Jesus Christ died between two thieves who were companions in crime. On the surface they seem to be alike, but they were as far apart as day and night. There is a largeness about the one that tells an interesting story. And there is a pettiness about the other that sticks out further than his wickedness. When I talk of bigness and smallness, I am not speaking of physical size, but moral qualities. Some of the finest people I have ever met had little education and little wealth. And some of the most worthless people in the world are those who are famous and rich. Hitler was well-known but had the soul of a leech. Some of Hollywood’s greats have household names, but I would not want my children to pattern their lives after some of them. With Bibles opened to Luke 33:33-43, let us contrast these two outlaws.
- The Smallness of the One. Since little is known from his statement (v. 39), Calvary becomes a small picture window through which we view this man’s soul and his pettiness. His mouth spewed out insults, blasphemies, and verbal abuse at Jesus whom he hardly knew. He was only copying what the crowd and soldiers were doing (v. 35-36). Or, he may have heard stories about Jesus that prejudiced him against the Savior. It is even possible that his small heart was filled with envy when hearing of the greatness of Jesus. Envy was born with a murderer’s club in its hand when Cain murdered Abel, his brother, and it continues to this day.
His smallness is seen in what he blared to Christ: “Some Messiah you are! Save yourself! Save us” (v. 39 MSG)! It was like that self-centered, blasphemous prayer the Pharisee offered who thanked God that he was not like other sinners (Luke18:11). Beloved, our prayers and testimony should be selfless. But did his prayer not ask for salvation? Yes, it did. But his prayer was not to be saved from sin, have peace with God, and abundant life. He wanted to be saved from death! This robber’s smallness became a hinderance to himself and to others. Somebody once said: “One reason the flea is such a pest is because it is so small.” Many marriages fail, not because of gross sins, but due to jealousy, envy, and wrong attitudes. These are the little foxes that spoil the vines (SNG 2:15). Had this criminal prayed the sinner’s prayer as his companion did in verse 42, he too would have gone to Paradise. Jesus never answered this man’s prayer. Are our prayers sometimes so small and selfish that God cannot answer them? Think about it.
The only cure for littleness of heart is to face it ourselves and confess it to God. Meet insults, trials, defeats, and the success of others, in the power of the Lord. Determine to meet littleness with bigness. When Mr. Stanton called President Lincoln “the original gorilla,” Lincoln responded by making him Secretary of State! Be sure the Lord is in your life. Remember, as you know and grow in God’s likeness and grace, you will have the capacity within for greatness of soul!
- The Largeness of the Other. Scripture is silent as to what crimes had these two committed. They may have been zealots plotting against Rome, or common criminals such as thieves, and even killers. But had this man realized that before the day was over, he would be praying to the figure on the center cross and ushered into Heaven, he would never have believed it. Notice in his prayer:
A. He saw Jesus. Everything was against this man. The religious crowd was accusing the Savior, the soldiers were mocking Him with curses, and his companion joined in with insults. He heard Jesus pray and ask the Father to forgive these enemies who did not realize what they were doing. Praying for one’s executioner was something He had never heard of before.
B. He saw Jesus as King. A sign above Jesus read: “This is the King of the Jews.” To the crowd, it was a big joke. If Jesus was a king, why was His throne a cross; His crown, one of thorns; and His scepter, the rusty nails that held Him there? His royal robe was in the hands of Roman soldiers. But this man saw Jesus as a sinless King (verse 41).
C. He saw himself as a sinner. As he observed the godliness of the Savior, He realized his own sinfulness and just rewards. He would never have reached this conclusion had he only looked at his comrade in crime, or the hypocrites shouting below. He perceived a hope from his sinfulness and despair.
This simple prayer was “Lord, remember me when You come into your kingdom” (v. 42). He prayed first for his need, and demonstrated faith when he said: “when,” not “if “you come into Your kingdom.” Jesus’ answer to this outlaw’s prayer was a future life with Him in Heaven! This would not take place in some far off tomorrow. It would happen that day at death when they would be together in Paradise! This outlaw never got baptized or took a membership class to join a church. It was a death bed experience for him. And if this criminal could trust Jesus and gain eternal life, surely anyone else who comes to Him by faith today He will not cast out (John 6:37).
Dear readers, God wants us to repent and trust His Son not only for eternal life, but for a quality of life here on earth. What a fitting time of the year to do this as we remember God’s Son whose death, burial, and resurrection made all this possible.