I wrote this a year ago but that was before I was a contributor to FGGAM. When I wrote this piece we were in Holy Week and although we celebrated Holy Week already I am thinking it might be something that can help explain to another just one more thing about Holy Week and the meaning of forgiveness and repenting of one’s sins.
April 3, 2015 ~ I’ve long thought about the penitent thief on the cross. In this Holy Week it is never far from my mind and I decided it was time I educated myself just a little bit more about him. Back in the mid-1970s when I was taking my confirmation classes, I was close to being confirmed but I had to take a test, recite the Ten Commandments and also recite from the Catechism although I cannot remember that part at all. Then after I had completed these things I had a one-on-one session with the pastor to go over the test and maybe answer some questions and/or make any statements. I do remember a part of that exchange with my confirmation pastor. I will have to paraphrase some though as I cannot remember the dialog at all. But I asked the pastor if it could ever be too late to accept Jesus as our Savior. He assured me that there will be a time that it would be too late for someone to repent but he talked of the thief on the cross who did repent and accept Jesus Christ as his Savior as he was dying. That talk with him has been something that I have held onto for over 40 years. So maybe it is time I learn more about the penitent thief.
Some years ago I had heard that the penitent thief was named Dismas but I’ve found that to be more legend than not. His name is not recorded anywhere and he is called, Titus, Dismas or Dysmas, Demas, Zoatham, or Rakh. That would depend upon which form of religion a person adheres to in what name they might call him. I did find one place where the unrepentant thief was named “Gestas” but this was the first time I have found this little piece of information.
Both convicts who were crucified with Jesus mocked him at first but one of them evidently knew that he was wrong and after the other convict mocked Jesus again telling Jesus that if he really was the Messiah, then he should save himself and then save them. 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.” ~ Luke 23:39-41 +++
Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” ~ Luke 23:42-43 +++
The penitent thief recognized his sins and guilt and at that moment knew Jesus to be the Son of God and that He had the power to give him the grace of eternal salvation. The penitent thief knew that there would be life after death; either living with God in heaven or to be cast out and away from God. The thief knew he could never count on his own merits and deeds to save him. He knew it is never too late to repent as long as he could breathe and talk but that at some point it would be too late. He put his whole trust into the salvation that only Jesus can give.
Jesus said to the thief on the cross who repented “Today (Present tense) you will be with me in paradise“ (Luke 23:43 +++). This thief was neither baptized nor partook of the Lords supper. He believed and was promised to be with Jesus. He only believed…..what confidence he had gained in such a crucial moment!
There might be some that think that if that criminal on the cross next to Jesus can go to heaven, well then maybe they can too and without all the trouble of repenting their sins and asking for His forgiveness. That can possibly be a fatal flaw. They might be ignoring some key things about salvation and grace. The penitent thief admitted his sins and asked for his forgiveness and to be remembered when Jesus entered His kingdom. Those are very key points.
We are to remember that there were three crosses there on Calvary Hill. It might be wise to also recognize that there might be some significant things about each one. The cross that Jesus was nailed to is one that we all know the reason to remember it. Jesus went to the cross to die for us; to die for our sins; so that we can have that chance at eternal salvation that the grace of God can give us. The second cross is something that can tell us that it isn’t too late to repent; to give all of our trust to Jesus; that if we do this we can receive His grace. The third one should be the one we fear the most. It can symbolize the death that we face, to be banished forever away from God into the depths of hell.
Of the Gospels, only Luke tells us of the penitent thief and he doesn’t name him so we aren’t sure of the name, just the circumstances. Holy Week has been a wonderful time for me these past 5 years after I started learning more and more about Jesus. It makes me thirst for more and more knowledge with each passing year.
Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many and made intercession for the transgressors. ~ Isaiah 53:12