Luke 23:39-44 -- "And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us. But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise. And it was about the sixth hour, and there was a darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. And the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was rent in the midst. "
The scene is Golgothas hill -- Calvary -- Calvary, the most sacred place in the world; Calvary, where the Son of God died that the sons of men might live; Calvary, where the rich, red blood of a King was shed for sinful humanity; Calvary, where the angels wept and the devils rejoiced; Calvary, where all the sin of the world was laid on the One who had no sin; Calvary, where men can come and bathe their troubled souls and find the peace which passeth all understanding; Calvary, where you and I can come and receive life and joy and hope.
Jesus, along with these two thieves had been on the cross for some time. Jesus had been saying, as they were nailing Him to the cross, and as they hung Him there on the cross, "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do." He continued to repeat that over and over and over.
Now some time has transpired; and we look upon this scene that was so magnificent, so marvelous, of those two thieves and the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus was on the center cross as the central figure, the one most prominent in the narrative of the cross. Beside Him was a thief, however, that got more than he stole, and on the other side was a thief that lost more than he gained.. The first thief saw in the Lord Jesus Christ royalty, he also saw in the Lord Jesus Christ resurrection; and he also saw in the Lord Jesus Christ redemption. The second thief lost his life, lost his opportunities, and lost whatever rewards he might have gained in the future. The purpose of salvation is exhibited; the promise of the Savior is exhibited; and the proper attitude toward the Savior is exhibited; and taught in this passage. I want to share some of those issues with you.
PURPOSE OF THE SAVIOR
The purpose of the Savior is exhibited in the scene of the cross. This scene pictures the drama of salvation as is found nowhere else in the scripture, so plainly, and distinctly. Here is one thief who died in his sin, for he did not repent and did not trust the Savior. The other thief died to his sin. He died to self, and died to all, and looked to Jesus Christ the central figure on the cross to be saved. Of course, Jesus Christ died for sin. He died for the sin of every person that had ever lived or ever would live, and here is a marvelous picture of salvation. Some see the cross and yet reject the Savior and do not accept Him as their Savior, as the first thief did. Then others see the cross and see the Lord Jesus Christ and come to Him, just as the second thief did. They come with the same attitude and with the same mentality, and they trust Jesus Christ as their Savior. What a marvelous drama of salvation is so pictured here to us!
This scene also refutes some false doctrines that were not necessarily present at the time but would become evident in history. One doctrine is the doctrine of sacramentalism. That doctrine states such things as baptism, or communion, or church ceremony can save a person. That doctrine is refuted here because without any of those things, here was a thief that looked to Jesus and was gloriously saved. After the thief said, "Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom," Jesus said, "Today shalt thou be with me in Paradise." The thief did not have to have communion, did not have to have the Lord's supper, did not have to join a church, did not have to go through church ceremony; and so, sacramentalism, that doctrine that would come into vogue in a few months was firmly refuted.
The doctrine of purgatory also was soundly refuted. That doctrine states that when you die, you must go to a place of torment and there have your sins punished. No one knows how much, but to some degree, and after those sins have been purged, then you get to go to heaven. That doctrine is soundly refuted here; for here was a thief that did not go to purgatory. Jesus said, "Today shalt thou be with me in Paradise."
Another doctrine refuted was the doctrine of soul sleeping. That doctrine states, when a person dies his soul hovers around his grave until the resurrection day. That doctrine is refuted; for Jesus said to this thief, "Today shalt thou be with me in Paradise." There would not be any soul sleeping for that thief. "Today shalt thou be with me in Paradise."
Also the doctrine of Universalism was refuted. A fellow once said, "Well, we are all going to Heaven, we are just going there by different routes, by different ways." That doctrine is soundly refuted. There is only one way to Heaven. Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man cometh unto the Father but by me." He said, "I am the door, by me, if any man enter in, he shall be saved." There is only one way to Heaven and this thief took the only way. He looked to Jesus and said, "Lord, remember me when thou comest into Thy Kingdom," and Jesus said, "Today shalt thou be with me in Paradise." What a glorious scene, what a great scene has been transmitted to man to this day, that he might know the true God and the salvation that God has provided so marvelously for him!
