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THE THIEF’S ADVANTAGES

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord’s Day Evening, February 14, 2010

“And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:42-43).


I have preached many sermons on the conversion of the dying thief. But tonight I will focus on one simple thought – the advantages that this man had, who was nailed to a cross beside Jesus. “Advantages,” you may say, “what advantages? Why, he was in a miserable condition! How can you say he had any advantage at all?”

There are some of you here tonight who have heard Gospel preaching since you were children. You have been taught, and warned, and invited – and yet you have not come to Christ. Yet this man, who had none of those seeming advantages, trusted Christ in a very short time! This thief accuses you! Why have you waited so long in unbelief? What more can I say to you? What more can anyone say to you? And yet it seems to me that this thief did have several advantages over you, several benefits that made his case more hopeful than yours.

I. First, he had the advantage of not seeing the bad example of others.

He had not been with the Disciples. He had not seen Judas go out from them and betray his Lord. He had not seen the others forsake Him and flee. He had not heard Peter deny Him. If he had seen these bad examples he may well have thought, “The very idea of conversion is false! Why, look, none of those who followed Him are standing up for Him today! The whole idea of conversion is only an illusion!”

I don’t know why, but bad examples seem to be an excuse for many. When I was a boy and came to church I saw very little genuine Christianity in those around me. All they did was fuss and fight with each other. I saw two church splits before I was converted. And yet, somehow, God seemed to say to me that their sin did not disprove the Gospel. Their evil actions only made me think that they were incorrigible sinners! And, with that thought, I was protected by the grace of God from turning away in despair, and thinking that the whole idea of salvation was a lie! By the grace of God I was allowed to see,

“If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?” (I John 4:20).

But this thief did not have to go through that. There were no false Christians there as he hung on the cross beside Jesus. There were only those who hated Jesus openly. So he had the blessing of not being confused by false Christians.

II. Second, he had the advantage of being closed off from bad counselors.

There he was, alone on the cross. He had no one to counsel him but Jesus Himself. Very few have that blessing in these days of apostasy. You have to be warned that there are many professing Christians,

“Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away” (II Timothy 3:5).

“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine…And they shall turn away their ears from the truth”
       (II Timothy 4:3, 4).

The thief on the cross had the benefit of not receiving bad suggestions from so-called “Christians” like that, who surround us in the last days.

One young person, who has come to our church, has a roommate who continually gives him bad advice. He told this young man to get rid of the King James Bible and get a slovenly “new” translation. He told him that he needed to be baptized to become a Christian. The thief had no one to confuse him like that. He was closed off from bad advice, shut off from bad counselors. That was indeed a benefit that few who are seeking salvation have today.

When I was a teenager, before I was converted, many people gave me bad advice. I heard one false idea after the other about salvation. I can only say that it was the sheer the grace of God that kept me from listening to them. Somehow, by the grace of God, I was able to tell the difference between the voice of Jesus and the voice of the world. Jesus Himself said,

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27).

I listened to my pastor, for I could hear the voice of Jesus in his preaching. I listened to Dr. Charles J. Woodbridge, and was converted under his preaching, because – by the sheer grace of God – I could hear the voice of Jesus in his preaching.

But the thief had the benefit of not being able to hear anyone but Jesus! The thief was near Jesus as He carried His Cross toward the place of execution. The thief heard Jesus speak to the wailing women that followed Him. He heard Jesus say to them,

“Weep not for me, but weep for yourselves” (Luke 23:28).

Thus, he knew that he needed to be convicted of sin. After he was nailed to a cross beside Jesus, he heard the Saviour pray,

“Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do”
       (Luke 23:34).

Thus, he knew that Jesus was praying for him to be converted.

“Father, forgive them!” thus did He pray,
   E’en while His life-blood flowed fast away;
Praying for sinners while in such woe –
   No one but Jesus ever loved so.
Blessed Redeemer! Precious Redeemer!
   Seems now I see Him on Calvary’s tree;
Wounded and bleeding, for sinners pleading –
   Blind and unheeding – dying for me!
(“Blessed Redeemer” by Avis B. Christiansen, 1895-1985).

