Since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature- have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without an excuse. Romans I 19-20 (NIV)
Two thieves flanked the Christ, each hanging on their own cross, put there by the Roman Sanhedrin.
A seven hundred year old prophecy was being fulfilled when Jesus was hung in the middle of the two thieves; as if to say, “Here is your ‘King of the Jews’”. They didn't realize that Jesus was not only the “King of the Jews”, but the “King of Kings”. They just didn't know. So they stood there and mocked Him, shouting, “Alright, King of the Jews, if you're the Son of God, come down from the cross. Save yourself. You saved others, save yourself.”
Those shouts were not only the voices of the Sanhedrin, but also the words of one who hated Jesus a lot more than the Sanhedrin. Satan had followed Jesus to the crucifixion site in a final attempt to get Him to be disobedient to His Father's will. “Come down from the cross!”
The two thieves hanging on the other crosses along with Jesus also didn't understand. They were mocking Jesus right along with the crowd. Two thieves! We know little of them as the Bible says nothing about their past. We do know that they most certainly knew of the Christ’s reputation as they both spoke of it. One wanted Christ to use his miraculous powers to save them all: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” one of the thieves taunted. The other knew the Christ was blameless as he rebuked the thief, “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
These two men about to die, were both faced with a choice. One thief spoke words that showed insights even greater than that of the disciples. They had walked with Jesus for over two years and didn't realize Jesus' Kingdom wasn't an earthly kingdom. This thief realized Jesus had a kingdom beyond the grave. He looked over at Jesus, saw Jesus in His weakest state - dying on a cross; yet he believed. "I've lived my life a thief. I don't want to die a thief, "Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom." And to Jesus, enough was said. He responded, “Today thou shall be with me in Paradise.” This was God’s gift to him; His son would take on the sins of this man, and pay the price for his atonement. This thief didn’t deserve it, but because of his faith he became Jesus' first trophy of Salvation.
The other thief had the same choice, but his heart was hard.
First Timothy 2:4 says, “God our savior wants all men to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth…and that the man, Christ Jesus gave himself as a ransom for all men.”
Therefore Christ wanted to take both of these men to Heaven with Him, but it was not to be. Christ was supplying the grace, but faith has to come from realization, belief, and acceptance, and this thief was incapable of it. Faith is knowing that you are a sinner, believing that Christ is the only one who can save you, and accepting His gift of salvation. One of the thieves saw through the muck and the mire of his life and realized this truth just in the nick of time; the other did not. Why could one see and not the other?
Ephesians 2: 8, 9, says: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith, and not from yourself, it is the gift of God- not of works, so that no one can boast.”
These two men represented everyone, each and every one of us. They were symbolic in the sense that they were obviously both depraved sinners, as indeed we all are. No matter how good we may appear, how many great achievements we may have accomplished we all must take our place on one of the crosses next to Jesus. No one is good enough in God’s sight for we all fall short of the glory of God. No one can get down off of the cross without Christ. It is not works that frees us, but rather faith and belief in Him. Each and every person must therefore be brought to the cross to hang there next to Jesus to examine our life and make our choice. The symbolism here is just as poignant as to have been written out in scripture. What is being shown to us here is each person at sometime, at some place will have an opportunity to be judged, and will have to reach out and say to Christ, “Save me Lord”.
God created man in His likeness – He gave Adam and Eve a free will, free from the constraints of instincts, free to build their own faith and trust in the Lord. Their lack of faith plunged us all into despair and left us all with a legacy of being lost in sin and a need to be redeemed. For this we must all be brought back to the cross where the Holy Spirit awaits each of us where He will decide if you have the right heart to accept the grace that is being offered to everyone.
The heart of a man through out the whole Bible indicates a meaning of the heart being the whole person – the mind, the body, the soul, the very essence of a man.
The other thief wanted Christ to perform an earthly miracle. He wanted instant gratification. He knew of Christ’s miracles and power. He knew of Christ’s grace, but because he didn’t have the proper heart to receive it graciously, or the insight of the other thief to see that Christ’s kingdom was not of this world, salvation was not offered. Be clear, however, that Christ’s grace was still given regardless of the man. He was paying for everyone’s sin, but since this man had no faith, the salvation for him could not and did not take place.
So why are these two men so different? What must have happened during their lives to bring them to the same place, at the same time with such different hearts.
