Matthew 27:38, 44; Mark 15:27, 32b; Luke 23:32, 39-43; John 19:18
No One Gets Left Behind – No One
I am told that the Marines have a saying just like this. How very much like Jesus, for today we take up the thief on the cross who put his faith in Jesus just hours before his final breath. And what amazes me about this entire event is that Jesus is “on his last leg.” He has been forsaken, beaten, whipped, mocked, scourged, crucified, and now mocked again while hanging from the cross: Man’s inhumanity to man on full display. How wretched must he have felt, how betrayed, how despised such that even in terrible pain and dying people laugh at and mock and curse him. The purpose of the cross was not just to inflict inconceivable pain, but to publicly humiliate and completely strip one of any and all human dignity. Even birds of prey would come and pick the flesh while one was dying.
And yet even in this miserable condition, our Lord has time for one more soul. Now understand that Matthew and Mark tell us that the thieves mocked Jesus the same as the crowd. So we must assume that this man was doing the same. But something happens to him in the interval of time that had passed while on the cross. I wonder if it was hearing Jesus pray, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” that not only touched but broke his heart. Here he is dying, and deservedly so, as he later confesses, feeling nothing but hate in his heart. But then he hears Jesus say this! He knew then that he was in the presence of a different kind of man. And upon hearing the other thief attack Jesus for doing nothing for them, crying, “Save yourself, and us,” he rebukes him.
Listen to what the repentant thief answers, “Do you not fear God since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” You see, the one coming to saving faith in Christ does not justify himself before God and others; he owns that he is a wretched sinner who deserves whatever his lot, and undeserving of anything but death and hell. Until one comes to this personal recognition, one cannot be saved, for salvation is predicated upon repentance, which the thief expresses here, and faith, which he expresses moments later when he says, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”
And Jesus answers, “This day you will be with me in Paradise.” It didn’t matter how much Jesus was hurting at that moment; a soul needed saving, and our Lord will leave no one behind. He is semper fidelis.