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The Thief On The Cross

by Robert Garrett

RobertGarrett(Transcribed from the Words of Life Radio Broadcast)

We all know the story of how Jesus was crucified between two thieves. We read that in Luke 23 verses 32 to 43 where we read that two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. When they came to the place called the skull, there they crucified him along with the criminals, one on his right, the other on his left.

Then we jump down to verse 39. One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him. Are you the Christ? Save yourself and us. But the other criminal rebuked him. Don’t you fear God, he said, since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong. Then he said: Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. Jesus answered him: I tell you the truth. Today you will be with me in paradise.
So there in that story you see that one thief entered into eternal life. The other thief went into eternal damnation. And these typify all mankind. Those two men who were crucified one on each side of Jesus represent all mankind where there are only two kinds of people, the saved and the lost.

One of our church members in Harari came to me with a question. He had been conversing with a man who belonged to a certain denomination. This man insisted that baptism was not necessary to salvation. The reason he gave was that the thief on the cross was saved without being baptized. Therefore, he claimed, it is not necessary for believers to be baptized today. That idea, of course, is not new. That idea has been around for ages. The advocates of that teaching show a woeful and dangerous ignorance of the Scriptures as well as an appalling disrespect for our Lord Jesus Christ whom they claim to serve. It was Jesus who commanded baptism.

Some people claim to have confessed Jesus as Lord and yet refuse to obey him. They can give very fancy arguments to nullify our Lord’s commands, but Jesus spoke of these very people in Luke 6:46 where he said: ‘Why do you call me Lord, Lord and do not do what I say?” And, again, in Matthew 7:21: ‘Not everyone who says to me: Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.’

Now it is true, of course, that it was impossible for that man to be baptized as he hung and eventually died on that cross. But the argument that, therefore, we need not be baptized comes, I repeat, from a woeful and dangerous ignorance of the Scriptures.

Let us consider and examine a few reasons that expose that false and dangerous argument. First of all, the thief lived and died under the old covenant. So whether he was baptized or not baptized is completely immaterial. We today are under the new covenant. The baptism Jesus commanded in Matthew 28:19 and Mark 16:16 belongs to the new covenant. We read in Hebrews 9:15 that Christ is the mediator of a new covenant and also in Hebrews 12:24 tells us that we have come to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant.

After his resurrection Jesus commanded his apostles and through them he commands us in Matthew 28 verse 18 to 20. Jesus came to them and said: ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always to the very end of the age.’

Then in Mark 16 and verses 15 to 16 he said to them: ‘Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.’

Then Peter on the day of Pentecost speaking by the Holy Spirit passed that command on to us. He said: ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’

Now Peter did not say be baptized to show you have been forgiven, as some falsely claim today. Nor did he tell them to say the modern sinners’ prayer that is popular in certain circles today, nor did he tell them to raise their hands. No, he told them very clearly what God required. Repent and be baptized every one of you, not just a select few, but every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Now baptism is not a work of merit. It is an act of faith, obedient faith. Faith is not faith without obedience.

Now the second thing about that claim that the thief on the cross was not baptized, on the surface that seems to be correct, because it is obvious he could not get down off that cross and go get himself baptized. However, it is much more likely than not that this man had been baptized sometime within the past three years and had backslidden. His speech indicated a prior knowledge of Jesus. He could have personally heard Jesus preach the kingdom of God or heard it from someone else, because he knew and believed Jesus would return and set up his kingdom.

Consider, in Matthew three verses five to six it says that people went out to him—that is, to John—from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. And Mark 1:5 the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him—that is, to John—confessing their sins. They were baptized by him in the Jordan River. And Luke 7:29. All the people, even the tax collectors, when they heard Jesus’ words, acknowledged that God’s way was right because they had been baptized by John. And in John 8:22-26: After this, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside where he spent some time with them and baptized.   Now John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salem because there was plenty of water. And people were constantly coming to be baptized. They came to John and said to him: Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan, the one you testified about, well, he is baptizing and everyone is going to him.   Then in John four verses one and two the Pharisees heard that Jesus was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John, although, in fact, it was not Jesus who baptized, but this disciples.

Therefore, knowing these facts, we cannot say with certainty that this man had never been baptized. The possibility that he had been baptized and then backslidden as so many do even today is very likely. He knew who Jesus was. And he believed that Jesus would return and set up his kingdom.

Paul explained to those believers in Acts 19 verses one to eight that John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance preparing for the coming of Jesus. That baptism now, after the new covenant came into effect, was no longer valid. So when they heard that they were baptized into Christ. They did not protest that the thief on the cross was saved without baptism.

It is true, of course, that the thief on the cross was not baptized with the baptism that Jesus and the apostles commanded beginning in Acts 2:38. However, as previously explained, baptism is not material, because he was under the old covenant. The baptism of Acts 2:38 belongs entirely to the new covenant.