POWER OF THE SAVIOR
Yet, the saving of this thief occurred at a time when it seemed that Jesus had no power. It was before the darkness enveloped the land, it was before the great earthquake that came and shook the rocks, and the graves opened, so that some of the saints might come out of their graves and walk around in the city of Jerusalem. It was before all that! It was before the power of God was manifested. Here, Jesus was crucified, hanging on a cross, maligned, reviled, ridiculed, rebuked, scorned, and seemingly unable to do anything about it. Yet, even in that condition the thief looked to Jesus and said, "Lord, remember me when thou comest into Thy kingdom." Jesus had the power, even then, to save a soul; for, He said, "Today shalt thou be with me in Paradise." Jesus is the only One that can save anyone! Those who mocked said to Jesus, If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross. He saved others, Himself he cannot save. Well, that was true to a point. He could not save Himself and save you and me, so He stayed on the cross, so He could save you and me. When Jesus died, He took the full punishment for your sin and mine, so that punishment would never have to be meted out to those of us who would come to the Savior in repentance and faith, as this thief did. The scripture tells us in Hebrews 7:25 that, "Jesus is able to save to the uttermost them that come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for us." And so even though this occurred at a time it seemed the Saviour had no power, He had power to save a lowly sinner.
PROMISE OF THE SAVIOR
Then I bring to your attention, the promise of the Savior which is so wondrously taught here. If you will notice in verse 42, the thief said unto Jesus, "Lord, remember me when thou comest into Thy kingdom." Jesus said unto him, "Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise." Verily Verily, I say unto you. In essence what Jesus is saying is, Amen, so be it. That is what Amen means. So when Jesus said unto him, "Amen, I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise." Amen means so be it; and so Jesus said to the thief: What you have asked Me, it is going to be. Jesus said some marvelous things. There were some things underlining this statement that are thrilling. He meant among other things, the purchase price was going to be paid for that thief's redemption. In the book of Ephesians chapter 1:7, the Bible reads, "In whom" (Jesus is who it is speaking of), "We have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins according to the riches of His grace." He meant that He was going to stay on the cross and pay redemption's price for that thief, and no one could pull Him down from the cross. He was going to stay until the end, until it was finished, until that time when He would say, "It is finished." When He said, "Amen, I say unto you, Today shalt thou be with me in Paradise," He was saying I intend to go to Hell for you. I intend to go into the depths of Hell and take the punishment that you deserve for your sins. I am going to take it for you, today. Jesus further said, when He said, "Amen, I say unto you, today shalt thou be with me in Paradise," that the second Adam, of whom the Bible talks (Jesus is the second Adam), was going to return to Paradise. He was going to stay on the cross until He died and then return to Paradise.
He was saying something else. When He said that to the thief, He was saying, I am going to take a trophy with me back to the heavenly vault and that trophy is going to be you. I am taking your soul with me back to Paradise! "Amen, I say unto you, Today shalt thou be with me in Paradise." He was saying also to that thief, you can depend on me. You can depend on my word, "Amen, so be it, today shalt thou be with me in Paradise." You can depend on what I am saying. I am not going to let you down and He did not. Now that promise He made to that thief when that thief turned to Him is also assured to us. John 6:36 states, "Him that cometh," Jesus was speaking, "Him that cometh unto me I will in no wise, (or for no reason), cast out." That is the same thing in essence He was saying to the thief on the cross, "Today shalt thou be with me in Paradise." Jesus was saying you can count on it, Amen! If you come to me and trust me as your Savior, you can be assured that you will be with me in glory. He was also saying, as in Matthew 11:27, "Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest." He meant that! Because He meant what He said to the thief, we can be assured that He means that for us today. That if we need rest and peace, and every lost person does, we could come to the Savior and get that which we need. What a wonderful promise the Lord gave here!.
Yet we have a realization that here was death bed repentance. There is only one case in the Bible reported of someone dying on his death bed and that is this thief. Someone wrote, One case is recorded that none may despair, and that only one is reported that none might presume. I have met folks who intend to get saved just before they die. I would not count on it. There is only one case in scripture where one did. I think it is possible, but I think the probability of it is not very great. I think a person is foolish to take that chance. They are foolish for not only taking that chance, but they are foolish for also not even coming to the Savior. Life is much better with the Savior than it is without the Savior. I have lived on both sides of conversion and I can recommend being saved. It is a better life. It is a better life here, and certainly, a more wonderful life when we get to glory.
PROPER ATTITUDE TOWARD THE SAVIOR
Then I want us to see the proper attitude that this thief had when he came to the Savior. One thief was saying in verse 39 to Jesus, "If thou be Christ, if thou be God." Well, that is the wrong thing to do, to doubt the deity of Jesus Christ. Jesus is God, the Bible says, "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the word was God. All things were made by Him and without Him was not anything made that was made. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father full of grace and truth." Jesus Christ is God. He accepted the acclaim of God and yet this thief had the audacity to imply that he was not God. "If thou be Christ." Then his prayer was, save thyself and us. He was so concerned about this present life. I think often, that some folks join a church because they are concerned about this life and think things will be better in this life. They will be better if you are a born-again Christian, but that is not the reason to come to the Savior. The reason to come to the Savior is to bring glory to Him and to be assured that you are going to Heaven. That is where it's important to be when we leave this place.
