Day 6: The Penitent Thief
Devotional by Jeremy Hamblen
Read Luke 23:32-43
32 Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. 33And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. 35And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” 36The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine 37and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The ESV text may not be quoted in any publication made available to the public by a Creative Commons license. The ESV may not be translated in whole or in part into any other language.
If there’s one thing we know in Houston, it’s disaster. Hurricanes, floods, ice storms, and heatwaves – each season comes with its own slot on the roulette wheel of catastrophe. If you’ve ever done relief work in these situations, you know there’s an uncomfortable strangeness to the frozen nature of time at ground zero: people still in the clothes they wore to bed, dishes in the sink, and personal effects indiscriminately strewn about. Still, no one apologizes for the mess, and no one makes mention of it – it’s just the nature of rescue. When disaster strikes, we come just as we are.
The thieves on the cross were headed for disaster. Like Jesus, these violent robbers had been beaten, nailed to a wooden beam, and hung in public humiliation. This was only the beginning of their slow march towards a protracted death by asphyxiation – the real cruelty of the infamous Roman crucifixion. Staring down the inevitable outcome of their just desserts, each breath shallower than the last, one of the thieves noticed…something.
The Man on the middle cross had stuck out since sunrise. His demeanor was different, the measure of brutality He received was different, and the case against Him especially seemed different. But here He was, praying for their forgiveness, even as the abuse continued to pile up. It was then, suddenly, miraculously, that one thief turned penitent, proclaiming the innocence of Jesus, admitting his own guilt, and calling out the guilt of others. Naked and ashamed before the perfect Lamb, with nothing to bring and no time to make right, his unvarnished request was his profession of faith.
He came just as he was.
It’s easy to try and add to the Gospel because God calls us to so much more, but it all starts and ends with faith. We don’t need to try to clean ourselves before collapsing into His mercy because it is only by His mercy that we are cleansed, and it is offered to us on mercifully simple terms: grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. That’s all the penitent thief needed on the cross, and because of the cross, that’s all Christ requires of us, no matter how far we are, and no matter how late we feel. All we have to do is come, just as we are.
“Just as I am, Thou wilt receive,
Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
Because Thy promise I believe,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come!”
1. Anyone can make a promise, but Jesus’ words, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise,” carried significant meaning because of His authority. In fact, His authority was a primary reason He was on the cross (He taught as one with authority, acted as one with authority, and claimed to be a King). How can Christ’s authority over our lives and our world bring us comfort and joy?
- Many people try to use the story of the penitent thief as a reason they can “beat the system” by waiting until their deathbed to repent and turn to Jesus. What would you say to someone to caution them against this outlook?
- The penitent thief was Jesus’ last companion on earth, crucified together at a conversational distance. The thief defended Him in His presence, and then petitioned His forgiveness directly. Jesus responded in kind. Even in that brief and final encounter, the thief’s rescue was about a relationship – just between the two of them. What can this tell us about the importance of our relationship with Jesus in our everyday lives?
Enjoy this extremely uplifting Gospel presentation by folksy-Scottish preacher Alistair Begg who imagines the scene in Heaven upon the entry of the penitent thief.
22 thoughts on “The Penitent Thief | Holy Week 2023”
My father lived for many years in rebellion against God. Later in life as his health began to fail he made things right with my mother, brother and me. God softened his heart. Along the way I had attempted to witness to my father but he flatly rejected Christ. For 30 years i prayed for his salvation until he contracted cancer. The last Christmas of his life was my last opportunity to share Christ with him. I reminded him of our conversation about Jesus years ago and he remembered it. I had the glorious joy to lead him to faith in Christ! I remember thinking as we drove home I couldn’t believe what had happened! One month later he stepped into Heaven to behold his Lord Jesus! It’s never too late!
Thank you for sharing!
Father God, thank you for sending your Son to die on the cross for my transgressions. Thank you for being patient with me and loving me just as I am. Thank you Father for saving me some 25 years ago . I have experienced you’re goodness and faithfulness in my life that I can testify of your love to others for the rest of my days. You are a good, good Father. I love you Lord.
I actually had someone tell me that they were going to enjoy life and live the way they wanted because they know at the end they can just ask God to forgive them and still get to Heaven. My response was: if your repentance is coming from your lips and not your heart, God will not respond. God responds to the outpouring of our hearts, not empty words.
The Man on the middle cross said I can come. Do you know the Man on the middle cross?
Thank you Lord for taking away my sins. I will always follow you forever. You are my friend and father and I believe in you.
God’s timing is always perfect when He calls us to him. However it is so much sweeter having a long relationship with Him here on this side of Heaven. Sure we falter on our side of the relationship with Him because we still live with sin, but He doesn’t. Unlike our human relationships where the other side my walk away when we falter, Jesus stays. Because Jesus stays we have someone with us for the long haul no matter how or how many times we may mess up . Thank you Father for what had been almost a life time of relationship with you. Thank you God for calling me to you at a young age.