In Genesis 1:1 The Bible says, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” This teaches that the world did not come into being by chance or the Big Bang, as an atheist might say. Even so, both beliefs are inextricably linked to faith. One believes in a Creator but has no real proof, or one does not, but both take faith. If an unbeliever asks a believer “Who created God?” they get back the answer, “God always was”, but on the flip side, when an atheist is asked, “who created all the atoms or sub atomic particles or energy that makes up the universe?”, and they mumble some things about bubble, or super-string theories, we see that each position boils down to faith. Even though Christians might believe they have evidence in Christ, His miracles, and teachings, or in the wonders of God’s creation, they must acknowledge that much of it is really based on a philosophical belief, an acceptance based on our internal logic. For a myriad of reasons our mind naturally gathers in data and draws conclusions. Our daily walk brings us ever closer to the cross, and the choices we make everyday – about the music we listen to, the books we read, the movies we watch, the friends we choose –all help to shape our mind and prepare our heart. Do we view the glass half empty or half full? Do we give praise for the roses or curse the thorns? What shapes and molds a person’s heart? Surely the parents, but also teachers and friends around us. A person’s heart is built surely as a bunch of construction workers build a bridge.
Somewhere, at some point in ours lives, we all make a choice, we established a belief in the existence or non-existence of God. To the agnostics or fence walkers all the information that comes to them must seem like just confusing bits of information or they just have a reluctance to commit.
Once that choice is made and a position is taken, one then begins to build upon it. Everything we are or ever can be, believe now or will ever believe in the future, is predicated on taking this position on a belief in or rejection of God. This act then begins a “bias phase” for the person - a process that begins to soften or harden heart. Then as one goes about examining the evidence on earth, or in the universe, he or she fits the information they learn neatly into their present thinking or rationale, adopting it or rejecting it as it were, according to their own particular bias. Our built in prejudices then prevent us from examining the evidence objectively, and there’s virtually no way to be without these influences once you’ve made a commitment to a particular belief.
C.S. Lewis touches on this in his writing. You’ll recall when he discusses miracles, he points out that the same thing happens with them. When a person has a preconception against them, no matter how many miracles he witnesses he will always formulate some sort of rationale to explain them away. On the other hand, he says that a person who believes in some reality beyond nature can accept them, although he may not attribute them necessarily to God. For example, he may believe in ghosts or extra-terrestrials, but the point is, one has the preconceived idea before he formulates a cause. This also explains why our most learned scientists end up in juxtapositions in regards to the evolution verses creation controversy.
Man is capable of only thinking clearly in an earthly plane of existence. For example we may try to imagine life without time, but we have no accurate way to really evaluate it. God, however, stands outside of the fabric of time, so naturally He can see the future and knows the decisions that we mortals will make. As for the case of the two thieves, especially in light of the short amount of time they had to evaluate their lives, making the correct choice solely on their own, because of their sinful nature, would have been impossible. God must have enlightened, at least for one of the one thieves -opened his eyes to His truth, for him to be capable of making the correct choice. It is my opinion that God grants this when the condition of the heart is right, when the intent of the person is genuinely attempting to seek the truth without an agenda, when he or she is seeking truth for purity, and righteousness’ sake, and not for greed, self-indulgence or conquest, then the Holy Spirit quickens the heart so the person can see the truth. The person with a prepared heart, as in the case of the one thief, is then able to see the truth and then and only then has the choice of accepting Him as his savior.
Truth, infinitely important, is indifferent to what we believe, absolute, never gray, and, despite being difficult to get at, is ultimately clear and concise. All knowledge stems from God, both individually and collectively. But on the individual level there seems to be a clever balance that exists. The pendulum never seems to be weighted until that moment. This gives the person the freedom to choose. If the scales were heavily weighted in favor of choosing God, it would be easy, but God seems to allow just enough doubt to exist so one always has to stand at a precipice and then make what Soren Kirkegaard calls ‘a leap of faith.’ Every man or woman who searches for truth and purpose will eventually come to this point where he or she must either accept God as a personal God or reject Him. They will all make their way to the cross or be brought like the two thieves, for there is no other way.
Once saved God will work on you with the Holy Spirit to make you Christ like for Romans 8:28 says: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose, for those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son…and those he predestined; He also justified…”
So both election and choice are part of God’s plan for man. That is God’s nature. God continues to enter into the fabric of time, and be involved with us when it serves His purpose. He did it with His Son Jesus, with Saul, and He’ll do it with you as well.