Our Lord, we must remember, was about to be offered up as a sacrifice for our sins. It was fit and right that those who examined Him should formally pronounce Him a guiltless and blameless person. It was fit and right that the Lamb of God should be found by those who slew Him "a Lamb without blemish and without spot." (1 Pet. 1:19.) The over-ruling hand of God so ordered the events of His trial, that even when His enemies were judges, they could find no fault and prove nothing against Him.
We ought to be daily thankful that our great Substitute was in all respects perfect, and that our Surety was a complete and faultless Surety. What child of man can count the number of his sins? We leave undone things we should do; and do things we ought not to do, every day we live. But this must be our comfort, that Christ the Righteous has undertaken to stand in our place, to pay the debt we all owe, and to fulfill the law we have all broken. He did fulfill that law completely. He satisfied all its demands. He accomplished all its requirements. He was the second Adam, who had "clean hands and a pure heart," and could therefore enter with boldness into God's holy hill. (Psalm 24:4.) He is the righteousness of all sinners who believe in Him. (Rom. 10:4.) In Him all believers are counted perfect fulfillers of the law. The eyes of a holy God behold them in Christ, clothed with Christ's perfect righteousness. For Christ's sake God can now say of the believer, "I find in him no fault at all."
If we are true Christians, let us daily lean our souls on the comfortable thought that Christ has really been our Substitute, and has been punished in our stead.
Let us beware of supposing that the Lord Jesus holds out to man nothing but mercy, pardon, love, and forgiveness. Beyond all doubt He is plenteous in mercy. There is mercy with Him like a mighty stream. He "delights in mercy." But we must never forget that there is justice with Him as well as mercy. There are judgments preparing for the impenitent and the unbelieving. There is wrath revealed in the Gospel for those who harden themselves in wickedness.
Let us see in our Lord's intercession for those who crucified Him, one more proof of Christ's infinite love to sinners. The Lord Jesus is indeed most pitiful, most compassionate, most gracious. None are too wicked for Him to care for. None are too far gone in sin for his almighty heart to take interest about their souls. He wept over unbelieving Jerusalem. He heard the prayer of the dying thief. He stopped under the tree to call the tax-collector Zaccheus. He came down from heaven to turn the heart of the persecutor Saul. He found time to pray for His murderers even on the cross. Love like this is a love that passes knowledge. The vilest of sinners have no cause to be afraid of applying to a Savior like this. If we want warrant and encouragement to repent and believe, the passage before us surely supplies enough. Finally, let us see in our Lord's intercession a striking example of the spirit which should reign in the hearts of all His people. Like Him, let us return good for evil, and blessing for cursing. Like Him, let us pray for those who evil entreat us and persecute us. The pride of our hearts may often rebel against the idea. The fashion of this world may call it foolish to behave in such a way. But let us never be ashamed to imitate our divine Master. The man who prays for his enemies shows the mind that was in Christ, and will have his reward.
The verses we have now read deserve to be printed in letters of gold. [Luke 23:39-43] They have probably been the salvation of myriads of souls. Multitudes will thank God to all eternity that the Bible contains this story of the penitent thief.
We see, firstly, in the history before us, the sovereignty of God in saving sinners. We are told that two malefactors were crucified together with our Lord, one on His right hand and the other on His left. Both were equally near to Christ. Both saw and heard all that happened, during the six hours that He hung on the cross. Both were dying men, and suffering acute pain. Both were alike wicked sinners, and needed forgiveness. Yet one died in his sins, as he had lived, hardened, impenitent, and unbelieving. The other repented, believed, cried to Jesus for mercy, and was saved. A fact like this should teach us humility. We cannot account for it. We can only say, "Even so, Father, for so it seems good in your sight." (Matt. 11:26.) How it is that under precisely the same circumstances one man is converted and another remains dead in sins — why the very same sermon is heard by one man with complete indifference and sends another home to pray and seek Christ — why the same Gospel is hidden to one and revealed to another, all these are questions which we cannot possibly answer. We only know that it is so, and that it is useless to deny it. Our own duty is clear and plain. We are to make a diligent use of all the means which God has appointed for the good of souls. There is no necessity that any one should be lost. God's sovereignty was never meant to destroy man's responsibility. One thief was saved that no sinner might despair, but only one, that no sinner might presume.
The first notable step in the thief's repentance was his concern about his companion's wickedness in reviling Christ. "Do you not fear God," he said, "seeing you are in the same condemnation." The second step was a full acknowledgment of his own sin. "We indeed are just in condemnation. We receive the due reward of our deeds." The third step was an open confession of Christ's innocence. "This man has done nothing amiss." The fourth step was faith in Jesus Christ's power and will to save him. He turned to a crucified sufferer, and called Him "Lord," and declared his belief that He had a kingdom. The fifth step was prayer. He cried to Jesus when he was hanging on the cross, and asked Him even then to think upon his soul. The sixth and last step was humility. He begged to be "remembered" by our Lord. He mentions no great thing. Enough for him if he is remembered by Christ. These six points should always be remembered in connection with the penitent thief.
If we search the Bible through, from Genesis to Revelation, we shall never find a more striking proof of Christ's power and mercy than the salvation of the penitent thief. Do we want proof that salvation is of grace and not of works? We have it in the case before us. The dying thief was nailed hand and foot to the cross. He could do literally nothing for his own soul. Yet even he through Christ's infinite grace was saved. No one ever received such a strong assurance of his own forgiveness as this man. The dying thief was never baptized, belonged to no visible church, and never received the Lord's supper. But he repented and believed, and therefore he was saved.
If Christ did not really die, there would be an end of all the comfort of the Gospel. Nothing short of His death could have paid man's debt to God. His incarnation, and sermons, and parables, and miracles, and sinless obedience to the law, would have availed nothing, if He had not died. The penalty threatened to the first Adam was death eternal in hell. If the second Adam had not really and actually died in our stead, as well as taught us truth, the original penalty would have continued in full force against Adam and all his children. It was the life-blood of Christ which was to save our souls. Forever let us bless God that our great Redeemer's death is a fact beyond all dispute. The centurion who stood by the cross, the friends who took out the nails, and laid the body in the grave, the women who stood by and beheld, the priests who sealed up the grave, the soldiers who guarded the sepulcher, all, all are witnesses that Jesus actually was dead. The great sacrifice was really offered. The life of the Lamb was actually taken away. The penalty due to sin has actually been discharged by our Divine Substitute. Sinners believing in Jesus may hope and not be afraid. In themselves they are guilty. But Christ has died for the ungodly; and their debt is now completely paid.© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible