He has never done
anything wrong. He has never sinned. He has never committed a crime. He has
never treated anyone badly. Yet, He is feeling the same pain, paying the same
price, and dying the same death as the guilty men on either side of Him. This man, the man in the
middle, is dying for sin. That is what
makes Him different.
From every appearance this text details a hopeless
Three men are nailed to three crosses.
Three men are dying terrible deaths.
Three men dying deaths so horrible that we cannot
imagine how bad they were.
By the time the sun goes down, all three of these
men will be dead and in eternity. It really is a hopeless case.
I would like for us to spend some time at Calvary
today considering this terrible scene. I want to show you once again how the
Lord Jesus is able to bring hope to the hopeless. Our Lord is able, by His
power, to transform any hopeless situation into a time of hope and blessing.
Lets examine The Case Of The Dying Thief
and note the ways this passage teaches us that there is Hope For Hopeless Cases.
I. V. 32-38 HIS HOPELESS SITUATION
The description here clearly declares that this man
is in terrible trouble. He is in a hopeless situation. Notice why:
32-33 The Thief And
His Sin - This man is called a malefactor. This word means, evil doer. Matt. 27:38 says that he was a thief. He is guilty of breaking
the laws of men.
His problem is far more
serious than that because he is also guilty of breaking the law of God. He was a thief. That means
that, among other things, he is guilty of breaking the 8th
Commandment, which says, Thou shalt not steal, Ex. 20:15.
Beyond that he is guilty
of committing blaspheme in that he openly joined the Jews and the other thief
in mocking Jesus Christ. Matt. 27:39 says
the crowds reviled Jesus. Then, Matt. 27:44 says, The thieves also, which were crucified with him, cast the same
in his teeth. Which means that the
thieves reviled and mocked Jesus just like
the crowd did.
What is tragic is that the word reviled means to blaspheme. In other
words, the crowd and the thieves were guilty of speaking evil, wicked things
against the Lord. They committed a serious offense, and they sinned against the
Of course, even before he chose to live a life of
crime, this thief, like every other person in the world, was born in sin, Rom. 3:23; Isa.53:6.
Even if he had lived a life free from sin, he was
still guilty before the Lord. (Ill. The SBC and the teaching that man did not inherit Adams guilt.
Thats heresy, Rom. 3:10ff; Rom. 5:12; Psa. 58:3.)
He was a sinner and he was receiving the wages of
his sin, which the Bible says is death, Rom. 6:23.
It just so happened that the sin in his heart led
him to commit sins of the flesh that put him at odds with the law of man.
He was facing the wrath of man on the cross.
Soon he would face the wrath of God in Hell.
This is a reminder to us all that we are sinners
before God. We may not be guilty of things like theft or murder, but we are
sinners. One day, we will face His wrath. The only possibility of escape for us
is Jesus Christ. I will say more about it later, but for now, remember that the
Bible says, For
whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved, Rom. 10:13. That includes me and you!
33 The Thief And
His Sentence - Verse 33 tells us
that this poor thief suffered the worse possible sentence for his crime. He was
crucified! Crucifixion was a means of execution perfected
by the Romans.
Death on the cross was unimaginably cruel.
The condemned person was laid flat on a heavy piece
of wood called a patibulum.
The patibulum weighed as
much as 125 pounds.
The patibulum served as
the crossbeam part of the cross.
Heavy, square, wrought iron spikes were driven
through the wrist and deep into the wood.
The other wrist is then nailed to the patibulum. The arms are not pulled too tight to allow for
The patibulum is them lifted up and placed in a
notch in the stipes, which served as the upright portion of the
The stipes, or the upright,
was fixed in the ground, and left there to be used in many crucifixions.
After the patibulum was affixed
to the stipes, the victims feet were then nailed to the cross.
The left foot is pressed backward against the right
foot with both feet extended, toes down.
A nail is then driven through the arches of both
The victim is now fully crucified.
The victim slowly sags down, placing more weight on
the nails in his wrist.