Well, this thief believed in a future life and he also believed in retribution. Verse 40 says, But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss." Now you remember the passage I read from the book of Matthew. In the gospel of Matthew it said that folks were reviling Jesus, deriding Jesus, scorning Him, and the Bible says in one of those verses, and the thieves cast the same in his teeth. These thieves were doing the same thing the crowd was doing. Incidently, Dr. L. R. Scarborough said that thousands of people walked by the cross that day and saw Jesus hanging on the cross. So they were making fun of Him and He was hanging there in shame. These two thieves were doing the same and joining in with the crowd, but suddenly, the one said, "If thou be Christ, save thyself and us," The other said to the first thief, "Dost not thou fear God?" In so saying that, he was acknowledging the fact, that he believed in a future life and retribution. "Dost not thou fear God" (do you not fear punishment)? I wonder today how much we fear God; I wonder how much we fear punishment, I wonder how much we fear the judgment of God. Satan will not let us think about the power of God and God's hatred for sin. One day God, because this old sinful world was so wicked and so corrupt, (and I do not know that it was any worse then than it is now), said to Noah: I want you to build a ship 450 feet long, 150 feet wide, with three stories in it and I'm going to send rain. Noah did not even know what rain was, because the earth had been watered by a mist before that. God said, Noah I am going to send rain and flood everything. Noah worked on that ark for 120 years and one day God said, "Noah, come thou and all thy house into the ark," and Noah did and God shut the door, the Bible says. That is what it says, God shut the door. I want to tell you when God shut the door, no man was going to open it. Millions of people died in that flood because of God's hatred of sin. We read in I Samuel 6:19, that some men in a town in Israel looked into the Ark of God, and God killed 50,070 men because they did that which was disobedient to Him. We remember the story in the Old Testament where God opened up the ground and the sons of Korah were swallowed into it and died. Oh, the power of God! There was a wicked king that came to attack the people of God. His name was Sennacherib of the Assyrian army. In one fell swoop, God killed 185,000 Assyrian soldiers, all at once. What I am talking about today, is the power of God, and the judgment of God upon sin, and all through the Bible we find it. One lady said to me, "I cannot understand the thousands and thousands of people that suffered retribution at the hands of God in the Old Testament." God tells us in the book of I Corinthians, that all these things happened unto them as examples for us. We know to do good, and we know to do right, and yet we do not do good, and we do not do right according to what God wants us to do.
Dr. R. G. Lee, who is known as the Prince of Preachers, in Memphis, Tennessee, had a sermon he preached all across this country, "Payday Someday." It is a great sermon. I heard him preach it down at Little River Baptist Church in Miami, one time, "Payday Someday." We need to recognize the things that God is not pleased with, that we are doing or not doing, and we need to fear a Holy God because of it. This thief believed in retribution, he believed in judgment. He was dying, hanging on a cross, and he said, "Lord, remember me when thou comest into Thy kingdom." But before he said that, he isolated himself, he put himself on the side of Christ. He said to the other thief, that the Jews were condemned, and the Romans were condemned, and the people were condemned. He said, "Don't you fear God?" Don't you fear God, seeing we are in the same condemnation? And we indeed, justly. We deserve to die. But this man, but this man hath done nothing wrong. He realized his own sinfulness. We are in the same condemnation, justly are we getting our due reward by being crucified; justly are we dying because we have committed sin. He is saying, we have committed crimes worthy of death and it is just. Justice is being done. You know for a person to get saved, they need to, number one, realize that there is a judgment one day. They will have to stand before a holy and righteous God. They must also realize, they are a sinner. They do not deserve heaven. A missionary told me a long time ago, "Preacher, you know before anybody can get saved, they have got to get lost." What a great truth that is! Nobody gets saved until they get lost, and this thief had gotten lost. He realized he was going out to meet a holy God in a few minutes and he was not ready to meet Him. He was acknowledging that he was a sinner. We indeed justly, for we receive the due rewards of our deeds.
Then we see further, that he bore testimony to the Lord Jesus Christ's sinlessness. He held Jesus in awe. Jesus may be dying on the cross there with him, but he held Jesus in awe. He looked at Him and recognized He was sinless. This man hath done nothing amiss. We need to recognize the fact, that the sinless Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, died for us and not for Himself. He died, that we might live. He died for sin and the sinner. This thief, who was dying to sin, was trusting that One who was dying for sin. Notice in verse 41, he said, "Lord, remember me, Lord, remember me." He had been saying, "If thou be the Son of God," but suddenly he said "Lord." That meant he was saying: You are my boss, You are my owner, You are my master. You are the Christ, the anointed of God; you are God. No longer, "If thou be the son of God," but, "Thou art the son of God."
