The thief after our spiritual life is the devil, who gives us vainglorious earthly life. But the thief after our earthly life is Jesus, who then gives us abundant spiritual life.
Moses said to Israel: “I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live.” (Deuteronomy 30:19). However, all those to whom he presented these choices ultimately chose death instead of life.
The reason is simple. Jesus says: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” (John 3:6). Therefore, carnal man preferred temporal natural life to abundant spiritual life. He preferred the life of sin and death to the life of righteousness and eternal life.
What man calls life, God calls death. In order to see as God sees, man must be invested with God’s spiritual life. Man can only see eye-to-eye with God if he is born again. (John 3:7).
Death in the Pot
Some prophets were having a meal with Elisha. Suddenly, they cried out and said: “Man of God, there is death in the pot!” (2 Kings 4:40). What was responsible for this? How did death get in the pot? How can we know if there is death in the pot?
We have seen men who were saved from fire or from death. But how are we to know if there is death in the very food we eat? How are we to know if there is death in the very air we breathe? How are we supposed to know that there is more danger in pleasure than in pain? Where would we be but for the wisdom of God?
Solomon expresses this uncommon wisdom when he says: “Sorrow is better than laughter, for by a sad countenance the heart is made better. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.” (Ecclesiastes 7:3-4).
Such wisdom can only come from spiritual mindedness. However, the church in the wilderness was not spiritual but carnal. The children of Israel were slaves of sin. They were controlled by their passions and lusts. Therefore, they all died in the wilderness.
When they lusted after meat, God: “rained down birds as thick as dust, clouds of them like sands along the shore! He caused the birds to fall to the ground among the tents. The people ate their fill. He gave them what they asked for. But they had hardly finished eating, and the meat was yet in their mouths, when the anger of the Lord rose against them and killed the finest of Israel’s young men. Yet even so the people kept on sinning and refused to believe in miracles. So he cut their lives short and gave them years of terror and disaster. (Psalm 78:27-33).
Cry for Jesus
As a result, the Old Testament became one long, persistent and incessant cry for salvation. It is a litany of people thirsting and hungering for a saviour. This became acute as God gave Israel tests they could not pass. He gave them commandments they could not keep. He put yearnings in their hearts that the world could not meet.
Earlier on, Job had addressed his complaints to God, also asking for a saviour. He asked God: “What is man, that you should exalt him, that you should set your heart on him, that you should visit him every morning, and test him every moment? How long? Will you not look away from me, and let me alone till I swallow my saliva? Have I sinned? What have I done to you, O watcher of men? Why have you set me as your target, so that I am a burden to myself? Why then do you not pardon my transgression, and take away my iniquity?” (Job 7:17-21).
There came many saviours, one after the other; saviours of all kinds and descriptions: “Wherever they went out, the hand of the LORD was against them for calamity, as the LORD had said, and as the LORD had sworn to them. And they were greatly distressed. Nevertheless, the LORD raised up judges who delivered them out of the hand of those who plundered them. (Judges 2:15-16).
There were saviours who helped to keep the Philistines at bay, and saviours who helped to deliver them from the hand of their enemies. But these saviours were mere men and therefore severely limited in what they could do. These saviours also needed salvation. These physicians could not heal them themselves. Therefore, Israel was not saved:
“It came to pass, when the judge was dead, that they reverted and behaved more corruptly than their fathers, by following other gods, to serve them and bow down to them. They did not cease from their own doings nor from their stubborn way. (Judges 2:19).
It was in this context that Jeremiah made his famous lamentation: “The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved! For the hurt of the daughter of my people I am hurt. I am mourning; astonishment has taken hold of me. Is there no balm in Gilead, is there no physician there? Why then is there no recovery for the health of the daughter of my people?” (Jeremiah 8:20-22).
Christ the Lord
Finally, a Saviour is born, and lo and behold, this one is no mere mortal. This one is the Lord himself. An angel brought the news to some shepherds. He told them: “I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:10-11).
But while in the Old Testament, Moses presents a choice between life and death, and says we should choose life; in the New Testament Jesus presents a choice between life and death, and says we should choose death. Jesus says: “Whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.” (Matthew 16:25).
How are we to know that there is death in the life we live and crave in this world? Thanks be to God; for the revelation of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ is that true salvation can only be realised through the relinquishment of our carnal life.
Jesus says: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:24-26).
Tale of Two Thieves
True Christianity therefore becomes a death sentence. In order to be saved, we have to lay down our life for God’s sake, and then we will receive the life that only God can give.
Therefore, when we try to save our life in this world, we save it not from the devil, but from Jesus Christ; the thief in the night.
This is because the thief after our spiritual life is the devil, who gives us vainglorious earthly life. But the thief after our earthly life is Jesus, who then gives us abundant spiritual life.