The thief was converted because he listened to the voice of Jesus! May you be given grace to turn away from false counselors, and bad advice, and listen only to the Saviour’s voice!

III. Third, he had the advantage of not being able to do any good works.

Since he was nailed to a cross he could not be baptized. Strangely, even today, some people think that baptism will help them be saved. By the sheer grace of God, such a thought never entered my mind. I was baptized immediately when I first went to a Baptist church, but somehow – by the grace of God – I knew this would not help me. I was still unconverted, but I knew that baptism was only an outward sign, and had nothing to do with salvation.

Many Chinese parents have the superstitious idea that baptism makes you a Christian. That’s why they will let their children come to church, but will not let them be baptized. They think that baptism is the real thing that will take their children away from them, and make them Christians! What an odd idea that is! And the conversion of this thief should put an end to it – if you have had that thought. He was saved without being baptized! Baptism is an outward work, and it is

“Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us…” (Titus 3:5).

“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

The thief was never baptized, and yet Jesus said to him,

“To day shalt thou be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).

It is right to be baptized – after you are saved! But baptism will do you no good at all if you are still in an unconverted state! Millions have gone to Hell even though they were baptized! Marx, and Darwin, and Hitler, and Stalin, and Mao Tse Tung were all baptized. But their Satanic lives show that none of them were saved. Even though they were baptized, they are undoubtedly now burning in the flames of Hell. Yet this thief was saved, without baptism, and is now with Christ in Paradise! This shows that he was saved through faith in Jesus, not by baptism! Come to Jesus. Be washed clean from sin by His Blood. That is the only way to experience real salvation!

IV. Fourth, he had the advantage of knowing he couldn’t be saved by
learning more.

The idea that you become a Christian by “learning more” is a strong delusion that Satan uses to keep Orientals from being saved. I ask them, “How do you hope to be saved?” They often answer, “By learning more.” What a delusion! Look at the priests and Pharisees that mocked Jesus, and cried out for Him to be crucified! Those men knew the Bible by heart! And yet they rejected the Saviour of whom the Bible speaks! They were

“Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (II Timothy 3:7).

On the other hand, the thief had the advantage of knowing that his life was over – and that there was no time left for him to “learn more.” He knew that he had to trust Christ right then, or he would be forever lost. And so, with the little knowledge he had, he trusted the Saviour. And the very moment he trusted Jesus he was saved – for Jesus said to him,

“To day shalt thou be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).

Jesus Himself made it clear that anyone who comes to Him will be saved. He said,

“Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out” (John 6:37).

On the day of Pentecost three thousand people trusted Jesus and were instantly saved. The jailer at Philippi asked, “What must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30). He trusted Jesus and was instantly converted. And that is exactly what happened to this thief. As soon as he came under conviction of his sin he trusted Jesus. And the moment he trusted Jesus he was saved! That’s why Jesus said to him,

“To day shalt thou be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).

Joseph Hart was raised in a Christian home. He heard the Gospel from childhood, but he would not come to Jesus. At last he surrendered to the Saviour. He was saved in that moment. After long years of struggle and rebellion he was able to write,

The moment a sinner believes
   And trusts in his crucified God,
His pardon at once he receives,
   Redemption in full through His blood.
(“The Moment a Sinner Believes” by Joseph Hart, 1712-1768).

Yes, the thief had the advantage of knowing he could not be saved by “learning more” – and neither can you! You already know far more than he did! Now it is time for you to stop learning and come to Jesus! The moment you trust Him you will be converted.