We get mixed up on this matter of Jesus being God and many times we will ask a Christian, do you believe Jesus is God and they will say, No, He is the Son of God. Well, Jesus is God and He is also the Son of God. You may need to understand something about the scriptures regarding this. For instance, they said of Barnabas that he was the Son of Consolation, that didn't mean his father's name was Consolation. That meant he was a consoling person, that was his attribute, a consoler. When they said, Jesus was the Son of God, they were saying that he is the mirror image of God. He is just like God, He is God, and so when the thief was saying Lord, he had done away with that saying, If thou be the Son of God, save us. Now he was saying, Thou art God, Lord remember me.
I asked a fellow one time if he were saved and he said, "Yes, my wife saved me," I said, "Well, that is amazing! I dont want to be rude; but it took God, to save me." A woman can not save a man; a man can not save a man; a priest can not save a man; a preacher can not save a man; a church can not save a man; only God can save a man. Jesus Christ is God and the thief was saying, "Lord, remember me."
Something else is seen here. The proper attitude of how to be saved is manifested. He believed in the Saviorhood of Christ. He said, "Lord, remember me." Now he could have said, "Lord save me," but when he said,Lord remember me, he was encompassing that as well. He was looking to Jesus as the One who could save him and would remember him when Jesus entered into His kingdom. And Jesus said, "Today shalt thou be with me in Paradise." No one gets saved until they come to Christ. We do not trust the Holy Spirit to save us. We trust Jesus Christ to save us. He is the Savior. So here he believed in the Saviorhood of Christ. Lord remember me. Jesus is the one that does the saving.
The thief did something else. He evidenced his faith in Christ's kingship. "Lord, remember me when thou comest into Thy kingdom." Jesus did not look like He was a king. He did not have on a king's crown; He had on a crown of thorns. A king would have been given a robe of purple, which speaks of royalty, but He was without attire. Jesus was not arrayed as a king. He has no power exhibited, but this thief knew, He could save him, and He knew He had a kingdom. "Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom." And Jesus said, "Today shalt thou be with me in Paradise." What we see in this, is a man who repented of his sins. He changed from being with the crowd, he changed to being on God's side. He believed on His righteousness and then, we see him putting his faith in Christ. He cared not any longer what the crowd said. He did not care that the crowd reviled him; he did not care what the crowd had to say about him; he was going to get saved. And so it is when a person comes to the Savior, he wants to be saved more than anything else in the world. He cared not what others thought. When I got saved, I was on my knees crying to God for mercy, and to save me, and I did not care what the cost was, I wanted to be saved, regardless of the cost, above all else, I wanted to be saved. Forsaking all else, I trusted Jesus Christ, as my Savior. That is the picture we get here. The thief forsook everything else and trusted Jesus Christ for the saving of his soul. Now that is the proper attitude of a person coming to Christ.
There is another thing here that I want to share with you. Jesus said, "Today shalt thou be with me in Paradise." With me. You know the great desire of Jesus is to have you with Him, in Paradise. Think of that, God wants you in Paradise with Him. God wants me in Paradise with Him. In the book of Philippians, chapter 1:23 the Bible says, "For me to live is Christ and to die is gain. For I am in a strait betwixt two having a desire to depart and to be with Christ." The apostle Paul said that in Philippians. In II Corinthians chapter 5:8, the Bible says, "To be absent from the body, is to be present with the Lord." The moment we die, if we are saved, we go immediately to be with the Lord, because that is what the Lord wants. "Today shalt thou be with me in Paradise." He wants us there with Him. As soon as we leave this body, He wants us there with Him. In John 14:1, Jesus said, "Let not your heart be troubled, ye believe in God believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions, if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you, and if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself." Unto myself. Unto myself. The Savior wants us with Him in the glory world. In I Thessalonians chapter 4, the Bible is talking about the second coming of Christ and says, "The dead in Christ shall rise first, then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up with them in the clouds and there shall we ever be with the Lord." Ever be with the Lord. Ever be with the Lord. How do we get in that state where we will "ever be with the Lord"? Come as a poor, lost, humble sinner, like this thief on the cross, forsaking all else and trusting Jesus Christ to the saving of your soul. Crying out to Him, "Lord, remember me when thou comest into Thy kingdom. I care not what the crowd wants or what they think. I care not what anyone thinks, I want to be saved above all else. Lord, remember me." When we come that way, God is going to save us, just as He saved the thief on the cross. He'll save us just that way. Without baptism or church membership or anything else we can dream of, God is going to save us.