FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH SERMON OF THE WEEK
THE FACE OF FORGIVENESS THE THIEF
Luke 23:39 43
Everything about the death of Jesus was designed to bring Him suffering and shame. His being crucified
between the two thieves was for the purpose of humiliating Him. His enemies wanted Him presented as a
common criminal dying with His kind. As usual He takes the evil designs of His enemies and turns them into
something good. The presence of these condemned men close to Him provided Him with an opportunity to
demonstrate His grace and forgiveness.
Though the two thieves came to the cross from a common background, and had probably been com¬panions
in sin, they responded to their situation differently. While at first both of them joined the crowd in ridiculing
Jesus, soon one of them made a dramatic change in his response to Jesus. The manner in which Jesus
submitted to the abuse being placed upon Him convicted the thief. It convicted him of his own guilt and of the
innocence of Jesus. He knew that the coming death was justly deserved by both him and his companion in
crime on the other cross. He sincerely sought to so impress his companion with their guilt. In his deepest heart
he also knew that Jesus was innocent of the charges brought against Him. It was ob¬vious that this Man was
just different. He was out of place under the condemnation of the Cross. The prayer Jesus kept praying
probably made the impression. Jesus kept praying, "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” How
could a man have such confidence in God in such a circumstance that He could call Him Father? There was
just something about the way He said that word. Then surely He must be different to have such a forgiving
attitude toward those who are heaping all of this upon Him. All of these impressions led to the appeal of the
"Jesus, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom." It was not a very strong appeal, but it was directed
to the right person Jesus. It was simply a request to be remembered in the day when Jesus would be coming in
His Messianic kingdom. Underneath such a request was an unspoken request for forgiveness. Before he could
be remembered in such a kingdom, it would surely be necessary for Jesus to forgive and forget his
This simple prayer brought just that full and free forgiveness. "Today shalt thou be with me in paradise."
"Today" in contrast to some far off day of a coming kingdom. He will be more than "remembered." He will be
with Jesus in the dwelling place of God. The little word "truly" is a translation of the word "amen" in the Greek.
The word was the open response of Jesus that granted the request "May it so be." In doing this Jesus
assumed responsibility for all of the sins of the thief, and granted him this full and free forgiveness.
This incident provides us with a beautiful example of divine forgiveness. Forgiveness is the removal of our sins
in such a way that they are no longer a factor in God's dealings with us. We have no greater need than the
need to be assured of God's forgiveness.
I. THE FULLNESS OF THE DIVINE FORGIVENESS.
A study of the Biblical doctrine of forgiveness is a very encouraging thing. The experience of this man is typical
of what God does for guilty sinners. While hanging there on the cross he was forgiven fully by the God through
the Lord Jesus Christ.
God's forgiveness is full in that God forgives all kinds of sins. This man brought to the cross guilt for many
different types of sins. His sins had probably begun in his own home. He was probably leaving behind a broken
hearted Dad and Mother somewhere whose warnings and appeals had been spurned. This man had probably
broken all of the Ten Commandments somewhere along the way. He had made a god out of other things
instead of God. His stealing may have indicated that money was actually his god. Maybe he had not made any
graven images, but doubtlessly his gang had taken the name of the Lord God in vain. You rarely ever find any
true reverence for the name of God in a gang. Do you think that he had observed the Sabbath day with
worship and reverence? He was surely guilty of this sin. His parents with their broken hearts, wrinkled faces,
and stooped shoulders could bear witness to how much dishonor and disobedience he had given to his
Adultery usually goes with the way of life this man represented. You can probably add that to his list of sins.
Obviously he had been guilty of stealing, and lying, and probably murder. It was covetousness that had
motivated his stealing. But God's forgiveness is so full that it can cover all kinds of sins.
When I find people burdened with guilt I often ask them, have you ever done anything which you feel that God
cannot forgive? I am constantly surprised by the things people present to me which they feel God cannot
forgive. For one it is adultery, for another homosexuality, for another divorce, for another stealing, and on and
on I could go. The account of this thief's forgiveness is included to say to us that God forgives all kinds of sins.
There is only one kind of sin that God will not forgive and that is the sin of blaspheming the Holy Spirit. This sin
is committed only by those who have not been Christians, and who finally and conclusively reject Jesus Christ
as God's Son by attributing the evidence the Holy Spirit presents to His Lordship to the devil Himself. All are
other sins that are forgivable by God.