V. Fifth, he had the advantage of knowing that he, himself, had to
trust Jesus.

After the service last Sunday night I asked an inquirer, “What has Jesus Christ done for you?” He answered by saying, “He died for us.” Notice that he did not answer my question. I said, “What has He done for you?” He answered, “He died for us.” That is the wrong answer because people are not saved in groups. “What has Jesus done for you?” His answer showed that he was only learning to repeat words – and was still not convicted of sin. The thief would never have entertained such a notion! The thief knew that he was a terrible sinner, and he said to so the other thief. He was under such conviction of sin that he trusted Jesus and said,

“Lord, remember me” (Luke 23:42).

He did not say, “Remember us.” No, he knew that it was him who needed to be remembered! He needed to be saved – not someone else. So he said, “Lord, remember me.” When you see that it is “you” – not “us” that needs Jesus – you will be saved – but not before.

Blessed Redeemer! Precious Redeemer!
   Seems now I see Him on Calvary’s tree;
Wounded and bleeding, for sinners pleading –
   Blind and unheeding – dying for me!

“Dying for me.” When you see that blessed truth, as the thief saw it, then you may trust Him who died to pay for your sins. The Apostle Paul said,

“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief” (I Timothy 1:15).

“Dying for me!” Dying to pay the penalty for my sin! But there is one more advantage that the thief had that some of you do not have.

VI. Sixth, he had the advantage of knowing he wasn’t saved.

That is really a great blessing – one that some of you do not have. You think that you may already be saved, when you really are not. What a deadly poison there is in such false assurance! The Pharisees of Jesus’ time “trusted in themselves that they were righteous” (Luke 18:9). The Pharisees said, “We see.” Jesus said, “therefore your sin remaineth” (John 9:41). The Pharisees thought they were saved, but they were really lost.

True conviction of sin cannot occur when a person thinks he may be saved already. You must be brought low before Christ lifts you up. I quoted from the Book of James this morning,

“Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness” (James 4:9).

Jesus said to the wailing women,

“Weep not for me, but weep for yourselves” (Luke 23:28).

The converted thief knew he was lost. To the other thief, he said,

“Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds” (Luke 23:40-41).

He had the advantage of knowing for sure that he was lost. There was no question in his mind about it. He knew he was a lost sinner, under condemnation and the wrath of God. Iain H. Murray said, “Convictions do not save, but it is not going beyond the New Testament to say that salvation does not occur without them. No one was converted without knowing that he needed to be” (Iain H. Murray, The Old Evangelicalism: Old Truths for a New Awakening, The Banner of Truth Trust, 2005, p. 22).

How we pray that you will come under conviction of sin, as did the dying thief. How we pray that God will show you your sin, so you may feel it, and mourn for it, and say to God,

“I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me. Against thee, thee only, have I sinned” (Psalm 51:3-4).

As Iain Murray said, “No one was converted without knowing that he needed to be.” No one ever truly trusts Jesus who has not felt the pollution and sin of his own heart and life!

(END OF SERMON)
You can read Dr. Hymers’ sermons each week on the Internet
at www.realconversion.com. Click on “Sermon Manuscripts.”

Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: Luke 23:39-43.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“Blessed Redeemer” (by Avis B. Christiansen, 1895-1985).


THE OUTLINE OF

THE THIEF’S ADVANTAGES

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

“And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:42-43).

I.   First, he had the advantage of not seeing the bad example of others,
I John 4:20.

II.  Second, he had the advantage of being closed off from bad
counselors, II Timothy 3:5; 4:3, 4; John 10:27; Luke 23:28, 34.

III. Third, he had the advantage of not being able to do any good works,
Titus 3:5; Ephesians 2:8-9.

IV. Fourth, he had the advantage of knowing he couldn’t be saved by
learning more, II Timothy 3:7; John 6:37; Acts 16:30.

V.  Fifth, he had the advantage of knowing that he, himself, had to
trust Jesus, I Timothy 1:15.

VI. Sixth, he had the advantage of knowing he wasn’t saved, Luke 18:9;
John 9:41; James 4:9; Luke 23:28, 40-41; Psalm 51:3-4.