The conventional and natural expectation is that one has to be “successful” in an area as a condition for people to seek his/her help in whatever area it is. Based on this, it was natural for one of the thieves to have expected Jesus to free Himself first, or at least show signs that He was about to do so before he (the thief) could ask Jesus to save him.
At one time, after boarding a plane, my attention was caught by the implications of the safety procedures that are usually taken before the plane takes off. What caught my attention especially was the instruction that in case of emergency where oxygen masks or life vests are to be won those who have children must wear those gadgets first before they could help their children. The intention here is not to criticize this arrangement but isn’t this the general psyche that rules our lives—minister to yourself first before you attend to others; or, before others recognise that you are capable of something you must have done it to yourself first. This is what one of the thieves said: Save yourself (first), then save us.
“One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” (Luke 23:39, NIV).
Christ must have said in His heart: I wished you knew that I can still save you without saving Myself.
Yes! Christ could save even if He didn’t save Himself. The very act of Him not saving Himself was the same act that would save mankind, the scolding thief included but, regrettably, he didn’t know this. No wonder the Lord had prayed asking God to forgive His executors since they didn’t know what they were doing. In all this confusion where many people didn’t know many things, the repentant thief knew something—he could still call on the dying Man to save him from death.
This Man had been talking big, equating Himself with God and now here He is crying and dying. But the repentant thief conquered the pain that would have naturally forced him to do what the other thief was doing—complaining, berating and cursing. For the repentant thief, the mountain of disgrace became the mountain of grace. He was hoisted on the mountain of a disgraceful death but it was high enough to place him in a position to see Jesus. The hoisting made him see in the horizon—well beyond the immediate circumstances, he saw Grace at the horizon and did the unthinkable—calling a dying Man to save him.