God's forgiveness is full in that God forgives all sins, regardless of their number. Can a man accumulate so
many sins that God could not forgive them all? Is there a certain number of sins that mark the limit to the divine
forgiveness? The forgiveness of this man stands as a witness to the fullness of God's forgiveness. God had
no more difficulty in for¬giving a multitude of sins than He does in forgiving one sin. For God to forgive any sin
required the sacrificial death of His Son, and when He died on the cross He died for all sin. Being the Son of
God His death has merit enough to cover all our transgressions.
The prophet Isaiah saw this when he cried, "Come let us reason together, though your sins be as scarlet, they
shall be as snow, though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.'' John assured us, "If we confess our
sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." "All"
unrighteousness is the word that reminds us of the fullness of the divine forgiveness.
II. THE FREENESS OF GOD'S FORGIVENESS
This incident exposes more erroneous thinking about how a man receives forgiveness than any other incident
in the Bible. Doubtlessly the Holy Spirit caused Luke to include this for that very reason. God forgives men
freely. There was no other way this condemned man could have known forgiveness.
Divine forgiveness is extended apart from good works. This man had no opportunity to do any good works.
Again and again I encounter people who have the feeling that if they will just do enough good works, God will
forgive their transgressions. When some people feel pangs of guilt concerning the sins of the past, they re
double their efforts to cover their sins with a mul¬titude of good works. God forgave this thief though he did not
perform any deed of mercy or extend one hand of kindness. He received the forgiveness of his sins from
Jesus as a free gift.
Divine forgiveness is extended apart from religious affiliation or ordinances. There was no opportunity for this
man to receive communion, so such an ordinance must not be necessary to receive God's forgiveness. This
man did not have opportunity to affiliate with any re¬ligious group or institution, so such affiliation must not be
necessary for divine forgiveness. He had no opportunity to be baptized so baptism must not be a condition of
forgiveness. Forgiveness is given as a free gift apart from the religious things. This is not to discount the
religious things. They are very important, but they are not the basis upon which God forgives our sins.
How does one receive the forgiveness of sins then? There are only two things involved. There is repentance
which is expressed in the acknowledgment of the sins. This man openly acknowl¬edged his guilt and his
worthiness of the condemnation that had befallen him. This is the most difficult thing. It is coming to the place
that you can sincerely admit, "I have sinned. I am the sinner." This is an absolute essential, for God cannot
forgive a sin that you will not acknowledge. God forgives sinners, not self righteous people who will not admit
having any sin. The other thief died unforgiven because he refused to admit to Jesus that he had done
After the acknowledgment of the sin in repentance, then there must be the turning to Jesus for the
forgiveness. This means that you must do what the thief did. You must ask Jesus for it. Though he did not
express it in exact words, Jesus knew what the man meant and wanted.
This could be of some help to those of us who do evangelism. We should not be too concerned with people
saying what we consider to be the right words when they approach God for for¬giveness and salvation. God
has a way of receiving and forgiving a man whenever he turns his face toward God in faith and repentance
whether he uses the right phrases or not. God is concerned with the acknowledgment of the sin, and the
turning to Christ alone for the deliverance from the sin.
This freeness of the forgiveness makes it possible for all men to be forgiven at any place in life and at any time
in life. Though this experience surely does not encourage a man to wait for death bed repentance, it surely
does encourage us to believe that it is never too late if the man will turn to Christ. God forgives freely and fully.
God is a God of forgiveness. He will abundantly pardon. In the death of His son upon the Cross, God made full
provisions for the forgiveness of your sins. Jesus willingly and gladly took all of your sins to the tree. Now God
awaits your coming to receive this forgiveness which He freely offers. Will you, like the thief, just now, ask Him
to forgive your sins, and become the Lord of your life? God will remove your sins in such a way that you can
go straight to heaven to be with Him when you die.
The experience of this thief can really be seen in three chapters. First, we have the thief against Jesus. Is that
not the experience of us all? Then we have the thief for Jesus, as he defends and appeals to Him. Then we
have the thief with Jesus in paradise. That can be the story of your life if you will become the man for Jesus