Thirdly, and now, my friend, I want to say something that may surprise you and that is this. If you want to be saved, you must be saved like the thief on the cross. What, you ask. Are you now saying that I do not need to be baptized? No. You see, the thief was saved because he was crucified with Christ and you cannot be saved unless you are also crucified with Christ.

Let me explain. The apostle Paul in Galatians chapter three verse 20 said of himself: I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. Now how and when was Paul crucified with Christ? As far as we know, Paul had never met Jesus Christ. And yet he says: I was crucified with Christ. Well let us remember the words of Ananias to Paul where he said to him: Now what are you waiting for? Get up. Be baptized and wash away your sins calling on his name. That is in Acts 22:16.

Now Paul later explains that it is when we are baptized that we are counted as crucified with Christ. We read Romans six verses three to six. All of us who are baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death. We were, therefore, buried with him through baptism into death in order that just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father we, too, may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with. So in order to be saved like the thief on the cross, you must be baptized, according to the command of Jesus himself and his holy apostles, because the Scripture tells us that it is when we are baptized, it is then at that time that God counts us as having entered into the death of Christ.

Notice these phrases in that Scripture. We are counted as being buried with him through baptism into death, united with him like this in his death, crucified with him. So it is when we are baptized that we are counted as crucified with Christ.

Remember again the words of Ananias to Paul. What are you waiting for? Get up. Be baptized and wash away your sins calling on his name. So Paul tells us that it is when he was baptized that he was counted as having been crucified with Christ.

Now then in Romans chapter 10 verses nine through 13 we read: If you confess with your mouth Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame. For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

Again, remember the words of Ananias to Paul. And now what are you waiting for? Get up. Be baptized and wash your sins away calling on his name. The so-called sinners’ prayer would be quite appropriate here when connected with baptism. Unfortunately many modern preachers mislead their converts by failing to preach the whole counsel of God.

Peter tells us: Remember that Jesus gave to Peter the keys of the kingdom. And Peter tells us in 1 Peter 3:21: This water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also, not the removal of dirt from the body, but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Then in Galatians 3:26 and 27 we read that you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.

Baptism is not a work of merit. It is an act of faith, obedient faith and faith is not faith without obedience.

Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us that it is by grace you have been saved through faith and this is not from yourselves. It is the gift of God, not by works so that no one can boast. But baptism is not a work. Signing your name to a gift check is not a work of merit. It does not lessen the gift. If someone gives you a check of a million dollars payable to you and you go to the bank and you want to cash that check, you have to sign it. But your signing it is not a work of merit. It does not mean that you now earn that money. No, it is still a gift. Baptism is not a work of merit. It is an act of faith, obedient faith. Faith is not faith without obedience. For the Scripture says: The righteous shall live by faith. Jesus is Lord. The fait that saves is always obedient faith. There is no other kind.

We have been crucified with Christ and it is now Christ who lives in us. We died with him and we are raised to walk in newness of life. The Christian life is then to be an outworking of that truth. Therefore, according to Romans 12:1 we are to present our bodies as a living sacrifice to God. This is because when we were baptized we were crucified with him.

The command of our Lord Jesus in Matthew 28 and Mark 16 has not been superseded. It has not been changed. The Holy Spirit did not direct these modern day preachers to instruct potential converts to raise their hands if they wanted to accept Christ or tell them to say what they call the sinners’ prayer or ask them to sign a statement of faith or ask them to simply pray asking Jesus to come into their heart without connecting that to baptism. The words the Holy Spirit spoke 2000 years go have the same validity and power today. God has not changed it. It is just as necessary today as it was then when the Holy Spirit commanded: Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. That is Acts 2:38.

No one can enter into eternal life unless he is clothed with the Lord Jesus Christ. We must put off our old filthy garments of sin and be clothed with Christ. And it is when we are baptized, immersed in water in the name of Jesus, that God counts us as having been clothed with Jesus Christ. But the Holy Spirit declares very clearly in Galatians 3:26 and 27: You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. Do not be deceived by someone who would tell you that the baptism in that verse or in Romans six is not water baptism, but it is Holy Spirit baptism. Nothing could be further from the truth. Baptism when it stands alone without any qualifying phrases, as it does in this verse, it always means immersion in water. If it is used symbolically or metaphorically, a qualifying phrase is always present. If one is to be baptized or immersed in the Holy Spirit it specifically states that very fact. If there is no qualifying phrase present, then it always means immersion in water.

Oh, my friend, have you been crucified with Christ? Have you been clothed with Christ? If not, we urge you to turn to Christ today. Don’t delay. If we can help you in any way, please let us know.

 

                   Robert Garrett is a missionary to Zimbabwe. When not in Zimbabwe, he resides in Louisville, KY  

                                            with his wife, Joy.

 




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Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.

2 corinthians 1:3-4