Sunday Sermons

Sunday Sermons

Between Two Thieves


Luke 23:33-43

“Luke notes that Jesus has company at His crucifixion, ‘Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with Him to be executed’ (23:32). As Jesus hangs on the cross the ironic title of kingship fixed above His head, He is the object of a fourfold assault. The people‘hurled insults at Him’ (Mark 15:29), the Jewish rulers ‘sneered’ at Him (Luke 23:35), the soldiers ‘mocked’ Him (23:36), and finally one of the criminals ‘hurled insults’ at Him (23:39)” (The Message of Heaven and Hell, Bruce Milne, p. 162).

Luke 23:32 “Two others…were being led away to be put to death with Him”

This placement between two criminals may have been intended to be the final indignity inflicted by the Jewish leaders. “The Jews had asked that Jesus die a base criminal’s death; Pilate grants them their wish, sending two actual criminals to die with Jesus” (Lenski, p. 1281). Yet once again, God is in control, this is the fulfillment of prophecy (Isaiah 53:12 “And was numbered with the transgressors”). “In the central position, and thus, by implication, the greatest criminal of the three” (Woods, p. 401). “These two may have been crucified at this time for convenience’ sake, but the fact that Jesus was placed between them suggests that they were crucified with Him to heighten His shame and indignity. For, though Pilate had no personal ill will toward Jesus, he wished to show contempt for Judah’s King”(McGarvey, p. 725).

Luke 23:39 “Hurling abuse at Him”

“There is an almost surreal quality to this conversation between the three men, hanging as they are by the final thread of their earthly lives, bound so strangely and tragically together in the maelstrom of events sweeping through Jerusalem that Passover two millennia ago. One of the criminals throws Jesus’ claim back in His face. ‘Aren’t you supposed to be the Messiah, God’s promised Savior? Then get on with it and save us all, and you’d better be quick about it!’ Underneath the challenge lies the implied insult. ‘Messiah, eh? Some Savior you’ve proved to be! You couldn’t save yourself, never mind us, or anybody else, you misguided, pathetic dreamer!’” (Milne, p. 163).


How often do we act like this thief? The man didn’t want salvation, or a relationship with God, he wanted earthly relief. How often have we manifested a similar attitude?

  • “God, I’m not going to believe in you, unless you do something big for me right now!”
  • “God, you’d better come through with instant relief or I am switching sides”
  • “I am not going to continue to belief unless you do something really spectacular in my life”
  • “God, why did you let this happen to me? I think I could do a lot better job of being God”

Luke 23:40 “But the other answered”

Matthew records (Matthew 27:44) that this thief had started out doing what everyone else was doing, that is, mocking Jesus, but here he changes his tone. He started out upset and angry just like the other man, but something happened.

  • He remembered the Judgment

He rebukes his fellow criminal and quickly reminds him of the swiftly approaching meeting with their Creator (Hebrews 9:28). “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?” (Luke 23:40). This man is amazed that his fellow thief who is so close to death, close to meeting God, and close to facing eternity is choosing to use the last precious moments of his life to ridicule a righteous man – instead of repenting! Notice, he says, “Do you not even fear God”. This indicates that reaching a point where one has no longer a healthy respect for God and the coming account, is the lowest level and any human being can reach. “Don’t tell me that you are so selfish and hardened that you no longer fear God?” I am amazed at how anger and self-pity can completely blind us to reality. Have we ever been so blinded by sin that we have forgotten:

  1. I must seek God’s mercy today, for I could die at any moment.
  2. I must live honorably, for Jesus could arrive at any moment.
  3. Am I mistreating one of God’s people (Acts 9:5), or am I treating others the way I would want to be treated? How am I behaving toward those I claim to love the most?
  • He remembered the Truth

Luke 23:41 “We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” (NIV)

What did this criminal believe? He believed that the punishment being inflicted upon him for his past deeds was completely just. Here we see the beginning of honestly and true repentance. Have we reached the same point in our lives, can we honestly say:

  1. 1.“I deserve to face eternal consequences for my sins?”
  2. “I am not a victim; I am not innocent”
  3. “God owes me nothing”
  4. “God has treated me far better than I deserve”
  5. “All God’s judgments are just” (Romans 2:2).
  6. “I am a sinner and have nothing to offer God in payment for my sins”
  7. “All I can ask of God is mercy”
  8. “I have contributed to the suffering in this world”
  9. “The only place where I can point the finger is at myself”
  • He got his mind off of himself

Luke 23:41 “But this man has done nothing wrong”. That says a lot. He knew something about Jesus. He had heard something about His example and character. He was a thief, but even this thief could see that Jesus was completely innocent. “The robber’s lone voice raised in protest against Jesus’ unjustifiable crucifixion is the only one recorded” (Fowler, p. 859). It is amazing what we can see and how clear reality becomes when we own up to our own sins. By contrast, it is equally amazing at how confusing everything can become and how everything can lose its right perspective when we do not own up. If “everyone else is at fault” then we are in darkness. “In some real sense, despite the utter contradiction expressed in Jesus’ helplessness in death, and the shame attaching to its form, Jesus was the long-expected King, on His way to claim His throne” (Milne, p. 163)... and the thief could see this! “Some saw Jesus raise the dead and did not believe. The robber sees Him being put to death and yet believes” (Luke, A. Plummer, p. 535).

  • He reached out and begged

Luke 23:42 “And he was saying”. He repeated this statement a number of times. “Remember me” means, “do not bar me out because of my sins and my crimes” (see Matthew 7:21-23 “I never knew you”). From this statement is seems clear that this robber had heard Jesus preach. He knew about the coming Kingdom that both John the Baptist and Jesus had proclaimed as being near or at hand.

Amazing Grace

“The criminal has nothing to offer Jesus. He is justly condemned for capital crime, as he himself acknowledges. The verdict passed upon his life is accordingly, from a judicial point of view, one of proven guilt. He is a man who, having received the opportunities that life afforded him, has scattered them to the winds in prodigal disregard. Neither direction from parental teaching, nor the restraints and sanctions of his religious upbringing within the Jewish community, nor the discretion dictated by experience, nor all the impressions of conscience, have deflected him from his pathetic flight into self-destruction and shame. This man has nothing to offer God” (Milne, p. 165). Yet, what he does offer is the only thing that God will accept, that is, a broken and contrite heart (Psalm 51:17). On a side note, only a poor Bible student will attempt to argue from this example that baptism is unnecessary for salvation. The command to be baptized for the remission of sins was not given until after Jesus died (Mark 16:16). The thief lived and was forgiven under the First Covenant, an agreement that ended when Jesus died (Hebrews 9:15-17).

Luke 23:43 “Truly I say to you”

Jesus was dying, and yet was completely confident concerning what would happen to Himself and the penitent thief. There is no guessing; this is the language of absolute truth. There is tremendous mercy in the fact that Jesus responded and responded in a manner that was anything but casual. Among other things, these words would help the thief in the last moments of his earthly life. “Paradise” with Jesuswould be “Today”! Jesus’ death is not merely the death of a victim, but rather of a victor triumphing over sin and death for all the repentant. The thief appears to ask Jesus for mercy at some time in the future – Jesus offers him much more, “Today”, “you will be with Me”! Let’s live in such a way that prepares our hearts to spend an eternity basking in this same glorious paradise with our amazing Savior.