EASTER MONTH, Week 2, Today you will be with me in Paradise…Luke 23:32-43

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32 Two others, both criminals, were led out to be executed with him. 33 When they came to a place called The Skull, they nailed him to the cross. And the criminals were also crucified—one on his right and one on his left. 34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” And the soldiers gambled for his clothes by throwing dice.  35 The crowd watched and the leaders scoffed. “He saved others,” they said, “let him save himself if he is really God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.” 36 The soldiers mocked him, too, by offering him a drink of sour wine. 37 They called out to him, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 A sign was fastened above him with these words: “This is the King of the Jews.” Luke 23:32-43

Christ’s second utterance from the cross, His 2nd Word, marks the first glorious fulfillment for the answer to His prayer for the forgiveness of those who participated in His death. Hours of agony passed on the cross, thieves were crucified as the text says, “One on his right and one on his left.”  One began mocking Jesus and as the hours went on one of them began to see a change of Heart  while the other just wanted a change of Place .

 

The First Thief

One of the criminals hanging beside him scoffed, “So you’re the Messiah, are you? Prove it by saving yourself—and us, too, while you’re at it!” Luke 23:39

 

Spiritually Destitute

The first thief says, “So you’re the Messiah? Prove it by saving yourself—and us, too, while you’re at it!” What a picture of a spiritually destitute, worldly man. It is a matter of total indifference to him that he is suffering “the due reward of his deeds.”

 

2. Matter of Convenience

To him right and wrong, praise and blame, good and bad are of no interest: his one objective is to save his earthly skin. He might even believe Jesus is the Messiah, the King of the Jews. But, it’s only a matter of convenience to him: he’ll take anybody as king who can get him off the cross. Just another patsy to serve his own worldly purposes.

 

 

3. Suffering with Reality

That’s the way one whole segment of humans relates to God in suffering. Suffering interrupts their private, worldly goals and pleasures. So why not try God? “If you are king, then get me out of this mess.” It’s the old car-jack theology. A car-jack is a dirty, useless thing to be kept out of sight in the trunk until you have a flat tire (a little suffering). Then you get it out, let it do the dirty work, and put it away again. “If you’re such a good jack, jack me down off this cross, Jesus.” “If you’re such a good jack, jack me up out of this sickness, out of this financial mess, out of this lousy job, out of this crummy marriage.”

 

 

 

4. Lack  of Brokenness

The thief had no spirit of brokenness, or guilt, or penitence, or humility. He could only see Jesus as a possible power by which to escape the cross. He did not see him as a king to be followed. It never entered his mind that he should say he was sorry and should change.

 

One of the criminals hanging beside him scoffed, “So you’re the Messiah, are you? Prove it by saving yourself—and us, too, while you’re at it!” Luke 23:39

 

The Second Thief

 

40 But the other criminal protested, “Don’t you fear God even when you have been sentenced to die? 41 We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” 43 And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:40-43

 

1. Probably Knew Jesus

Jesus was well known in the land of Israel, certainly this second thief had known the reputation of Jesus, perhaps had even seen His miracles, heard His claims, this thoroughly degenerate career criminal devoted to thievery and mayhem, this I suppose you would say in the modern vernacular, bad to the bone kind of wickedness that pervaded the life of this man, began to grip his soul and in his dying moments he became penitent over his life.

 

2. Became Convinced

He became convinced that Jesus was the Savior that Jesus was who He claimed to be, he makes the statement this man has done nothing wrong and he says we’re here because we are receiving the due reward of our deeds. This man hasn’t done anything wrong, he declares the innocence of Jesus, he declares his own guilt and than he turns to Jesus confessing Him as Lord.  (We are going to look more at this First Theif in the next section)  He says to Him, “Lord remember me when You come into Your Kingdom.”

 

3. Lord remember me

Then Jesus uttered His second statement from the cross,  “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.” 

No sinner was ever given more explicit assurance of salvation then to hear it from the mouth of Jesus.

No sinner had less opportunity to gain salvation by any works, he couldn’t have done any, he couldn’t have completed a single religious ceremony, he couldn’t have engaged in a single good deed.

No sinner could not have undone a life of crime and wickedness with such immediacy…Jesus said today!  An unconditional entrance into the Kingdom of the Son of God, this is justification by faith. Faith is all the Lord asked, not works, and He embraced and that very day he was welcomed into the paradise of God. He could do nothing to merit his salvation but that’s all right because neither can you and neither can I.

 

8 God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. 9 Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. Ephesians 2:8-9

 

Lord remember me

 

Nothing we do is meritorious. He had no hope of earning Christ’s favor. His request was a desperate, last ditch, end of the rope plea for a mercy he knew he didn’t deserve. He was like the publican, beating in his chest, who wouldn’t even lift up his eyes to Heaven for fear that God might look in his face and he would be consumed for his sin and cried out, “Lord be merciful to me a sinner.”

