Note well what the Spirit of God moved this man to do: he spoke to Jesus. The other thief raised accusation against Jesus with the denying, “If!” The other thief demanded Jesus prove His word, prove He was the Truth, by delivering him from the immediate suffering and death of the cross on which he hung. Such pride overflowed from him in hatred for the Son of God! The unbelieving thief reveals the heart of the natural man. I see myself in him! But the believing thief asks Jesus one thing: “Remember me!” If we are led to Christ, if we are made to see Him as our only and complete Savior, we will also ask Him to save us (Ezek. 36:37; 2 Sam. 7:25; Luke 18:13; Rom. 10:13).
In these two men we see a compressed, condensed account of every man. The one died as he lived. He lived in sin and he died in sin (Rev. 22:11). Even while he suffered the just punishment of his own death, even with the Savior of sinners next to him, he remained blind and hardened in his sin. This is me and this is you by nature! "But God(!), for His great love wherewith He loved" this other thief from the foundation of the world (Jer. 31:3; Eph. 2:4) commanded the light to shine into his dark heart (Acts 16:14; 2 Cor. 4:7; Gal. 1:15)! The Lord opened his heart to hear the words and see and believe Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of God, and so believing, to have life through His name (John 6:40; 20:31). It was the time for Christ to make known His love to this sinner (Ezek. 16:8)! The Lord was pleased to reveal His Son in this also guilty, this also justly condemned, this also enemy of Christ, but this one who also from eternity had been the object of divine love and unfailing grace (Jer. 31:3; Hosea 11:8; Acts 13:48). God made the difference (1 Cor. 4:7; Rom. 11:33-36). He alone can. He alone does (Acts 28:24; 2 Cor. 2:14-16). The same sun that melts the wax, hardens the clay. It seemed good to the Father that it be so (Matt. 11:25-27; Matt. 16:15-17). We are utterly dependent on His grace (John 3:8; Rom. 11:5-6). Grace teaches us that it is so.
I hope my wife and children and loved ones remember me when I die. I hope their memories will be kind and forgiving. But really, what can their memory do for me? My great desire is not that they remember me, but that they remember the words of the Lord Jesus. That is the memory I want for them! But this man, this dying thief, desires the one thing that will make a difference! He desires the Lord, the Son of God, the Chosen of God, the Christ of God, the King of glory, the interceding Mediator, to remember him! He doesn’t ask for his present suffering and death to end. He knows he will soon die. That is why he speaks of a future time after his death to the Savior, “Remember me.” So do all believing sinners! This thief was fully persuaded that he, in himself, was only guilty and justly condemned. He had nothing in himself but sin. All opportunities for him to do good had passed. He is the epitome of all unrighteousness. Yet he sees all help in Christ. “All my help from thee I bring.” This thief was drawn by God the Father to look only to Christ on the ground of His atoning blood and righteousness and truth and power and saving grace: all that was in Him! Brought to the end of himself and his life too, He found his all in Christ!
God graciously enabled him to express the thought that God put in his heart (Matt. 12:34). Here is something most blessed and amazing. From his mouth and heart, he expressed the truth that was in Christ’s heart. His need was the desire Christ came to fill (Ps. 81:10; John 4:34; 7:37-38). It was in Christ’s heart for this thief come to Him and ask Him to do what was His will to do from all eternity. I don’t know how to say it, but the Lord who saved him, put into this man’s heart the desire for Christ to think on him in mercy, as it was eternally already in Christ’s heart to do. Our desire for Christ to desire us is but the expression of the desire of His heart, that desire which He puts in ours. Salvation and eternal life is entering into a deep, intimate communion of soul between the heart of a sinner and his sin-atoning Savior (John 17:3, 23-24; John 6:56).
