As a young lad, I always liked Christmas the best. Well, who wouldn’t, what with the presents and all. Now that I’m a tad older lad, I enjoy Easter. The Resurrection story and the joy of salvation far outweigh the Christmas story and the presents. I concede that Easter doesn’t happen without Christmas, but Easter is the reason for the Christmas season. Unfortunately that message gets lost a little more every year as commercialization takes over.
I thought of an Easter greeting to post, but I figure the message I delivered this morning at the assisted living home is the way to go. Take a few minutes to meditate on the Easter message and enjoy the weekend with family and friends if possible. This and other sermon notes and studies can be found at Life_According_To_Sarge Forum Index.
Be That Guy
Comfort of Homes
April 11, 2009
Luke 23:39-43, “One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, ‘Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!’ But the other answered, and rebuking him said, ‘Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.’ And he was saying, ‘Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!’ And He said to him, ‘Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.’”
We often read quickly through passages like this one and miss the great sermon it preaches to us. We often fail to meditate on the Word and thereby miss out on all that it has to offer us in our pursuit to understand God. These verses are packed with God’s glory, mercy, and love. They teach us of the ministry of the Holy Spirit and the mystery of the act of salvation. We often focus on Christ on the cross, which is a good thing, while we miss the point of those who were crucified next to Him. In our day we focus on Christ being crucified as if it was an act that was unique to Him. Unfortunately, the truth is that crucifixion was common at that time as a cruel punishment by the Romans and a deterrent to those who sought to challenge their rule. We can equate it to the intimidation of beheading that we see all too often today. The practice of crucifixion was abandoned by Constantine around 400 AD. I’ve seen it written that historians estimate 10,000 to 100,000 people (likely much closer to the higher number) were crucified by the Romans. The significance of Christ being crucified was that it fulfilled prophecy and that He suffered greatly to pay the penalty for our sins. He paid an extreme price to redeem our souls by enduring the wrath of God in our stead.
The two men who were crucified along side our Lord participated in the mocking and scoffing of the onlookers. We read in Matthew chapter 27, verses 38-44, “At that time two robbers were crucified with Him, one on the right and one on the left. And those passing by were hurling abuse at Him, wagging their heads and saying, ‘You who are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.’ In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking Him and saying, ‘He saved others; He cannot save Himself He is the King of Israel; let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe in Him. HE TRUSTS IN GOD; LET GOD RESCUE Him now, IF HE DELIGHTS IN HIM; for He said, “I am the Son of God.”’ The robbers who had been crucified with Him were also insulting Him with the same words.”
This is again confirmed in the Gospel According to Mark 15:32, “‘Let this Christ, the King of Israel, now come down from the cross, so that we may see and believe!’ Those who were crucified with Him were also insulting Him.”
This declaration of their guilt shows the truth of Romans 3:23, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. They were both guilty of sinning against God, as well as their crimes against society, and justice demanded their death. While society succeeded in exacting payment for both men through the cross, mercy came to one of the men when Jesus Christ paid the eternal debt for the salvation of his soul. Let us not lose track that we are all sinners before a Holy God and that without Christ, our only choice is to pay for that sin in the lake of fire that was prepared for Satan and the rebellious angels that followed him.
At some point in the time on the cross, one man, by the grace of God, had his eyes opened to the reality of Jesus on the cross next to him. His heart was changed by the work of the Holy Spirit. He declared his belief saying, “And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he declared his faith saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” This while suffering along side Jesus on a cross the same as Christ. Have we stopped to think of the two men suffering along side our Savior? They were suffering the same physical torment. While one man remained stiff necked and hard of heart, the other responded to the leading of the Holy Spirit and saw Christ for who He was. Which man do we emulate as we live our lives in relative comfort and ease?
The signs of genuine salvation are seen in the man who rebukes the other. First, he realizes the truth about Jesus, that He is the Savior sent by God. Second, he realized his own guilt and had a repentant heart, confessing his sinfulness. Third, he cried out to Jesus who alone has the power to save. Fourth, he acknowledges it publicly with faith, unashamed. His declaration is the purpose of baptism. Baptism signifies our death with Christ on the cross and our resurrection with Him to new life. That man actually died with Christ on the cross that day and entered paradise with Jesus on the same day. Have others seen those signs in our lives? Are we bold to declare Jesus Christ as Savior? Do we have a repentant and contrite heart? Do we realize that only He can save us from the wrath of God? Have we cried out to God for mercy and forgiveness?