 

Jesus words to this dying thief conveyed to Him an unqualified promise of complete forgiveness and entrance into Heaven based upon nothing he had done but only upon his desperate penitence and affirmation that Jesus was the Lord. That was all Christ needed to say and that was all He said. Isn’t it an amazing to think about? The Savior beside the thief was bearing the judgment of God for that thief’s sins right beside Him and Christ transferred His righteousness to that thief whose sins had been transferred to Him and today they’re together and they have been since then in paradise.

 

Lord Remember Me

 

The first thing the repentant thief  is not deceived by all this talk.  First, he is not sucked in by the other fellow’s railing. He does not listen to the mocker!!!   And if we are to follow his example, we will have to stand our ground and not be sucked in by the people all around us who say, “If your God is so great and loving, then why the 20 kids shot in Atlanta?” “Why sixteen miners buried in a cave?” “Why a village slaughtered in El Salvador?” “Why doesn’t he come down off his helpless perch on the cross and do something?”  The repentant thief does is not get deceived by the ways and words of this world.

 

“But he rebuked him saying, ‘Do you not fear God?”‘ This is the second thing about this penitent thief: he feared God. God was real to him. God was his creator, and he knew that a pot can’t take up arms against the potter and come away victorious. It is fitting that creatures bow in submission before their creator and subject all their life to his wisdom. It is even more fitting that sinful creatures bow before God in holy fear, instead of railing against God as if a rebel ant should kick against the foothills of Mt. Everest and demand that it flatten out so the ant can walk across.

 

Third, the penitent thief admitted that he had done wrong: “We deserve to die for our crimes” (v. 41). He had no desire to save face any more; he had no more will to assert himself. He was here and laid open before the God he feared and there was no way to hide his guilt. I know people right now who are in trouble. But instead of laying down their self-righteous defenses, they are devising every means to finagle and distort so as to appear innocent and cool. The penitent thief gave it up. And dropped his pride before the all-knowing God!

 

Fourth, not only did he admit to wrong and guilt, he accepted his punishment as deserved. “We are under the sentence of condemnation justly.” This is the real test of humility before God. Many will mouth the confession of sin: “God be merciful to us miserable sinners,” but when some trouble comes, they get angry at him. And this anger reveals that they do not really feel undeserving before God. They still feel, deep down, that they have some rights before God. There are not many people like Job, who, when he lost everything, said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb and naked shall I return; the Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” But this penitent thief did become like Job in the last minutes of his life—he took his suffering without complaint, and feared God.

 

Fifth, the thief acknowledged Jesus’ righteousness:     “but this man hasn’t done anything wrong.” It didn’t make any difference to the first thief if Jesus was right or wrong. If he could drive the get-away car—that’s all that mattered. But it matters a lot to Jesus if we think his life was good or bad. Jesus does not want to drive a get-away car; he wants to be followed because we admire him. We must say with the thief: “This man has done nothing wrong.” This man only does what is good. This man only speaks the truth. This man is worthy of our faith and allegiance and imitation.

 

And then, sixth, the thief goes a step further and acknowledges that indeed, Jesus is a king.          “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” Even though he is suffering now, Jesus has the mark of a king. For those who have eyes to see, he has a power here on the cross—a power of love that makes him king over all his tormentors. He is not only good, he is powerful, and one day he will vindicate his great name, and every knee will bow and confess that Jesus is Lord—to the glory of God, the Father.

 

And finally, the penitent thief does one more thing. He is not deceived, He fears God, admits wrong, accepts justice, acknowledges the goodness and power of Jesus. Now he pleads for help.         “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.

–  Both thieves wanted to be saved from death. But O how differently they sought their salvation:

“So you’re the Messiah…Prove it by saving yourself and us”

“Jesus, remember when you come into your kingdom!”

 

There is an infinite qualitative difference between “Save me!” and “Save me!”

 

Why Should I Repent?

 

Now what motive does Jesus give us to follow in the steps of the penitent thief? There is a fearful silence toward the railing thief: not a word recorded of Jesus to him. Perhaps a final pitying glance. But no promise. No hope.

 

But to the penitent Jesus says: “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” This was almost too good. There would not even be a delay. Today the Spirit of Jesus and the renewed spirit of the thief would be in union in Paradise. The promise would be without delay.

 

What is this paradise? Paradise is the heavenly abode of God where there are found things prepared by God for those who love him, which are utterly indescribable (1 Corinthians 2:9).

 

But in all this, the one thing that Jesus chose to mention to the repentant thief on the cross (if you can only say one thing, what do you say?): “You will be with me today.” You have to love and admire Jesus a lot for that to be a solace when you leave this life behind. It reminds me of that great song,

“When I come to die, give me Jesus . . . You can have all this world,                give me Jesus.”