Today I have the privilege of doing the funeral of a man who was converted just days before his death. In his honor, here are five observations from the conversion of the thief on the cross in Luke 23:32-43.
1. The soul continues to exist, even after death. Jesus said, "Truly, truly I tell you, TODAY...!" (Luke 23:43, emphasis added). The criminals were sure to die on the cross. Death was inescapable. Crucifixion resulted in a 100% chance of death. The only question was “when would death come?” The Romans were experts at crucifixion. Nobody ever got off the cross and lived to tell about it.
These are our chances as well--100%. All men die. And yet the Bible is clear that all men will continue on in eternal consciousness after death. James say, "Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes" (James 4:14).
Have you ever thought about what will happen when you die? Have you ever considered the fate of your own soul ten seconds after you die?
3. If any man should go to Heaven, it is by grace alone. Notice this man's honest confession. "We are receiving the due reward for our deeds" (23:41). How could a criminal like this ever be admitted into heaven? The only answer is by grace! Most people believe that people go to Heaven based on our good deeds. If this were so, the thief had no chance. He was literally pinned to the cross. What good could he do now? He could not serve the poor. He had no chance to ever again walk a "little old lady" across the street. He could not reach into his wallet to drop a quarter into the Salvation Army bucket. Surely he did not deserve forgiveness, and yet Jesus gave it to him by grace alone!
4. He was admitted to Heaven based on a profession of faith in Jesus. He said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom" (Luke 23:42). This isn’t the most complete theological statement about Jesus in the Bible, but it is a faithful one! He called Jesus a King. There is much that the thief leaves out (Jesus' divine nature, His Preincarnate glory, His resurrection etc.) but it is a believing profession. A simple plea of faith. A simple request—“save me.”
5. It is better to be converted at the latest possible moment, than not at all. The other Gospels tell us that both criminals mocked Jesus at first (Matthew 27:44; Mark 15:32). But Luke's Gospel implies that the second thief had a change of heart for some reason. Perhaps it was based upon the manner in which Jesus testified on the cross. In other words, it was Jesus’ death on the cross that changed his heart.
But if there is one thing of which I am sure--it is better come to Christ at the eleventh hour than not at all!
-Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida.