September 27, 2020
By Ross Patterson
❖ This morning we will consider the second word of the Saviour from the cross of crucifixion. You will remember last week that we meditated upon the first – the Word of forgiveness - “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing!”
❖ The second is - “Jesus answered him, ‘I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.’”
❖ This saying has many facets-
o It answers the question as to where a believer goes after death - to paradise with Jesus!
o It reveals how late in life a person may receive salvation - only hours; this gives hope to parents whose children have turned away from the Lord.
o It shows that a sinful person needs no good deeds to enter heaven.
o It declares that very sinful people can enter heaven - one judged under Roman law to be crucified.
❖ But these are peripheral to the central message of the passage - viz., that our Lord Jesus Christ, even in His deepest suffering, has time to declare salvation to repentant sinners – here is the gospel word of salvation! Here is the love of the Saviour, full of comfort to every sinner who truly repents!
The Insults – Christ’s Loneliness
❖ After His Word of forgiveness, the gospel record declares the responses of those present.
❖ One might assume the crowd to be struck dumb in shame and guilt at this Word of forgiveness and that an earthly silence might prevail – but no! It seems to have stirred the crowd up into reviling Jesus, sneering at Him, scoffing at Him, mocking Him – even more:
o The Synagogue rulers sneered,
o The Roman soldiers mocked,
o The people hurled insults at Him
o Not one commended Him; not one stood by Him as He hung between the two thieves. In the winepress of God’s wrath, He was alone – alone in suffering our guilt and its divine punishment, in suffering our hell!
o And the two thieves added their insults. They too joined in the blasphemous “fun” against “the King of the Jews”!
o It was as if all humanity had turned against their Creator.
A Change! A Repentance! Grace to Sinners!
❖ But suddenly one of the thieves found himself taking Jesus’ side. He was coming to the realisation that such mockery was wrong – here was a conversion in the making! A seed of repentance and a seed of faith were germinating!
❖ What on earth could have done it? Well, it wasn’t anything on earth at all – it was an act of heaven and the work of God’s Spirit in this man’s heart.
o He was certainly no better than any in the crowd – in fact it could be argued that he was one of the worst – a convicted robber worthy of being crucified under Roman law!
o Everyone else had heard and seen what he had seen – and no-one else had changed their opinion of Jesus – so why this man?
o It makes me reflect as to why I have faith in this crucified Jesus of Nazareth but not my neighbour? I am also no better than the next person! The answer comes from God – My grace!
My “good pleasure!” - “By grace are we saved through faith! - and this is not from yourselves; it is the gift of God! Not of works, so that no-one can boast” Salvation is all of God!
❖ What we notice in him is:
o He first rebuked his fellow thief – “Don’t you fear God?” Suddenly there is a consciousness of God in his mind and heart which wasn’t there before. He suddenly perceives that human beings should “fear God!”
o This often occurs in people who know they are fast approaching their hour of death.
▪ God might not have been much in their conscience throughout their lives.
▪ Then they had managed to suppress/ignore His existence and His claim on their life – but now, they realise that they will soon be in His presence where they will be called to account for what they have done with His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ! - & there if fear!
▪ This is surely one of God’s purposes in His afflicting the world with this corona virus - to bring the fear of God into people’s minds, leading to a conviction of sin & leading to a repentance & faith in Jesus Christ.
o He then admitted his own guilt – “We indeed are justly under the sentence of condemnation.” He readily acknowledged that he fully deserved the terrible death by crucifixion before men and God.
o The fear of God (which is the beginning of wisdom) was beginning to exercise an influence that had previously been absent, perhaps his whole adult life!
o Sadly our present Western civilization is lacking this acknowledgment of being sinful before God! May the corona virus bring many to confess their sin & find salvation!
o He then proceeded to confess his faith in this Jesus, hanging next to him – & what a paradox this is!
o Why would he want to put his faith and trust for eternity in a Man, hanging on a cross, in total weakness & nearing the point of death Himself? - But he does! And we do too!
▪ He first confesses that this Jesus is innocent. “This man has done nothing wrong.” Yes, he agrees with Pilate and Herod who had also declared Christ’s innocence of the accusations falsely brought against Him.
· How would he know that, we might ask? Was it the prayer for forgiveness that he had recently heard Jesus pray? Was it the silence of Jesus as He endured the mockery and insults of those in the crowd?
· Perhaps these and more – for God uses many situations to change the hearts of sinners as He brings them to faith in Christ. As we sing - “God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform!”
▪ But then he turns to Jesus Himself with a heart of faith and a humble request that indicates that his faith was based on more knowledge of Jesus than we had supposed.
▪ He acknowledges this crucified dying Jesus is a Royal King - One who rules a heavenly kingdom – “Remember me when you come in your kingdom!”
▪ Remember - every kingdom has a king - & his faith extended to believing that this Man is a King with a kingdom of which he now would very much like to be a citizen!
· This is truly a remarkable confession of whom he believed Jesus to be - and it assumes that he had earlier heard things about this Jesus.
· It would have been hard not to have heard about him in Judea and Galilee. Remember that even the Syro-Phoenician woman had faith in Jesus as the “Son of David.”
· And the teaching of Jesus had focussed on “the kingdom of God” with believers being citizens of that kingdom. It was a kingdom that was already here with Christ’s incarnation but was going to come in its fullness in the future.
· It is embryonic language indicating that he was beginning to see Jesus as his Messiah!
o Before leaving the words of faith of the thief, we should also take note of the humility of his request – all he asked was that Jesus would “remember him.”
▪ He was not asking for a place of honour as the sons of Zebedee had sought or to be the minister of finance as Judas had hoped.
▪ The thief knew that such places were not for him – he was quite unworthy of such! He casts himself upon the grace of the Saviour entirely, asking only to be “remembered” – that is, in mercy, for some small blessing in the backblocks of that kingdom!
The Saviour’s Answer
❖ And now the focus turns to Jesus – for indeed, He is the central Person in this event – the event of the ages – the climax of God’s plan and purpose of salvation!
❖ On the cruel cross of crucifixion, we see Jesus as our Great High Priest making the supreme sacrifice for the atonement for sin.
❖ We also see Him as the Lamb of God, the actual Sacrifice upon whom fell the penalty of death for the transgressions of His people
❖ We further see Jesus as the Good and Great Shepherd of His one flock – laying down His life as the expression of the greatest love possible
❖ It was this same Shepherd who had said in His ministry that a good shepherd seeks every lost sheep until it is found.
❖ So here also we see our Shepherd seeking out a lost sheep in the person of a condemned criminal.
❖ Are there any “lost sheep” here this morning - or are you all rescued sheep?
❖ You don’t need to be a criminal to have wandered away from Christ. You may have turned away from the riches of the gospel of forgiveness to seek satisfaction in any of the many so-called pleasures that the world offers - but you can still repent & believe!
❖ Jesus had seen no reason to respond to His mockers and scoffers. Before them He was a silent sheep before its shearers.
❖ But He did find reason to respond to the humble cry of the repentant believing thief!
❖ Even in His divine suffering, He has more than enough time to grant salvation and comfort to a lost sheep.
❖ He begins with those powerful words indicating that what follows is truth beyond all doubt – “I tell you the truth.” They can also be translated “I solemnly declare to you” - or, “What I’m about to say is absolutely going to happen!”
❖ Then follow His word of salvation bringing peace and eternal comfort to this believing thief – “Today you will be with me in paradise.” (Repeat)
❖ The thief would have been more than happy if Jesus had simply responded, “Yes, I will remember you when I come in my kingdom,” but in His love and grace, He gave an infinitely greater promise.
❖ The thief had asked for a blessing in the remote future – but Christ promises him “paradise” that very day!
❖ He had asked simply to be “remembered” but Christ gives him His watertight assurance that he will be “with Christ” – that is, being in Christ’s presence - at His side as it were..
❖ You remember the significance of those two words, don’t you? - they are the words of the covenant between God & His redeemed people.
❖ Adam experienced it, as did the patriarchs, Joseph, Moses, Joshua - until Jesus, at His ascension said - “I am with you always, to the very end of the ages.”
❖ In fact it is the last word of promise in the very last verse in God’s Word - “The grace of the Lord Jesus is with God’s people.”
❖ So we see that Christ’s response is infinitely more that the thief had dared to ask or imagine – that is what our Saviour gives us through His suffering and death – more than we can here imagine! – “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him.” (1 Cor. 2:9)
❖ And where was Christ going? – to “paradise!” –
❖ As a Jew he would be familiar with that word (perhaps more than us). The first paradise was where Adam and the Woman walked with God in the cool of the day in intimate fellowship – it was a garden planted by God of great beauty and splendour. Heaven will be so much greater! No wonder that Paul longed “to be with the Lord – which was better by far than life in this world!” (Phil. 1:23)
❖ No, he wasn’t going into a “soul sleep” or into a “purgatory” – as some believe; at death he would be ushered into heaven where Christ would be - He would enter paradise with Jesus!
❖ We note that our Lord’s first two sayings while hanging from the cross concerned the “forgiveness of sin” and the “salvation of sinners.”
❖ That is not surprising as this was the whole purpose of His incarnation – to “save His people from their sins.” (Matt. 1:21)
❖ So, in our daily Christian lives/this Easter, you and I need to also focus on what our Saviour has achieved for us, reflecting on what He did on the cross - completing the work His Father had given Him - the redemption of His people.
o It is easy to let our Christian life slide into laziness – if viewing Christ’s love and suffering on the cross doesn’t move you to renewed obedience, nothing will! Calvary should always excite & humble us.
o Pray that God’s Spirit may enlarge your appreciation of Christ’s grace to you – it is the greatest blessing you will ever receive – eternal life in paradise – with Christ!
o Appreciate the very fact that you have received the gift of faith – through no merit of your own – and thank the Lord every day of your life.
o Unlike the thief who had no time to live a full life of love and bear testimony for His Saviour – you have! So in all the days you have left to you, live a life of love and obedience to your Great Shepherd - in humble, deep gratitude for this immeasurable blessing!
o Explore living a Christian life in every facet –
▪ at work, at home, during holidays, birthdays, parties, , driving, reading, watching TV,
▪ how you spend your time – praying, reading and studying scripture – esp. during corona virus.
▪ being a husband/wife, son/daughter, brother/sister, parent, friend, workmate, neighbour.
▪ that thief may be a little envious of you - who have every opportunity to express your love and gratitude to Jesus Christ.
o But life (which is God’s gift) will come to an end - & you too will join this nameless thief in paradise and be “with Christ” living in His presence forever - forever praising Him with all the saints – “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain – to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and praise.!” (Rev. 5:12)
o And all God’s people said - “Amen!’