Paralyzing pain shoots up the arm and explodes in
the brain as the nails put pressure in the median nerves.
The victim then tries to remove this pain by
lifting himself up.
To do this, he must push against the nails in his
feet, and pull against the nails in his wrists.
This causes searing pain as the nails tear through
the nerves between the metatarsal bones of the feet.
As the arms and legs fatigue, waves of cramps knot
the muscles of the body in deep, relentless, throbbing agony.
These cramps result in the victim being unable to
push himself upward.
Hanging by the arms, the pectoral muscles are
paralyzed and the intercostal muscles are unable to act.
Thus, air can be drawn into the lungs, but it
cannot be exhaled.
The victim must fight to raise himself to take even
a small, shallow breath.
Finally, carbon dioxide builds up in the lungs and
blood stream and the cramps partially subside.
With great effort the victim is able to push
himself upward to exhale and bring in life-giving oxygen. (By the way, Jesus
did this seven times to make several short statements while He was on the cross.)
This continues until dehydration and blood loss
result in death.
In many cases, crucifixions lasted for several
Most victims went completely insane before they
actually succumbed to their injuries.[i]
This was a horrible way to die. The Romans
crucified countless people during their conquest of the ancient world. Among
the many thousands who died on crosses were the three men mentioned in our
We can all be thankful that we will probably never
suffer a death by crucifixion. However, we will all face death some day. That
is a given, Heb. 9:27. What matters is that you be ready when that day comes. There is one
way, and only one way, for people to be ready for death. Jesus Christ, and
Jesus alone, makes people ready to face the inevitable day of their deaths, John 14:6; 1 John 5:12.
33 The Thief And
His Sorrow - What is truly tragic
is that two of the men dying that day are facing something far worse that the
cross when they died. These two thieves were sinners, who are not prepared to
face death. They are both headed to Hell. Hell is a place far worse than any
cruelty devised by man.
This man, who was dying so difficult a death, is
not going to a place of peace and rest. Death for him would not be a sweet
release from the pains and problems of life. He is not going to a place of rest
and safety. He was headed to a place called Hell. He is headed to a place of
eternal fire, eternal torment, eternal damnation, and eternal separation from
By the way, not everyone who dies is at peace! That
body in the casket looks, calm and peaceful, but it might be deceiving you. The
soul that left that body might be burning in Hell!
The fate that awaited this man awaits all those who
do not know the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior. There is a real place called
Hell were the lost will spend eternity. Dear friend, if you are lost, and you
die in that condition, you will go to Hell and you will spend eternity in that
Hell is a place of:
Unquenchable Fire – Mark 9:43; Luke 16:24
Memory and remorse – Ill. Rich man – Son remember, Luke 16:25, 27-28
thirst – Luke 16:24-25
Misery and pain – Luke 16:24-26; Rev. 14:10-11
Frustration and anger – Luke. 13:28; Matt. 24:51
Eternal separation – Rev. 21:8 – Ill. From what? Everything beautiful!
Undiluted wrath – 2 Thes. 1:8-9
You dont want to go there, and you do not have to.
In a moment I will tell you how you can avoid that terrible place of damnation
and separation from God.
This thief is in a hopeless situation. He is nailed
to a cross! He will died there! At this moment in time, he is lost and headed
to Hell! And, in this condition, He is a picture of every lost sinner in the
world. If you dont know Jesus Christ in a saving, faith relationship, you are
already dead in your sins, and you are headed to Hell. You are in dire straits
and you need someone to intervene and set you free. Keep listening! There is
hope for you, and His name is Jesus!