On April 7, 1889, C. H. Spurgeon preached a sermon titled The Believing Thief. Here is an excerpt from that sermon. “The malefactor who believed upon the cross was a convict, who had lain in the condemned cell, and was then undergoing execution for his crimes. A convicted felon was the person with whom our Lord last consorted upon earth. What a lover of the souls of guilty men is he! What a stoop he makes to the very lowest of mankind! To this most unworthy of men the Lord of glory, ere he quitted life, spoke with matchless grace. He spoke to him such wondrous words as never can be excelled if you search the Scriptures through: “To-day shalt thou be with me in paradise.” I do not suppose that anywhere in this Tabernacle there will be found a man who has been convicted before the law, or who is even chargeable with a crime against common honesty; but if there should be such a person among my hearers, I would invite him to find pardon and change of heart through our Lord Jesus Christ. You may come to him, whoever you may be; for this man did. Here is a specimen of one who had gone to the extreme of guilt, and who acknowledged that he had done so; he made no excuse, and sought no cloak for his sin; he was in the hands of justice, confronted with the death-doom, and yet he believed in Jesus, and breathed a humble prayer to him, and he was saved upon the spot. As is the sample, such is the bulk. Jesus saves others of like kind. Let me, therefore, put it very plainly here, that none may mistake me. None of you are excluded from the infinite mercy of Christ, however great your iniquity: if you believe in Jesus, he will save you.”
In this story of guilt and punishment, Spurgeon shared the hope and forgiveness that is available to each one of us. It is God’s desire that every person, every living soul, would partake in the sacrifice of Christ and come to Him for the salvation of the soul and the gift of eternal life in the love of God, our creator. It is sad to acknowledge that some will not do so. I pray that of those who do not accept such a loving gift, none fail to do so because I have failed to share the good news of the gospel, the saving grace made available to every person through Jesus Christ.
We like to quote John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” We must also consider that whoever does not believe in Him shall perish, shall have eternal damnation. Such is the other criminal, the other man, who hangs on the cross next to the Savior, scoffing to the bitter end. John goes on to write in verses 26-36, speaking of John the Baptist, “And they came to John and said to him, ‘Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified, behold, He is baptizing and all are coming to Him.’ John answered and said, ‘A man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven. You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but, ‘I have been sent ahead of Him.’ He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. So this joy of mine has been made full. He must increase, but I must decrease. He who comes from above is above all, he who is of the earth is from the earth and speaks of the earth. He who comes from heaven is above all. What He has seen and heard, of that He testifies; and no one receives His testimony. He who has received His testimony has set his seal to this, that God is true. For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God; for He gives the Spirit without measure. The Father loves the Son and has given all things into His hand. He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.’”
So which criminal are you, for most certainly we each are one or the other. There are no other choices than to believe or believe not. To put off the choice is actually choosing to not believe and therefor to not receive eternal life, thereby receiving eternal damnation. As we see by the unrepentant criminal, salvation is not guaranteed later in life. That is why scripture warns us, “He again fixes a certain day, ‘Today,’ saying through David after so long a time just as has been said before, ‘TODAY IF YOU HEAR HIS VOICE, DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS.’” (Hebrews 4:7)
J.C. Ryle, sometime before 1900, preached in his sermon Christ and the Two Thieves, “The second lesson you are meant to learn from this passage is this, -if some are saved in the very hour of death, others are not. This is a truth that never ought to he passed over, and I dare not leave it unnoticed. It is a truth that stands out plainly in the sad end of the other malefactor, and is only too often forgotten. What became of the other thief who was crucified? Why did he not turn from his sin, and call upon the Lord? Why did he remain hardened and impenitent? Why was he not saved? It is useless to try to answer such questions. Let us be content to take the fact as we find it, and see what it is meant to teach us. We have no right whatever to say this thief was a worse man than his companion. There is nothing to prove it. Both plainly were wicked men. Both were receiving the due reward of their deeds. Both hung by the side of our Lord Jesus Christ. Both heard Him pray for His murderers. Both saw Him suffer patiently. But while one repented, the other remained hardened. While one began to pray, the other went on railing. While one was converted in his last hours, the other died a bad man as he had lived. While one was taken to paradise, the other went to his own place, the place of the devil and his angels. Now these things are written for our warning. There is warning, as well as comfort in these verses, and that very solemn warning too. They tell me loudly, that though some may repent and be converted on their deathbeds, it does not at all follow that all will. A deathbed is not always a saving time. They tell me loudly that two men may have the same opportunities of getting good for their souls, -may be placed in the same position, see the same things, and hear the same things; and yet only one shall take advantage of them, repent, believe, and be saved. They tell me, above all, that repentance and faith are the gifts of God, and are not in a man’s own power; and that if any one flatters himself he can repent at his own time, choose his own season, seek the Lord when he pleases, and, like the penitent thief, be saved at the very last, -he may find at length he is greatly deceived.”
As Ryle explained, the unrepentant thief suffers for all eternity separated from God. Don’t be that guy. The repentant thief is in paradise with our Lord Jesus Christ. Be that guy. If you have trusted Jesus Christ as your Savior, you are my brother or sister. During this Easter season we can rejoice in the work of our Lord on the cross that provides such a great gift of redemption and salvation. We join together with thanksgiving and adoration to the One who loved us so much that He was willing to endure such great suffering on our behalf. We rejoice and sing praise to Christ in the glory and power of His resurrection and in ours to come when we will dwell with Him forever in the glorified bodies He has prepared for us. For all eternity we will sing His praises with thankful hearts as we dwell in His presence. Praise be to God.