Luke 23: 39-43; Mark 16:15-16;
When we read the two passages that we read, you may not have realized it…but in reference to salvation, they initially seem to conflict…or contradict each other.
Which is it? And the answer to this is critical because there is no issue more important than eternal salvation.
And I must tell you, this is an issue that separates us as a Church of Christ from almost every other religious group in town.
First of all, these two passages do not necessarily contradict each other.
Let me show you what I mean. Turn with me to Matthew 9: 1-6.
2 And behold, they were bringing to Him a paralytic, lying on a bed; and Jesus seeing their faith…
Now, look what Jesus says to the paralytic: “Take courage, My son, your sins are forgiven.”
Well, doesn’t that apply to saying you can be saved by faith without being baptized? Doesn’t denying baptism violate other scripture?
But now, let me show you the original point.
“2 And behold, they were bringing to Him a paralytic, lying on a bed; and Jesus seeing their faith said to the paralytic lying on the bed, “Take courage, My son, your sins are forgiven.” 3 And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This fellow blasphemes.” 4 And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, “Why are you thinking evil in your hearts? 5 “For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, and walk’? 6 “But in order that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”– then He said to the paralytic– “Rise, take up your bed, and go home.”
Now, it is obvious from this passage that Jesus has the authority to forgive sins…and while here on this earth he exercised that authority as He saw fit.
And that is what he did over in Luke 23 with the thief on the cross.
Well, a lot has happened.
But just before He leaves this earth…He gives his disciples and us, the instructions He gives in verse 16…instructions that are to be carried out…while He is gone!
In fact, look at Acts 1: 1-2.
“The first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when He was taken up, after He had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen.”
And that is exactly what his disciples did.
You see, when Christ was here on this earth He exercised his authority to forgive sins as He saw fit.
Yes, the indication is that Christ saved the thief on the cross without the thief being baptized.
Look at this again. Look at Acts 1 again. In verse 2 it says that Jesus gave His apostles His “orders”…now look at verse 3.
3 To these He also presented Himself alive, after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days, and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God.
He gave His orders in Mark 16:16 just before He ascended into heaven…that means it had been 40 days since the crucifixion.
The thief never came under the command of the great commission.
To look at the thief on the cross and say that baptism is not essential for salvation is to look back to a time prior to our Lord’s ascension…and the orders that He gave for us to follow.
Now, let me show you something else that changed. Turn with me to Hebrews 8:6. Let’s read this.
6 But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, by as much as He is also the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises. 7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion sought for a second. 8 For finding fault with them, He says,
“Behold, days are coming, says the Lord, When I will effect a new covenant With the house of Israel and with the house of Judah; 9 Not like the covenant which I made with their fathers On the day when I took them by the hand To lead them out of the land of Egypt; For they did not continue in My covenant, And I did not care for them, says the Lord. 10 “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of IsraelAfter those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws into their minds,And I will write them upon their hearts.And I will be their God, And they shall be My people. 11 “And they shall not teach everyone his fellow citizen, And everyone his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ For all shall know Me, From the least to the greatest of them. 12 “For I will be merciful to their iniquities, And I will remember their sins no more.”
13 When He said, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear.
Now, from reading this passage there is no doubt that there is an Old Covenant…and a New Covenant.
Now, when did the New Covenant come into being…or into “force”? Well, turn to Heb. 9:15.
15 And for this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, in order that since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. 16 For where a covenant is, there must of necessity be the death of the one who made it. 17 For a covenant is valid only when men are dead, for it is never in force while the one who made it lives.
Christ mediated the New Covenant…He brought it into force when He died.
Look at Col 2:13-15
13 And when you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, 14 having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.
When Christ died on the cross the old covenant was invalidated…and a new covenant was established.
Now, let me ask you this. Which covenant did the thief on the cross live under?
But after Christ’s death…after the New Covenant was “in force”…Christ commands all believers to be baptized for salvation.
Now, one last point.
Matt 3:4-6 Now John himself had a garment of camel’s hair, and a leather belt about his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then Jerusalem was going out to him, and all Judea, and all the district around the Jordan; 6 and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, as they confessed their sins.
It is entirely possible that the thief on the cross had heard John preach…and that he was baptized for the remission of his sins…and on that cross his statement of repentance may have prompted Christ to forgive him of his sins and save him.
A great multitude of people today…perhaps even someone here this morning…have turned to the example of the thief on the cross to claim salvation simply by “calling on His name.”
I know the example of the thief on the cross is a very popular teaching…and the idea of salvation apart from baptism is one that many ascribe too.
What is right…and what we must ascribe too is what Christ commanded for us to do while He is gone…and He commanded us to be “baptized in His name…or by His authority, for the forgiveness of our sins.”
Which will you do? One will save you…the other will not.