I. His Hopeless Situation
V. 39-42 HIS HONEST SUPPLICATION
Sometime, somehow, during those hours on the cross,
this man became aware of just how much trouble he was in. When his eyes were
opened to his situation, he did the only thing he could do: he reached out to
39-40 His Rebuke - Earlier in the day, both thieves had mocked the
Lord Jesus, Matt. 27:44. They joined their voices with the voices of the religious leaders in
Israel and they openly mocked and derided the Lord Jesus as He was being
crucified. Sometime later in the day, one of the thieves began to verbally
assault Jesus once again. In effect, he says, If you really are who you claim to be, save
yourself, and save us too! If you really are the Son of God, if you really are
the Messiah, prove it! The thief who
said that is in pain. He is angry. He wants off the cross. He sees Jesus nearby
and he knows who Jesus claims to be, so he unleashes his fury against the Lord.
The other thief, the one we have been talking
about, he hears his companion mocking Jesus, and he comes to the Lords defense.
In response, he says, Do you have no fear of God? You are dying the same death He is! What he means is that death is coming for all
three of them. Now is not the time to attack one another. Now is a time to
prepare to meet God.
This gives us a glimpse into this mans heart. He
is dealing with his mortality. He is dealing with the fact that he is going to
die. I dont know what was in his heart, but it seems to me that he is looking
back over a wasted life. He is keenly aware that he is where he is because of
the path he has chosen in life.
He is also very aware that he is facing an eternity
for which he is not prepared. So, he rebukes the other thief for his
cold-hearted treatment of the dying Christ. His rebuke is evidence that God has
opened his heart and has allowed him to see his condition.
When that moment occurs in a sinners life,
salvation becomes a real possibility. When a sinner sees himself as he really
is, and when they see the price they are about to pay for their sins, there
will be a desire within that sinner to deal with their sins and get right with
This realization comes when the Spirit of God
quickens the sinners dead heart, and opens the sinners blinded eyes.
We call this realization conviction, and conviction
is a work of God in the sinners heart.
It is a work God uses to make the sinner aware of
It is a work that only God can produce.
No one is ever saved apart from Gods convicting,
drawing, wooing work in the lost sinner.
In John 6:44, Jesus says, No man can come to me, except the Father
which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.
Think of conviction like this: When David sent for
Mephibosheth in 2 Sam. 9. The Bible
says David sent
and fetched him. David sent people to
get Mephibosheth and they got him and brought him to David. When God reaches
out to a lost sinner, He sends the Holy Spirit to fetch that lost soul. The Spirit of God does this by
conviction the sinner of his sins, and by drawing, which literally means dragging, the sinner
to God. When that happens, salvation is always the result!
Have you ever experienced conviction? Have you ever
been fetched? If you are saved you have! If you arent saved,
the greatest day of your lost life will be the day when God opens your eyes and
lets you see just where you stand. When He does that, you will come to HIm for
41 His Revelation - The thief we are considering rebukes his fellow
thief, then in the very next breath, he confesses his own guilt. He says, we are guilty, and we are
getting just what we deserve. Then,
he confesses how he really feels about the Lord Jesus. He says, This man has done nothing
This man is on the road to something great in his
life. He sees how guilty he is. He understands that he is under condemnation. He also understands that there is something
special about the man in the middle.
In his words here, we see two essential components
The confession of sin - Pro. 28:13; 1
An understanding of who Jesus is - Rom. 10:9
When those two things are true in any heart, that
person will be saved. Thats how it happened in my life. Thats how it happened
in your life. Thats how it will happen in you lost friend, when it comes your
time to be saved.
42 His Request - In the midst of his personal agony; in the midst
of his own death, this man looks to Jesus and calls on Him in simple faith.
This is amazing! After all, Jesus is dying too!
Jesus must have presented a tragic figure that day.
He has been beaten so badly that Isaiah said, As many were astonied at thee; his visage
was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men, Isa. 52:14. Jesus is nailed to a cross, and He is going to
die. Yet, this man is able to see in Jesus the truth that Jesus is more than a
This man looks at the dying Lord and he sees more
than nearly anyone else saw that day.
He sees a man he calls Lord.
He sees a man Who is going to die, but Whom he
believes will somehow over come death and rule as a King.
He sees a man Who is going to establish a kingdom
He sees a man Who can save him.
Isnt that amazing?
Where did this dying thief get ideas like that?
