My favorite song by Third Day is called “Thief” and is sung from the perspective of one of the two thieves hanging on the crosses next to Jesus. It always brings tears to my eyes. I have seen Third Day in concert five times, and they have played this song every time. I was delighted to find this live version on YouTube:
The exchange between Jesus and the two criminals is recorded in Luke 23:32-43. One of the thieves joins in with the crowd in mocking Jesus. But the other, the one from whose perspective this song is sung, sees Jesus for who He really is.
One of the criminals hanging beside him scoffed, “So you’re the Messiah, are you? Prove it by saving yourself—and us, too, while you’re at it!”
But the other criminal protested, “Don’t you fear God even when you have been sentenced to die? We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” Luke 23:39-42 (NLT).
Two thieves dying next to Jesus. One demands that Jesus save him from the cross, the other asks for mercy. One is stuck in his own conception of what it means to be saved and what he thinks Jesus should do if He was God. The other casts all of his own ideas aside and trusts in Jesus.
I’ve been reading The Day Christ Died by Jim Bishop and came across a passage the other day in the background chapter on Jesus that touches on the different ways in which people viewed, and still do view, Jesus. Some clamor only for grand miracles; others see Him for who He is and trust in His love and mercy for the forgiveness of their sins. Writing about the people’s’ reaction to Jesus’ miracles, Bishop writes:
He dreaded to hear the word miracle. He understood the weaknesses of man—he had promised his Father to give his life in expiation of these weaknesses—but it was an almost horrifying thing to learn that they preferred the working of miracles to being told the road to heaven. They were children, and everywhere he went they grinned and rubbed their hands together and nodded their heads and asked for “a sign.”
They had asked the same thing of John the Baptist and he had had no patience with them. He had roared back that the time of the Messiah was growing shorter and that they had better repent here and now. Signs, he warned them, could come from Satan. But Jesus could not answer in that manner. With all of his heart he loved the people. Their childishness seldom moved him to anger; his response was pity, and more love. Over and over, he would repeat the same lessons to the youthful minds in mature bodies and they would listen, or debate the lessons with him, but, when they warmed to the task of looking fairly upon his face, they would always ask for “a sign.” And, no matter how many times he bowed to their whims, and effected a miracle, they would ask again for “a sign.” Without proof, they would have no part of him. And in grieved him that his chosen twelve needed many miracles too. The Day Christ Died, pg. 105-106.
I love the patience Jesus shows with those who demanded miracles. Even the mocking criminal next to Him on the cross did not anger Him, but this mocker was included in Jesus’ prayer, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34 (NLT). But eventually, those who demand a sign and refuse to see Jesus for who He is lose out on the greatest miracle of all — the forgiveness of sins. The mocking criminal may have been included in His prayer, but He did not say to that criminal, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:43 (NLT).
Which thief are you more like? Do you want God to just fix everything right now and do things the way you think they should be done? Do you constantly seek more proof, more miracles? Or are you willing to trust that God has a better way? Do you understand that the forgiveness of your sins by our Heavenly Father is greater than any sign or miracle that you could ever see?