2 thieves represent all mankind
WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP)--All humanity is represented by one of the two thieves who were crucified alongside Jesus.
Buddy Gray, voicing that assessment in a chapel message at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, noted there was something "very different" about the two criminals: "That is, how they come to view Jesus Christ."
Gray, pastor of Hunter Street Baptist Church in Birmingham and a former president of the Alabama Baptist State Convention, noted the similarity between the two thieves and all humanity: "We are all thieves and have robbed God of His glory."
The first criminal, Gray said, is the one who doesn't care about Christ as the Messiah; he only wants his suffering to end. He had no remorse for his sin, only deep distress over what his sin was costing him.
"He does not want forgiveness, he only wants escape," Gray said in a message from Luke 23:32-43.
"There are a lot of people who are like this man. They want to avoid the suffering in their lives. They want to avoid all of the crosses they may have to bear. There are many people in churches who are like this one man. They want escape, but not forgiveness," Gray said.
"In America especially, we have a very distorted Gospel," Gray continued. "We tell people, 'You just come to Jesus and He will make your family better. You come to Jesus and He will straighten up your finances. Just come to Jesus and He will bless you. That is not the Gospel. That will not save people; it will only damn people."
The first criminal on the cross rejects Jesus and His salvation, Gray added, because he thinks it is all about him, a problem that is at the heart of his sin.
However, the second thief begins to have his heart softened by Jesus, Gray said. As the man heard Jesus repeating, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do," he began to think, "Maybe this man can forgive me."
This man, Gray said, had the appropriate heart attitude.
"If you're going to come to Christ, there must be the attitude in your heart, 'I fear God.'
"Without fear of God, I do not believe you can seriously turn to Jesus in faith. All you will ever see Jesus as is an add-on to your life. He's optional. You think, 'I'll add Him because He can make my business better, my sex life better, my finances better. He'll make me happier. I'll have my best life now,'" Gray said.
"If there is no fear of the Holy Creator God to whom one day we will give an account, you will never take Jesus seriously."
It is vital to see Jesus as holy and not make excuses for sin, but to confess guilt in real humility, as the second criminal did, Gray said.
"It matters who we think Jesus is. He alone is worthy of faith and my allegiance. He went to the cross not because he was guilty, but because we were guilty," Gray said.
The second thief, after assessing his situation and realizing the mess he was in and the coming of Jesus' Kingdom, called out to God for forgiveness and to be saved. Gray said it was a simple prayer, "Jesus, save me."
"Through the eyes of faith, this man trusts Jesus. That is what salvation is all about," Gray said.
The criminal's belief and complete trust in immediate salvation "cuts through a lot of false theology," Gray added in his Feb. 19 message at Southeastern's Wake Forest, N.C., campus.
"This really is justification by faith alone. Notice there was no baptism, no communion, no confession, no last rites, no church membership, no good works, no praying a prayer, no walking an aisle. This man trusts in Christ alone.... All he can do is trust in the work of Jesus Christ, and Jesus says that is all that it takes."
Gray concluded: "There were two sinners. Both heard and saw the same Jesus. One is in paradise with Jesus. One is in a place of eternal isolation. This represents the entire world. Jesus Christ is the line of demarcation. Everyone in the world will be categorized as someone who was saved by Christ or someone who was not."
Lauren Crane is a writer for Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.