Hallelujah. In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ we continue with this morning’s sermon topic the Seven Sayings from the Cross.
Last week I shared with you the first saying which was – “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” This first statement He had uttered after He had undergone such brutal and horrific and humiliating treatment under the hands of the Roman guards. His beard plucked from His face, His back was beaten and bruised and whipped raw. The crown of thorns placed on His head. His beard plucked from His face and people spit on Him to humiliate Him.
Yet, as He hung from the cross by the nails in His hands and feet, His very first words were to offer forgiveness to those who did not deserve it. Of all the people in the world those who deserve forgiveness the least were those who crucified Him, but yet our Lord Jesus gave us this example that we should follow and forgive our enemies. This morning I’d like to continue sharing some thoughts on the second saying which is found in Luke 23:39-43
39 Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, “If You are the Christ,[a] save Yourself and us.”
40 But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said to Jesus, “Lord,[b] remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”
43 And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”
First of all let me share some thoughts with you that I have about this story. I find it very interesting that while Jesus hung on the cross, He never once—not once—uttered a statement of defense. Not one time did He yell out, “You’ve got the wrong man.” Not one time did He say, “I did not commit an offense worthy of death. Why are you crucifying an innocent man?” In fact, not only did Jesus utter no defense, none of His disciples protested His prosecution. Not one disciple spoke out on behalf of our Lord Jesus Christ. They all remained silent as they watched their friend, their teacher, their Savior suffer intense pain.
It is very interesting that the only person who spoke out in defense of Jesus was a convicted criminal, a thief, a robber, an unrighteous sinful man. We are told in the Bible that this thief while he was hanging on the cross next to Jesus that he had told the other thief, “This man has done nothing wrong.” This thief had the courage and the faith to stand up for Jesus. This impressed our Lord Jesus so much that He told the man that he would be with Him in Paradise.
This is a wonderful story. There are some lessons we can learn from Jesus’ second saying on the cross. First, from this story we learn the true meaning of salvation by grace. This condemned, unworthy thief received salvation. He didn’t deserve it. In fact, if you’d read Matthew’s account of the same story, the same event, you’ll see that this thief had earlier also insulted the Lord Jesus. He had verbally abused and attacked Jesus, but as this man hung on the cross, his heart softened. He obtained a penitent heart. He wanted Jesus to forgive him, to remember him in the kingdom, which Jesus did. What moved him to change his heart? Why the sudden change of heart? It is because this man saw what had been done to Jesus. He saw the beatings, he saw the humiliation, he saw the soldiers’ gambling for his clothing, he saw Him being punished worse than what they had received. But he also saw them, he saw the Lord Jesus asking His Father to forgive them for what they did because they didn’t know what they were doing.
I am convinced that his heart was so touched by those words “Father forgive them” that his heart was changed did he realize that only the son of God could uttered those words. So how can this criminal be saved? Some of you say, “Brother Richard, remember now…we know that you can’t go to heaven unless you are baptized.” I received this question a lot.
How can the thief on the cross go to heaven when he was not baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of his sins? It’s simple. It’s a very simple answer. The Lord Jesus had not died yet. His Spirit had not been given up yet. So therefore, by His spoken word, He could do anything. He could forgive anyone. But now that He is buried and resurrected we must rely upon His spirit and the blood of Christ and the water to have our sins washed away as it tells us in Acts 2:38
This was a convicted robber who was sentenced to death. He had probably been a thief for many years. He took things that did not belong to him. He lived a sinful life. So how could he receive salvation? He received salvation through the unearned gift of God’s grace. It is through this wonderful grace that we could be saved as well. Let’s look at Romans 3:22-24
22 even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all[a] who believe. For there is no difference; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus…
Through Jesus Christ we can be freely justified by the grace of God. Let me share with you an illustration, a story. During WWII in 1944, there was a young man, a soldier name Bert Frizant. One day his patrol reached a wooded field with an open area before them. Unknown to the Americans, on the other side of the field waiting in the trenches about 200 yards away was a whole battery of German soldiers. This young man, Bert, was one of two that were sent out ahead to move into the clearing we would call point man. Once he was half way across the field the remainder of his battalion followed.
Suddenly, the Germans open fired and the machine gun fire ripped into both of Bert’s legs and the American battalion withdrew into the woods for protection and they began to fire back and forth. Bert lay helplessly in this small stream as all the shots went over his head. To him there seemed no way out. To make matters worse, He now noticed that a German soldier was crawling towards him. Death appeared imminent to him so he closed his eyes and he waited. But to his surprise, a considerable period of time passed without this expected attack by this German soldier, so he took a chance and opened his eyes again, and he was startled because he saw the German kneeling at his side smiling at him. He didn’t notice that the shooting had stopped. The troops from both sides of the battlefield watched in quietness. Without any word this mysterious German reached down and lifted Bert up in his arms and he proceeded to carry him to safety of the American troops.
After he accomplished his self-appointed mission—still not speaking a word—this German soldier turned and walked back across the field to his own troops. No one dared to break the silence of that moment. They couldn’t believe what they were witnessing. However, a short while later the firing, the shooting broke out again and all those present had witnessed how one man risked everything for his enemy. You see Bert’s life was saved through the compassion of a man who was his enemy.
Brothers and sisters, our salvation has been made available through the compassion of one man, Jesus Christ. To receive salvation, we must believe in our Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior. He says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” He also said, ‘There is no other name in heaven by which we can be saved. No one period, no one can save you, except the Lord Jesus Christ. Your prayers must be to the Lord Jesus Christ. No one else can save you.
We must repent of our sins. We must confess our faith in the Lord. We must be baptized for the forgiveness of our sins in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. We must live faithfully to the end. The second thing we can learn from this story is that we learn that no matter what we have done in our past, we can still be saved. I don’t know for sure but chances are that the thief had not lived his life for God. He probably didn’t attend the synagogue at a regular basis. He probably lived his life without regard for the things of God. But while he was on the cross he changed and became a spiritually minded person. The afterlife became suddenly important to him.
As he was approaching death, he found he needed to get his life right and with God. Because of his faith in Christ, this thief received salvation, although his past was full of sin and unrighteousness. No matter what we had done in the past, God will accept us and give us another chance if we are willing to follow His will. God isn’t interested in what we once were; instead he is interested in what we can become. