Matthew 27:44 – The thieves also, which were crucified with him, cast the same in his teeth.
I was reading Matthew 27 recently and noticed something that I have tended to read straight across before. I had never taken notice of it before at all. Many people, saved or not, are most likely familiar with the story of the two thieves that were crucified with Jesus. The Bible tells us that one of the thieves repented and was saved as he was dying, while the other rejected Jesus to the very end. But what I have never appreciated before is what the Bible records in Matthew 27:44, which tells us that both thieves had joined in with the priests, scribes and elders and those passing by in reviling and mocking Jesus. Yet we know that one of these thieves then got saved (Luke 23). At some point while the thief was dying, he had a complete change of heart and got saved. He went from hating and despising Jesus to loving him and placing his eternal existence in the hands of the only begotten Son of God. The Holy Spirit worked on the deep of his heart while he hung there dying next to our Saviour. Despite all that he had said and done in his life and as he hung on the cross, God was able to save him. In truth we are all like the dying thief, we are all rightfully condemned by our sins, guilty before God, and yet God’s abundant grace and mercy through the person of the Lord Jesus Christ is extended to us even today, we need but take it.
The Holy Spirit did and does what no human being can do, moving in our hearts, working repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. We cannot see or detect the Holy Spirit, and yet he produces such a true and real change in someone’s heart. After Jesus said, Ye must be born again, he went on to say in John 3:8 – The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit. The Lord Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit can work salvation in the heart of any unbeliever at any time, in any place, in any situation. Jesus was able to save this thief, he was able to produce real change in his life, even as he was in his final moments before going to eternity. All the while he was on the cross, the thief went from mocking and reviling the Lord Jesus Christ to confessing his own guilt and sin before him, to worshipping the sinlessness and worthiness of Jesus, and humbly asking Jesus to remember him and save him. The God of the Bible, the Lord Jesus Christ, is the only one who can produce such a change in a person. He is a gracious and merciful God, the Bible says that grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. The thief may well have thought that he couldn’t be saved after he had joined in with those mocking Jesus, after all he had lived a life full of sin, and surely he had finally pushed God too far away as he hung there dying? And yet Jesus was able to save him. The Bible says God looks to those who have a broken, humble, and contrite heart and spirit. No matter how far you may have pushed God away, you are not ever beyond him until he gives you up because you reject and refuse him once and for all. It is dangerous to refuse God, because just like those people in the days of Noah, there does come a time when it is too late, but God only knows this time. When God visits you, you would do well not to refuse his Holy Spirit working in your heart, bearing witness of your sin and the Saviour, as you never know when you have denied him for the last time.
The thief had a complete change of heart, all while dying on the cross next to our Saviour, the Saviour of the world, the Lord Jesus Christ, who was taking the sin of the world upon himself. It is impossible to put into words the immense grace, love, and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ. He saved the sinful thief, the same sinful thief who had joined in with those who reviled and mocked him. 1 Peter 2:23,24 – Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously: Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed. There is a lesson for this in our lives, are we who are saved able to take the filth that people throw at us like Jesus did and not retaliate? God may use your long suffering and grace towards those who hate you to bear witness of himself and lead to their salvation. Instead of getting angry and retaliating, which can be a lot easier said than done, maybe we should ask God for grace in dealing with such people. God can produce amazing turnarounds in people’s lives, changes that we do not think could be possible. Only God can produce true change. The world is full of people who are trying to change through religion, training, discipline, morality and self-improvement but this change is not true or sincere. It is change that does not last, it is change that has no life from above, it is change that cannot change the depths of hearts, minds and souls, it is change has no foundation of true spiritual life. We can often refer to people changing as ‘turning over a new leaf’, but only God can produce a leaf that does not wither. It is because God does not overhaul our flesh, he births a new creature in us at salvation. Galatians 6:15 – For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature. This is why Jesus said in John 3, Ye must be born again. We are born again when we repent and believe the gospel – receiving the Lord Jesus Christ’s death, burial and resurrection for us in our place by faith.
Jesus was able to turn Paul from being a Christian killer to an apostle, a preacher, a teacher, a faithful minister of the gospel, whose life has affected countless millions. Rahab was a harlot in Jericho. Jacob was a schemer, a liar, a thief. David had Uriah, an utterly blameless and faithful soldier in his army killed just to cover up his sin. God can save and change anyone, no matter how far gone they may appear to be. He sees the heart, while men can only look on outward appearances. He can change you, no matter how far gone you feel you are, no matter your past, no matter what. In fact, the less worthy you see yourself, the more God can work in your life. Because salvation is about the greatness, righteousness and worthiness of God, God is strong on our behalf when we are weak. Because being saved is all about us seeing what we all truly are, full of sin, unrighteousness, completely and totally helpless and unworthy. Even the best most moral person to have ever lived has righteousness which the Bible describes as filthy rags. It is God that can see inside, you and I cannot. You and I cannot see the pride, the lust, the selfish motives and desires, the darkness in hearts, the filth of minds, the worthlessness of flesh, the works that are done in secret.
So what about you? Are you like the dying thief, condemned and on the verge of a hopeless and dark eternity, having lived a life full of sin and serving self, and who despised, mocked and resisted God? He can still save you. We are all like the dying thief before we are saved, noone is better than him, it has often been said that all ground is level at the foot of the cross, we are all equally condemned, worthless, guilty and under God’s holy wrath. But the Bible says the longsuffering of God is salvation. The Bible says that the goodness of God, goodness which we do not, and cannot ever deserve, is what leads us to repentance. Jesus came to call not the righteous, but sinners to repentance. Do you see yourself as righteous, and thus not needing of Jesus? Or do you see yourself as a sinner that needs the grace of God and his righteousness? Jesus said, They that are whole have no need of a physician, but they that are sick. And we are all sick, we are all sinners, it is just whether we ourselves see our unworthiness and our need of a Saviour. Receive the good news of the gospel, the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ in your place for you personally. God can and will change you, it won’t be self effort, he will change you through his Spirit, through his life in you. It is God alone, and his power, that gives life, and gives it freely. He can save you, he can change you, just as he did with the thief that day at Calvary.