Though the memory of those who love me can do nothing for me after I die, nor can my memory of them, it is not so with the Son of God! He is not the God of the dead, but of the living (Matt. 22:32). If He who is life remember me, if He who does all that is in His heart (Ps. 33:11) think on me, then I will not only live (Ps. 40:17; John 14:19; Rom. 8:10-11), but I will be with Him where He is (John 14:1-3). He will never leave me nor forsake me (Heb. 13:5). “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints” (Ps. 116:15). Saints are those made holy before God by the one offering of Christ’s own self for them (Heb. 10:10; 13:12; 1 Cor. 1:2; Rom. 8:28; 2 Tim. 1:9). And they are made holy in their souls by the sanctifying call of the Spirit of Christ who lives in them and gives them faith in the crucified, risen, reigning Savior (Gal. 1:15; 2:20; Eph. 4:24). “The memory of the just is blessed: but the name of the wicked shall rot” (Prov. 10:7). The just are those who have been justified by Christ's precious blood (Rom. 5:9), and who, by the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus, therefore live and walk by faith in Him (2 Cor. 5:7; Hab. 2:4; Rom. 8:1-4; Heb. 10:38).
What did this man mean when he asked Jesus, “Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom” (Luke 23:42)? I believe he meant that he wanted Jesus not only to remember him when He came again, but that He would remember him at all times. Remember me, Lord, as you hang there on that cursed tree, bearing the sins and shame of your people. Remember me in your prayer, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Remember me when you cry in agony, “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me!” Remember me when you cry in triumph, “It is finished!” Remember me when you lay down your life and commit the keeping of your spirit to your Father (John 10:15-18; Luke 23:46). Remember me when you enter heaven with your own blood, and obtain eternal redemption for your people (Heb. 9:12). Remember me when you take up your life again (John 10:18), when you roll away that stone, and when you ascend in your glorified body to sit on heaven’s throne. Remember me when you administer every detail in this world (Eph. 1:10; Rom. 8:28) to build your Church, to call and bring your sheep to yourself in glory (Matt. 16:18; John 10:16, 27-29). Remember me in mercy and preserving grace when you pour out your wrath on this world (Hab. 3:2; Rev. 20:3). Remember me when you judge this world in righteousness (Acts 17:31). And remember me when you sit on the throne of your glory and tell the ungodly to depart into everlasting punishment while you tell your people to enter into the inheritance prepared for them from the foundation of the world (Matt. 25:34, 46).
Throughout scripture, the Spirit of God recorded the words that He put into the hearts of all of His saints in their request that the Lord remember them.
- “In wrath remember mercy” (Hab. 3:2).
- “Remember me, O LORD, with the favour that thou bearest unto thy people: O visit me with thy salvation; That I may see the good of thy chosen, that I may rejoice in the gladness of thy nation, that I may glory with thine inheritance” (Ps. 106:4-5).
- “Remember your holy covenant” (Luke 1:72), for Christ’s sake, with whom you made that covenant before the world began, and who fulfilled that covenant in His own blood (Gen. 8:1; 9:15-16; 19:29; Ex. 2:24; 32:13; Lev. 26:42; 2 Tim. 1:9; Heb. 13:20; 1 Pet. 1:20; Rev. 13:8; 2 Cor. 1:20; Isa. 42:6; 49:8; Gal. 3:26-29; 4:28; Heb. 13:20; Matt. 26:28; Heb. 9:15-17; John 6:37-40).
- In remembering Christ, “Remember my sins and iniquities no more” (Heb. 10:17-18). “O, remember not against me former iniquities” (Ps. 79:8; Rev. 18:5).
- “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee. Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me” (Isa. 49:15-16).
- “Thou shalt call, and I will answer thee: thou wilt have a desire to the work of thine hands” (Job 14:15).
- “Remember, O LORD, thy tender mercies and thy lovingkindnesses; for they have been ever of old. Remember not the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions: according to thy mercy remember thou me for thy goodness' sake, O LORD” (Ps. 25:6-7).
- “Remember the word unto thy servant, upon which thou hast caused me to hope” (Ps. 119:142).
As every child of God is convinced by the Spirit of God to do, this thief pinned all of his hope for life and eternity on what Jesus thought and what He remembered, what He spoke in His word, and how He remembers His saints for good, in mercy, and does not remember their sins (Neh. 13:22, 31; Ps. 116:115; Prov. 10:5). But there is something most precious in this request that words fail to express. To have the Lord of glory, the Son of God, remember me in covenant love, in redeeming blood, in full supply with Himself, in life from the dead and in full disclosure of His heart; in this intimate communion of eternal life, enjoyed now by faith, and to be with Him and know that He thinks on me in love and mercy for His name's sake, and there to lay my head on His bosom, is all I want for eternity.