The Thief on the Cross

The day Jesus died was a day in which the creation crucified the Creator. Yet, by the irony of divine wisdom, God used this gruesome means of taking life to give life! Not only did Jesus hang on that center cross, but so did the hope of all humanity.  This moment in time, and the transaction that took place on that day, was without question the defining moment in history.

But if that be the case, why is the record of Jesus’ death cluttered with peripheral information about the death of an irrelevant thief who also died that day?  Surely, there’s a bigger story here in the death of Jesus, than to waste ink on the deserved death of a thief.

Well, may I suggest that the death of the thief is not an irrelevant, peripheral event, but an important part of a bigger story? You see, the cross of Jesus proclaims the depth of God’s love in that he was willing to give his only Son (John 3:16).  But alongside that proclamation is the proclamation from the cross upon which the thief died.  This cross proclaimed the scope of God’s love.

The message from the thief’s cross speaks to all of us who struggle with guilt for wasting so much of our lives in sin.  It speaks to those of us who have waited much too long to surrender to Jesus.  It speaks to all of us who have nothing left to offer God but an apology.  The thief’s cross announces that God is a God of grace!

I hope we can find peace in that truth.  Without the cross of Jesus there would be no hope.  But without the thief’s cross, maybe we would doubt if the redemption Jesus secured could reach a sinner like me!

When the thief on the cross had nothing left to offer God but an apology, Jesus promised him Paradise! Thank God for the the redemption procured on the cross of Christ, and also for the hope that is illustrated by the thief’s cross.

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Comments 10

  • I’m not at all sure why you posted this without clarifying comments.

  • Steve, I don’t think anything I wrote needed clarifying. The preservation of the conversation between Jesus and the thief wasn’t intended to create or respond to a debate about baptism. It was to show the scope of God’s love and grace, and to give hope to sinners.

  • Were this the only article I had ever read I would think but a few things:

    “The message from the thief’s cross . . . speaks to all of us who have nothing left to offer God but an apology . . . When the thief on the cross had nothing left to offer God but an apology, Jesus promised him Paradise!”

    One may say, “God, I apologize. Please, give me your grace. Thank you.” Will they expect anything less?

    At a glance, it appears you are saying what so many others believe to be true: that’s ALL it takes. That was my only concern. Whereas I know this episode on the cross is exceptional in more than one way, we need to remind others exceptions are to become rule, only with God’s decree.

  • Stephen, I appreciate you and your comments but I respectfully disagree on this one. I believe you’re holding this article to a standard that you wouldn’t apply in other cases. For example, would you question the apostle Paul for his lack of “clarifying comments” when he wrote (Romans 10:9-10), or when Paul wrote Ephesians 2:8-10? Would Paul need to say, “Now that’s not to say you don’t need to be baptized…” I believe that if Paul could speak of grace and faith without explicitly mentioning baptism in every context, so can I. Furthermore, I’ve heard countless sermons on baptism that emphasize the need to be baptized, that never once tell us we must also “love” God. We may be told we must have faith, repent, confess our faith, and be baptized, but what are all those things without love for God. Are we leaving the wrong impression since we didn’t mention the necessity of love? Surely not.

    You see, our discussion right now is part of the reason I wrote the article as I did. I want people to think. Have we gotten to the point that we cannot speak about the thief on the cross without mentioning baptism? Can you remember an article being written about the thief on the cross that wasn’t an article about why he doesn’t prove we don’t have to be baptized? The thief on the cross has more meaning than to be relegated to an argument to be made in a baptism debate. Rather, I believe it was intended to be a passage offering great comfort and hope regarding the scope of God’s love.

    Stephen, what prompted my article is a conversation I had with a Christian friend who is dying from cancer. He has wasted his life and has great regrets. Now he is days away from the end of his earthly existence. He has nothing to offer God, but an apology for a wasted life. He struggles with whether God can forgive him. I assured him he can and will. Proof? The thief on the cross. Here too was a man who had nothing to offer God but an apology, and it was enough.

    The fact that I chose to emphasize this application from this passage does not require me to double the length of the article to expound on how the salvation of the thief relates to the necessity of baptism.

    Hope this helps clarify.

  • All those articles you mention that have conditioned me and others to wait for the other shoe to drop is my point. You offered your article third person, as if it wasn’t even yours, “Here’s an article about the thief on the cross that doesn’t even mention baptism.” I’m sorry I have been baited so long, but I read your article and ended up wondering what you were saying.

    A sentence or two, would certainly have lowered my suspicion, but I’m a bit jumpy these days because some close brethren, close to me that is, are throwing down their tried and true belief for old fashioned, and I do mean OLD, trite and treasonous, false teaching. Brother, at his point you would be but one more, and I would be so sad and disappointed.

    Father help us to be faithful to all and only what You have given us. I do NOT disagree with the obvious hope that Jesus gave us from the cross.

    Luke 17:3-5 (ESV) “Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him. The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”

    Yes, Lord, increase our faith to forgive as you described and to put as much faith in the forgiveness you promised us. Amen.

  • Steve,
    Depth and scope … those are two words that give very good insight into what God may want to communicate through this story. Very good article that provides and stimulates fresh (and very biblical) thinking about this story. Thank you.

  • It seems to me that unfortunately we do need to expound on such passages in today’s world. Because of the unwillingness of the so called Christian religion to obey and honor our Lord’s plea for unity as He is unified with the Father, we are left with almost every scripture or discussion on salvation to include a caveat dealing with the necessity of being immersed in water to complete the rebirth process. That is the sad but true reality of our situation today.

  • Mike,
    I appreciate your comments. I too lament the religious division. However, if you’re thinking that the first century church didn’t deal with religious division and false teaching, you’re mistaken. The truth on salvation was challenged in the first century too. But did that move the apostles and inspired men to tack on a refutation to all the ways a truth could be misapplied whenever they addressed that truth. No, they didn’t.

    I think it’s an overreaction and an inconsistent reaction to demand a “blurb” about baptism whenever we discuss the thief on the cross. First of all, we don’t do it to other salvation accounts. Could I write an article about the lame man lowered through the roof without mentioning baptism? Remember, Jesus said to him, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Must we at that point explain why he didn’t mention baptism? If I wrote an article on the woman who wiped the feet of Jesus and to which Jesus said, “Your sins are forgiven,” would I be expected to explain why Jesus didn’t tell her to be baptized?

    You see, I believe what I’ve been called into question over is an over reaction that isn’t even consistently applied. Give it some thought.

  • Steve,
    Being honest, when I read the title, I thought “just another Thief on the Cross / Baptism article.” I found it refreshing to hear the story expressing the love of the Lord for all who are lost. This article has been a blessing to me.
    Thank you!

  • To the discussion of “clarifying material.”
    The failure of some to realize that no scripture (verse) is meant to stand alone is what leads many into error.

    Those that say “we are saved by Grace” have many single verses of scripture to which they may go to make their point. There are several however that would say we are saved by Grace alone, where there is no single scripture to defend that statement. They would go to many of the same scriptures as the first one would, but they have to do it ignoring a large number of other scriptures that would require, faith, repentance and baptism. Those single scriptures are “God breathed,” but God never meant them to stand alone. He breathed many more scriptures that must be considered as well.

    I feel Stephen McIntire. is trying to hold this article to a higher standard than that of God’s scripture, for in every instance of conversion found in the book of Acts, Baptism is mentioned, but other parts of the steps are left out. In Acts 2:38 we have the command to “repent” as well as “be baptized,” but no mention of faith and confession appear. With the view stated by Stephen, there should have been “clarifying material” included. Of course I would argue that “clarifying material” was included, and that would be the rest of Luke’s work in the book of Acts.

    In a like manner, Steve Higgenbotham’s whole body of work would be considered “clarifying material.”

    Not every time you mention the “Thief on the Cross,” do you have to mention that some in desperation throw out common sense and try to use it to argue against the necessity of Baptism.

    Nor do you need to attach and addendum to 1 Peter 3:21 to say that baptism is immersion in water, to connect to the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ and must be preceded by hearing, faith, confession and followed by a faithful Christian life. You simply must take it as a PART of the WHOLE body of work and continue to study.

    I have only known Steven Higgenbotham via the internet, but it goes back many years to a “church of Christ list serve” some 15 or 20 years ago. On that list serve, Steve, as well as myself and a few others, spent a lot of time defending the scriptures against those that would attack them and attack the Lord’s church. I have only known Steven as a defender of the Gospel. This article taken in context to the man I know, and the body of his work I have seen over more than a decade, does not cause me to question in the least his belief in Baptism’s role in salvation.
    I believe the article was a good article, pointing out what many miss in the crucifixion of Christ. In a manner it points at the fact that when we see a material in scripture that seems to us to have no reason to be there, that we need to look deeper. Unlike publishers today, God did not put “filler” in His book.

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