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How willing, how anxious the Lord Jesus Christ is to save poor, lost sinners! The cross of Christ is a vivid declaration that “where sin abounded grace did much more abound!” What is the meaning of the cross? Why was our Lord Jesus nailed to the cursed tree? Behold the dying thief and hear the answer. The Son of God came into the world to save sinners. Christ came to seek and to save that which was lost!
The Dying Thief
The dying thief is a true specimen of God’s elect. This man appears to have done nothing but evil all his life. We know nothing about him, except that he was a thief, a thief who had executed his crimes with violence, a thief who continued to blaspheme, even as he was being executed, a thief who was loved and chosen of God (1 Corinthians 1:26-31).
Why was Immanuel’s blood poured out at Calvary? Christ Jesus poured out his life’s blood upon the cursed tree to wash away sin. Here I see it washing away the sins of one like myself, whose heart and life were as black as hell. Why did Christ suffer and die? It was to pardon the most guilty. It was not merely to save us from hell, but to open Paradise to the chief of sinners, to open it at once; not after years of torment, but “today.” Today “shalt thou be with me.” Yes, the Lord Jesus went back to heaven with this saved thief in his hands.
By his death upon the cursed tree, the Son of God delivers and saves his people from their sins. Satisfying the justice of God, He plucked us as brands from the burning, conquered hell, and defeated the devil and cast him down to hell. The first sinner saved by the cross, after it had been erected upon Calvary’s hill, was a wretched, justly condemned thief; and the Son of God went up to heaven with him to join in that joy that is in heaven over one sinner who repents.
The Brink of Hell
How near a person may be to hell and yet be saved! That thief was, as it were, upon the very brink of hell. He had one foot in the pit. Hell was in his heart. Hell had been his life. Soon, hell must be his portion forever! He had done nothing but evil continually all the days of his life. In the very last hour of his life, he is heard blaspheming and railing against the Lord Jesus. Yet, he was plucked from the fire by omnipotent mercy! — Saved by the Son of God! He was just about to step into everlasting damnation when the omnipotent hand of the Son of God seized him and lifted him up to Paradise! Oh, what grace is here! What boundless love! What power to save! Who after this need despair? Truly our Lord Jesus Christ is mighty to save!
The Other Thief
How near you may be to Christ and yet be lost forever! The other thief was as near the Savior as the one who was saved. Yet, he perished. He went to hell from the very side of the Son of God, from the very presence of Immanuel! Can anyone be nearer to Christ than that thief was? Looking at him, hearing him, speaking to him, he was lost after all! Be warned. Outward nearness, religious
duties, familiarity with the Word of God, baptism, eating and drinking the symbols of the Savior’s body and blood, none of these things can save. You may be very near Christ, and yet not be in Christ. Salvation is not being near Christ. Salvation is being found in Christ.
Here are two men. Both are thieves. Both are damned. Both are lost. Both are without God, without Christ, without hope. Both are in the immediate presence of the crucified Christ. One is taken up to glory. One is taken up to heaven. The other is cast down to hell. What made the difference?
Here’s the difference. “The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23). — Throughout the Word of God, we are constantly assured of two facts. (1) If anyone goes to hell, it is his own fault alone, his own responsibility, altogether the result of what he has done, and that for which he alone must bear the blame forever. (2) If anyone is saved, if anyone goes to heaven, it is God’s work alone, altogether the result of that which God has done, and that for which God alone must have the praise forever.
“The wages of sin is death!” — Sin is what we all are by nature; and sin is all that we do in a state of rebellion against God. It is as impossible for a sinner to do good as it is for water to be dry. Our corrupt nature corrupts all our thoughts, feelings, words, and deeds. As a corrupt fountain only brings forth corrupt water, so a corrupt heart only brings forth corruption. That means that the very plowing of the wicked is an abomination to God, and even our righteousnesses are filthy rags in his sight (Proverbs 21:4; Isaiah 64:6). Sin is also our choice. We all drink iniquity like water (Job 15:16). And that which sin deserves is death, eternal death, which is eternal separation from God and the eternal vengeance of his holy wrath. Death is the debt God owes to sin. And God always pays his debts. The reprobate thief went to hell because he ate the fruit of his own way.
“But the gift of God is eternal life!” — Eternal life comes to guilty sinners not as a debt, or a reward for something we have done, but as the free grace gift of God. The new birth, which is the beginning of eternal life in the soul, is the gift of God. Faith in Christ is the gift of God. Heavenly glory, which is the consummation of eternal life, is also the gift of God. Death, hell, and judgment are things we earn by sin. But grace, life, and heaven are things freely given to sinners “through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
Christ paid the debt of sin for his people by his death upon the cross, making it right and just for the holy Lord God, who must punish sin, to give eternal life to all for whom he died. Through the merits of his blood and righteousness, God gives eternal life to everyone who believes on him. Even the faith by which we receive this gift is the gift of God and the result of his operation of grace (Ephesians 2:8; Colossians 1:12). Faith in Christ is not the cause of God’s gift, but the result of it. If you now believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, God has given you eternal life. It is altogether his work. — “Salvation is of the Lord!”