The thief on the cross could never have orchestrated the cascade of events that placed him that fateful Friday on a cross of execution alongside Jesus Christ the Son of God…with the opportunity to go along with the crowd in verbally mocking Jesus (Lk. 23:35-39)…or amazingly for the first and only time in his life…to discover the power, conviction, courage, and liberated audacity to resist the peer pressure in the moment…and to instead proclaim publicly through the Holy Spirit a faith in the God/man Jesus crucified alongside him…to his fellow thief and to any and all others standing around the crosses and listening…that would pass the test of saving faith for time eternal (Lk. 23:43).
On that fateful day…and over a few short hours…the soul of the thief on the cross was measured…and found brilliantly passing the test for salvation…according to God’s terms and standards.
The point I want to make here is monumental in its importance.
We need God-composed journey of faith life-scripts to actualize for us a context of life-events wherein our souls are measured…precisely so that we can succeed on God’s terms and by His standards…and not through the futility of good-works and self-realization according to our ways (Isa. 55:8-9).
This is the record of the biblical narrative stories of faith…including this incredibly inspiring story of the thief on the cross.
Choosing amongst the smorgasbord buffet of the wants and aspirations of worldly conventional normalcy and thinking…a great education, a good job, high salary, good marriage, a big house, luxury automobile, European vacation, a stock portfolio, good health, and sending our kids to Harvard or Oxford…will not measure our souls in the way that the life-scripts of Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, Peter, Paul, and the thief on the cross…were measured.
The thief on the cross could not have orchestrated the events that led to his salvation that day…any more than Abraham could have orchestrated his life-script of faith…any more than Paul could have orchestrated the events that led to him becoming the premier Christian evangelical missionary to the first-century Greco-Roman world.
The grand irony here…that is far beyond the contemplative imagination of human literary invention…is that the Pharisees, Sadducees, lawyers, and scribes standing around and mocking Jesus on the cross…who attempted to self-craft “perfect lives” according to their way (Mt. 6:2, 5; 9:12-13; 10:33; 11:16-19; 15:7-9)…end up unknowingly killing Jesus their Passover Lamb of God sacrifice for sin (1 Cor. 2:8).
The grand irony is that the one person who obtained on that day on Calvary Hill the assurance of the eternal security of salvation…for the short but priceless few hours from sometime around mid-morning to when he died at dusk that late afternoon…was the thief on the cross alongside Jesus.
There are two massive takeaways from this dramatic scene taking place in Jerusalem in the first-century.
Imagine in our mind’s eye the religious elites standing around the three crosses…mocking Jesus…the Roman soldiers who carried out the execution nearby…the women disciples of Jesus including His mother at the base of His cross weeping over what has occurred…and the two thieves crucified on each side of Jesus.
The first massive takeaway from this scene is the huge gulf between the two opposing outcomes of going our own way in self-sovereignty…in contrast to God-sovereignty.
Jesus is the perfect, blemish-free Passover Lamb of God sacrifice for sin. To qualify to be the atonement for sin…Jesus must be perfect. A flawed sacrifice…in terms of moral performance in life…would be unacceptable. Wealth, popularity, and political influence are not qualifiers in this Passover Lamb of God sacrifice for sin.
The problem of human sin…is the precise target honed-in on by the blemish-free moral life of Jesus Christ…perfectly lived according to a life-script composed by God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son of God, and the Holy Spirit.
The perfect life and the perfect life-script of Jesus…lead to the cross on Calvary Hill.
But trying to be perfect…our way…as demonstrated by the religious elites mocking Jesus…leads to placing Jesus on the cross. These two outcomes could not be more diametrically opposite.
The second massive takeaway from this scene on Calvary Hill two thousand years ago…is that the thief on the cross…immovably stuck there and not going anywhere or able to do anything…secular or religious in the slightest way…surprisingly and unexpectedly experiences that fateful day in his life the “joy unspeakable and full of glory” assurance of the eternal security of salvation for the otherwise physically agonizing hours he spends being executed by Roman crucifixion…through the sure words of promise spoken to him by Jesus the Son of God being crucified alongside him.
If we incorrectly believe that we can lose our salvation…this opens the door ever so slightly for self-achieved good-works and self-realization to creep in as the sustaining justification for maintaining our salvation.
From A Popular Defense of the Bible and Christianity.