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In this blog, there will be a variety of material: thoughts on Bible books, book reviews, historical characters, aspects of Scottish church history and other things.

Monday, 7 November 2016

A Robber's Repentance (Luke 23:39-43)

This nameless criminal had joined his fellow in mocking the suffering Saviour (Matt. 27:44). A short time later, he changed his outlook and instead rebuked his former partner in crime. What brought about the change cannot be fully known. Yet we can observe some details that Luke mentions.

First, the condemned men knew in a vague way initially what it meant for Jesus to be the Christ. We can see that was the case from the way the other criminal spoke to Jesus (Luke 23:39). He joined together the word 'Christ' and the concept of salvation when he asked that Jesus would save them from the cross. Of course, he may have been mocking, and he only wanted to be rescued from crucifixion in any case. Still they linked together the Messiah and salvation, which is a pointer towards them having some grasp of the message of the Old Testament. And the penitent criminal became aware that Jesus was the Messiah with a very different salvation on offer.

Second, the criminal who repented had been thinking about God, and thinking about him as the judge. We can see that was the case from the way that he addressed his fellow-criminal. He appreciated that the proper response towards God was one of reverential fear. In addition, he realised that in a short time he would stand before God as Judge and give account for his actions. And he knew that condemnation for his actions would be completely just as far as God was concerned.

Third, the penitent criminal recognised the uniqueness of Jesus when he stated that he had done nothing wrong. He came to the same conclusion as did the centurion later because they both stated that Jesus was innocent. One assumes it was connected to the demeanour of Jesus on the cross. People behave usually according to their circumstances. If an individual finds himself in a place of cruelty and pain from which there is no escape he will show his response by his angry and desperate words. Yet the criminal had observed that Jesus behaved totally differently. Instead of hatred, there was love revealed when he prayed for the soldiers. The criminal heard words that would have indicated to him that the One suffering beside him knew how great sinners could be forgiven.

Repentance occurs when we grasp that Jesus is the Saviour of sinners. It follows the realisation that we will give an account of our lives to the God we have offended. And a penitent person recognises the great difference between his imperfection and the perfection of Jesus.

Did the dying criminal put those three things together – Jesus being the Christ, his fear of God the Judge, and the prayer of Jesus for the soldiers – under the guidance of the Holy Spirit? There could have been many other aspects to his case, but they all led him to make an incredible request.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

A surprising conversion (Luke 23:39-43)

There are some surprising conversion accounts in the Bible, and several of them are described by Luke. Obviously, all the accounts in the Book of Acts were written by him, and among them is the conversion of Saul of Tarsus. Luke also has surprising stories in his Gospel, such as the conversion of Zacchaeus. But none of them are as surprising as the conversion experienced by the individual known as the thief on the cross.

This man may well have indulged in acts of thievery, but he was much more than a common thief. The reason why he was crucified was because he had participated in an attempted revolt against the Roman authorities, a revolt in which people had been killed. This means that he was probably a nationalistic Jew with a deep desire for the liberation of his countrymen, and was prepared to fight for his convictions. He may even have been religious.

It was the custom for the civil authorities to place above the condemned person’s head the reason for his execution. So everyone who passed by Calvary would know what the Roman authorities thought about him. He was suffering because he had rebelled against their authority.

Many people have written and spoken about him since then, but not because of the reasons that would have been mentioned above his head. Spurgeon, in a sermon, reminds us that the criminal was the last companion of Jesus on earth and his first companion to follow him into heaven. He then pictures the criminal reaching heaven and mentions that this privilege of entering soon after Jesus was not given to an apostle or to a martyr. Instead, it was given to a lowly sinner, and Spurgeon describes Jesus as saying to the heavenly host, ‘I bring a sinner with me; he is a sample of the rest.’

John Calvin mentioned four things about the condemned man: ‘In this wicked man a striking mirror of the unexpected and incredible grace of God is held out to us, (1) not only in his being suddenly changed into a new man, when he was near death, (2) and drawn from hell itself to heaven, (3) but likewise in having obtained in a moment the forgiveness of all the sins in which he had been plunged through his whole life, and (4) in having been thus admitted to heaven before the apostles and first-fruits of the new Church.’

Here are six details that we can deduce from the conversion of the criminal: (1) He is a reminder that a person can be saved at the end of life. (2) He is a reminder that a person can be converted within a very short period of time. (3) He is a reminder that divine grace reaches down to the very bottom and lifts sinners very high. (4) He is a reminder that uncongenial circumstances are not a barrier to conversion. (5) He reminds us that close friends and colleagues can go through the same circumstances and experience very different outcomes. (6) He reminds that grace can give new insights very quickly.