Where did that kind of faith come from?
Why would he imagine that a dying man could do
anything for anybody, much less be the Lord and rule a kingdom?
Those ideas were put into his head by God!
When the Lord opened his eyes to his own sins, God
also opened his eyes to the truth about Jesus Christ.
Based on what he understands about Jesus, he makes
an incredible request. He asks another dying man to remember him when He comes
into His kingdom. That is incredible! When this man looked at Jesus Christ, he
did not see a dying victim of the Roman system. Everyone else, for the most
part, saw nothing more than just another poor man hanging, battered and
bleeding on a cross.
This man looked at Jesus and he saw God, verse 40.
He looked at Jesus and he saw perfect
righteousness, verse 41.
He looked at Jesus and he saw One Who was going to
somehow conquer death; rise again; rule in power and glory and extend grace to
the undeserving, verse 42!
He looked at Jesus, wearing that cruel, mocking
crown of thorns and he saw Jesus wearing three crowns.
He placed Jesus on the throne of the universe by
calling Him Lord.
He placed Jesus on the throne of his own heart by
He placed Jesus on the throne of David by saying, When Thou comest into
This dying man exhibited the greatest faith I have
He grasped the essence of
Who Jesus was.
He understood what Jesus
He understood what Jesus
He not only grasped it; but he believed it all! He
believed it in spite of how impossible it must have looked to him at the time.
This thief displayed the essence of true faith in his heart and his words as he
died on that cross, Heb. 11:1.
This thief teaches us what it takes to be saved. He
shows us what true, saving faith looks like. Notice the three characteristics
of saving faith he possessed.
He was honest about his
own sins. He freely admitted that he
was guilty. Admitting that you are a sinner is the first step in coming to
faith in Jesus!
I would just remind you that Jesus came to save
sinners and not righteous people, Luke 19:10; Mark 2:17. Seeing ones own condition is the hardest thing of
all! It is getting harder and harder to find sinners in our day and time. Its
easy to spot what we call sinners in the world, but we need to understand that
every person in this world, who is outside of a relationship with Jesus Christ
is a sinner!
There is no
difference between the mayor and the meter maid.
There is no
difference between the star and the street walker.
There is no
difference between the policeman and the pimp.
There is no difference
between the doctor and the patient.
There is no
difference between the warden and the criminal.
sinners and the first step in getting those sins taken care of is to admit that
He became convinced that
Jesus was Who He claimed to be. As
long as Jesus is just another man to you, you will never be saved.
But, when you
come to the place where you see Him as God, Savior, Lord and the fulfillment of
all the promises of God, you can be saved.
understand that He died on that cross, like the Bible says; that He rose again,
like the Bible says; and that He will save you when you call on Him by faith;
you can be saved, Rom. 10:9; 10:13.
Faith in the
claims of Jesus and the claims Gospel are essential to salvation, Eph. 2:8-9.
He was willing to call on
Jesus, by faith, for what he needed.
Far too many people know the truth and they know what they need to do. All they
lack is acting on what they know and calling out to the Lord for their souls
If you come to
Him, He will not turn you away, John 6:37.
If you will
call to Him, He will save your soul, Acts 16:31; John 6:47; John
3:16; Isa. 45:22.
Have you come to the place where you can see your
Do you understand that Jesus died for you on the
cross and that He rose again from the dead?
Do you grasp the truth that He will save you if you
will repent of your sins and cry out to Him?
If you havent done that, let me encourage you to
do that today. Jesus will save you
if you will only come to Him and ask!
I. His Hopeless Situation
43 HIS HEAVENLY
And Jesus said unto Him
Jesus reached out to a man who did not deserve anything but judgment.
This man could not do anything for God.
This man could not give anything to God.
This thief did not deserve salvation.
He did not deserve the attention of the Savior.
He did not deserve for Jesus to speak to him, to
help him, much less to save him.
He did not deserve for Jesus to do anything at all
for him, especially to remember him at some future date in the kingdom.
Jesus would have been justified if He had turned to
this man and said, How dare you even speak to Me? You have ignored My Law. You have
broken My commandments. You have stolen from My people. The fires of Hell were
created for people like you! No, you are headed where you belong! Before this
days ends, you will be forever separated from Me and from my Father in the
eternal fires of Hell.
Yet, in spite of his unworthiness, Jesus doesnt
respond to the dying thief with words of condemnation and judgment. Jesus
responds to the request of the dying thief with words of grace!
Jesus promises him salvation.
Jesus promises him that they will be together in
Jesus promises that all this will come to pass
When Jesus responds, He says, To day shalt thou be
with Me in Paradise! Oh what words of love! Oh
what words of grace! Oh what words of joy!
How those words must have comforted and thrilled
this poor dying man.
He had nothing to commend himself to God.
He would never be able to read Gods Word.
He would never have the opportunity to repay his
He would never have the chance to live a productive
He would never go to the synagogue.
He would never be baptized.
He would never give his tithe.
He would never personally tell anyone else about
Yet, the Lord spoke to him and promised to give him
everything! He promised it all without any strings attached. He promised
salvation, hope, grace, joy, and glory and Jesus asked nothing in return!
Hallelujah! What a Savior!
Jesus died first that day, John 19:32-33.
He surrendered His life and committed Himself into
the loving care of His Father.
Jesus preceded both thieves into eternity.
The thief who rejected Jesus died and went to Hell.
The other thief, the one we have been talking
about, the one who trusted Jesus for salvation, he followed the Lord into
Remember, Jesus got there first!
Can you imagine the scene that greeted Jesus when
He entered the place where the departed saints waited for the day that Jesus
would come and die on the cross and pay their sin debt? There must have been
rejoicing as Abraham, Joseph, David, and legions of others gathered around Him
and praised the Lord for what He had just accomplished.
Maybe Abraham said, Lord, welcome! Please come in. Tell us about
all the things you have accomplished for us today.
I think Jesus might have answered, No, Ill be along in a
little while. I am going to wait here near the gate. I am expecting a friend.
In just a short time, death claimed that repentant
thief. He died in the loving arms of grace, and he slipped out into eternity.
When he did, he did not go to Hell, but just as Jesus promised, he went to
Paradise to be with the Lord.
I just want you to know that God loves you! He
proved His love for you when He sent His Son to die for your sins on the cross,
Rom. 5:8. You do
not have to be like the thief that died lost, you can be saved. You can miss
Hell, you can go to Heaven when you die. How? Here is how: Believe on the Lord
Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.
Conc: What caused
this one man to change his mind about Jesus? What caused him to turn from a
blasphemer to a believer?
Maybe it was the way Jesus was silent as they
nailed Him to the cross, Isa. 53:7.
Maybe it was the way Jesus responded to the mockery
of His enemies, Luke 23:34.
Maybe it was the sign over the cross of Jesus that
proclaimed His title, Luke 23:38.
It could have been any number of things that spoke
to his heart. But, something told him that Jesus was no ordinary man! Something
told this dying man that Jesus was his Messiah and that Jesus was his only
As he hangs there in the presence of Jesus, this
man confesses himself to be a sinner. He declares his own guilt for all to
hear! He says, I am the man! I am guilty and I deserve everything I am receiving,
and all that I am about to receive.
I can hear in his words the sorrow of a wasted
I can hear the sorrow over wrong deeds, wasted
opportunities and shattered dreams.
I can hear a man who is sorry for what he has done
and for what He has become.
He is a repentant sinner!
And, when he called on the Lord, he was saved.
Is that what you need to do today? Do you need to
confess your sins and call on Jesus for salvation? If you so, come to Him and
He will save you, Rom. 10:13.
If you have responded to the Gospel call, and God
saved you, you ought to praise Him for that! What do you think the thief did
when he met Jesus in Paradise? I have no proof, but I think he bowed before the
Lord and worshiped Him, thanking Him and praising Him for the salvation he had