Jesus Christ gave up His earthly body and endured torture, ridicule & disrespect for us all, so we would not have to endure eternal separation from God, our creator, Father.
“What wonderous love is this, O my soul?”
“And can it be that I should gain…. Amazing love, how can it be, that Christ would die for me”
With grateful hearts, we say thank You, Jesus.
Usually the sign hung on the cross listed the crime. But with Jesus, they named Him in 3 languages: God’s way of saying that Jesus is for everyone.
This is one of my favorite passages in the Bible, partly because it gives such hope to those who think they’re beyond redemption or it’s too late for them.
Thank you Jesus for Your unspeakable gift. Even so come Lord Jesus!
January 29,2014 changed the trajectory of my life forever. It was a phone call from my doctors office and the words that followed that changed my world. She said, “I’m sorry but your MRI showed a brain tumor”. First I was in denial and then that led to anger. Up until then, I had lived a life of independence. I needed no one! But now I had something I could not fix and I was angry and scared. The “what if’s” flooded my mind. What if it’s cancer, what if I lose my ability to care for myself, what if I can’t afford health care. I had convinced myself that I was dying and that led to the ultimate question of “what happens when you die”? I had no idea how long I would have the ability to think and process information. I knew I needed to resolve the question of was God real so I went on the internet and started searching. I also searched for churches and that led me to CFBC and to Cheryl Spafford. I always say, I don’t remember much of our first conversation because in the corner of my eye I saw a little sign on her desk that said “you matter”. This put me on a path to finding Jesus and a peace that no matter where my health took me, I knew where I would spend eternity.
They say it’s a cliche that when you’re faced with something life altering it changes your life for the good. It’s so true and I can say I would never change having a brain tumor because of all the good that has come out of it. The best is that it led to my salvation.
The thief on the cross who in his last moments of life acknowledged who Jesus was and asked him to remember him is a reminder that it’s never too late to call on the name of Jesus and to repent. I’m thankful God allowed me to experience a life altering season. It taught me there are many things I can do on my own, but there is only one thing I could not do and that is save me from spending eternity in hell. Only Jesus could do that.
As hard as it is to think about how Jesus suffered as he took on the sins of the world, Sunday is coming and that is where my hope lies.
I always love hearing your testimony. You are a prime example of taking your lemons and making lemonade! God bless you.
I love Alistair Begg’s story about the man on the middle cross. I praise God that He sent Jesus His Son to die in our place so we could live forever and ever and ever with Him. Gods love is overwhelming, life changing, never ending and unconditional. Thank you, Lord, for your ultimate sacrifice for me.
I was raised going to church regularly so the Easter story was familiar to me as long as I can remember. However, it changed from “familiar” to “real and personal” when I was 30 years old. I was at a Christmas program where they tied Easter into the production. As the actor playing Jesus walked down the aisle near me bearing the cross I heard a voice so clear that I turned my head to see who was speaking. No one was speaking. The voice simply said, “Gina, I did this for YOU!”. I knew then that God was calling me to Him. It became personal and real to me, not just a story I had heard over and over. Easter and Christmas are my most favorite times of the year because it is all about our Savior, Jesus Christ who came simply to pay the greatest penalty for our sins so that we can have a relationship with God. Have a beautiful Good Friday and hang on because Sunday is coming!
Great reminder that the
“THE MAN ON THE MIDDLE CROSS said I could come. “
In 1956 I asked him to take control of me and He has been faithful.
Many victories and many failures later HE continues to bless my earthly life and I look forward to Heaven.
He gives peace, purpose and meaning here and the promise of Heaven in the future.
IT’S FRIDAY BUT SUNDAY IS COMING!
Thank you Father for grace, faith, and Jesus.
I know that the only reason I’ll be there is because of Jesus! Thank you Lord🙏🏾
“Naked and ashamed before the perfect Lamb, with nothing to bring and no time to make right, his unvarnished request was his profession of faith.” What an incredible picture – powerful words Jeremy!
Thank you! Enjoyed the video clip too.
Keep in mind who this guy was who got an instantaneous promise of “paradise” from the Son of God himself. Keep in mind what that guy had done. He was a robber and a murderer who thought nothing of taking not only the property but also the lives of other innocent victims. He’s the type of guy whom I have heard over the last 45 years of my career as both a prosecutor and a criminal defense lawyer referred to as a “thug” and an “animal”. And I confess that I have at times thought that those terms were appropriately used to describe defendants convicted of heinous crimes.
And there was my God, our God, ready with not only instant forgiveness but a promise that that guy hanging next to him would be with Jesus in paradise that same day! Not one word about how the man who asked the Lord to remember him “… had a choice to make just like everyone else and he had made his choice to rob and kill people.” Nothing said about how the Lord “… should show him the same type of mercy that the man had shown his victims.” or “…you do the crime, you do the time.”
The man on the cross in the middle makes it easy to be saved. Thank God for that.
very meaningful words…& this video always gets me – thanks JH
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