23:33 When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.
23:34 Then Jesus said, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing." And they cast lots to divide his clothing.
23:35 And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, "He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!"
23:36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine,
23:37 and saying, "If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!"
23:38 There was also an inscription over him, "This is the King of the Jews."
23:39 One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, "Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!"
23:40 But the other rebuked him, saying, "Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?
23:41 And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong."
23:42 Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."
23:43 He replied, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise."
Look at what the thief on the cross says. He lived his whole life apart from God, and yet here, when he "gets it," he does three things.
1. He rebukes evil. The other criminal does not get it. He mocks Jesus and says, "Are you not the Christ?" (He does not believe that Jesus is). "Save yourself and us!" Show us a proof, a sign, a miracle. When someone demands a miracle, we can be assured that he won't believe, even if the miracle takes place. Abraham tells the rich man that his family will not believe, even if someone comes back from the dead. Also, Jesus IS in the process of saving the thieves. He is in the process of saving the whole world, but only those who accept the gift will receive it. Even though Jesus' sacrifice on the cross is sufficient for the whole world, the only people who receive it are the ones to whom the Holy Spirit applies it.
So, the saved thief rebukes the lost thief. "Do you not even fear God?" There seem to be two kinds of lost people: those who do not believe in God and those who do not fear God. Belief in existence is not enough. One has to know who God is, and when we know God, we fear him: a healthy respect, awe, and worship. So many people do not believe in God, but when they do, they don't take him seriously. They are essentially deists.
2. He confesses the gospel with repentance. Next, the thief confesses his understanding of the gospel. He says to the lost thief that both of them are under the same condemnation as Jesus but that they DESERVE the penalty and the punishment but Jesus does not. This is the gospel in a nutshell. Once we understand the magnitude of our sin and the righteousness of Christ, and that he suffered on our behalf, and that this switch is the ultimate divine act, we actually understand more about Christianity that most. This is also a form of repentance, the idea that we understand that we DESERVE the penalty, and we turn from our sin and toward Christ.
3. He ASKS the Lord to remember him. As Christ says in the sermon on the mount: Ask and it shall be given to you, seek and you shall find. The last thing the saved thief does is ask Jesus to remember him when he comes into his kingdom. He acknowledges who Christ is: the king! He merely asks to remember him, with no expectations that he will be there too. Just as Joseph asks the cupbearer to remember him, and the cupbearer forgets, Jesus, however, not only remembers but has already made plans for the thief to be with him in paradise.
When we despair and say, how hard it is to get to heaven! The way is so narrow! Remember, all we have to do is ask. Ask as the thief asked: remember me. Of course, we won't ask if we don't reject evil and understand the gospel, but never fear: according to Colossians 1:13:
1:13 He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son,
God overcomes our rebellion. He compels us to reject evil, he leads us to repentance, and he prompts us to ask.