Tom Hayes


Matthew 27:38, Luke 23:32, 39-43

When I was a boy, a missionary and his family came to our church. As different ones conversed with the family, their three-year old son was asked about his age. Going from one finger to the other, his emphatic answer was, "Not one, not two, but three!" You've heard about the two thieves that were crucified with Jesus. Well, I want to say that there was "not one, not two, but three" robbers crucified that day!

In our society, the word "thief" is usually tagged on one who privately takes what is not his. But, in the biblical context, the term "thief" or "robber" (Gr. lestai) refers to a lawless rebel who publicly attacked and robbed people. We read of such assailants in The Parable of The Good Samaritan, who assaulted, beat, stripped, robbed, and left a man for dead on the Jericho Road (see Luke 10:30).

The thieves hanging on the crosses, then, were more than purse snatchers. They were selfish, abusive, destructive rogues of the most base sort. It is quite possible, that, like Barabbas and other rebels, they were even guilty of murder. For sure, their crimes were of such nature that they were arrested by the Roman system and condemned to death. And, their penalty was not just death, but death by crucifixion.

In His trial and in His death, Jesus was treated, judged, and executed like a robber. The religious leaders even said to Pilate, "If He were not a malefactor, we would not have delivered Him up unto thee" (John 18:30). Not only was Jesus "numbered with the transgressors" (Isa. 53:12) in prophetic fulfillment, but specifically identified with the other robbers. With this in mind, let's look at this band of thieves and what is stated about each of them.

First, we are confronted with:

1. The Railing Robber

The record reads, "And one of the malefactors railed on Him, saying, 'If Thou be Christ, save Thyself and us'" (Luke 23:29). This "malefactor," or "evil doer," as the word suggests, had robbed people and felt absolutely no remorse for his wrongs. A Christian writer of another day aptly observed, "Violent crime and its punishment leave a man cold at heart, and lonely to the very roots of his being" (W. Robertson Nicoll).

Along with the ruthless crowd, he boldly mocked Jesus. The tense of the word "railed" indicates that he continued to jeer the Christ, over and over again. His repetitions only underlined the fact that he had no fear for God and no esteem for Christ. Thus, in his rebuke, the other thief asked, "Doest not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation?" (23:40).

This thief had the same opportunities of his repentant friend. In the past, he, too, had heard the stories of Christ's love and power. Even now, as he hung on the cross, he was as near to Jesus on one side as the man on the other side. The privilege of prayer was available to him, also. But, his unbelieving heart had rejected the Savior, and even in these crucial hours, there was no change.

What a warning to those who have a clinched fist toward the righteous God and His precious Son. What makes folks think that they will die differently than they have lived? If we don't have time for God in life, why should God have time for us in the hour of death? Oh dear friends, may we heed the prophet's words, "Seek ye the Lord while He may be found, call ye upon Him while He is near" (Isa. 55:6).

Thankfully, the story does not end here! We are told, furthermore, of:

2. The Repenting Robber

Since they faced death together, "We get the impression that these two thieves were partners in crime" (Warren W. Wiersbe). However, the one who sensed his guilt, continued to rebuke his friend for his unbridled spirit. He explained that they deserved their punishment, but that Christ was being punished unjustly. He said, "We receive the due reward of our deeds: but this Man hath done nothing amiss" (23:41).

This thief-robber was not only repentant for what he had done, but he was awakened to the fact that he had robbed God of His glory, robbed Christ of His Kingly rule, and robbed himself of peace and hope. It is apparent that he was not just sorry that he had been caught, but sorry that he had lived his life in defiance of God. He sorrowed, as did the Corinthians, and as does every truly repentant soul, "after a godly sort" (2 Cor. 7:11).

Before he bowed his head in death, he bowed his heart to the Lordship of Christ. "Lord," he prayed. "Lord!" And, as Christ's gracious answer indicates, it is this submissive attitude towards Divine Lordship that enjoys His great salvation. It must be pointed out, as well, that in genuine repentance, he cried out to Jesus for mercy, "Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom" (23:42). Unlike the other thief, he cast himself upon the mercy of God.

Condemned to death, the thief-robber went over the head of those who condemned him. He saw hope in the King and His kingdom! As one great Bible expositor has written, "When there was no other earthly tribunal to which he could appeal, he suddenly discovered that there was another Throne . . . (and) he saw in Jesus the One Who had the right of appeal to that Throne" (G. Campbell Morgan).

We must turn our thoughts, lastly, and most significantly, to:

3. The Redeeming Robber

The words of Christ to this penitent heart, "Today thou shalt be with Me in paradise" (23:43), affirm His redemptive love and grace. When asked to look in the thief's direction, or to remember him, Jesus graciously heard and answered his plea. While hanging on the cross, He played the part of a robber, robbing sin of its power. A life which had been dominated by wrong and selfishness was set free by the grace of God.

Jesus also robbed Satan of another prisoner. Although the chains were not visible, the repentant thief had been in "the snare of the devil" and "taken captive by him at his will" (2 Tim. 2:26). As Jesus crushed the prison guard's head (see Gen. 3:15), a prisoner was released. In the process, He robbed hell of another victim. While paying the supreme payment for sin, Christ was caught red-handed, or should we say, He was caught with red hands as He delivered a soul from plunging into the abyss.

As the Redeemer-Robber, Jesus stole this man's heart and ran away to heaven with it! "Today," He promised him, "thou shalt be with Me in paradise" (23:43). What a miracle of grace! The thief was granted an immediate transfer from the cross to paradise. As the prince of preachers put it, "This robber breakfasted with the devil . . . dined with Christ on earth, and supped with Him in Paradise" (C. H. Spurgeon).

According to The Guinness Book Of Records, "The greatest robbery on record was that of the Reichsbank following Germany's collapse in April-May 1945." It is estimated that $3.75 billion was stolen in that raid. From a biblical perspective, however, the greatest robbery in human history took place upon the cross of Calvary. There, thank God, Jesus robbed sin, Satan, and hell of the souls of men!

For those of our friends who have not yet turned to Christ, hear His word, "Today!" In one sense, He says the same thing to you that He said to the repentant thief. "Today!" He speaks to you as He did to Zacchaeus, "Today I must abide at thy house" (Luke 19:5). He calls, "Today, if ye will hear His voice" (Heb. 3:7). May God help you to hear His voice!

"Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation" (2 Cor. 6:2). Amen.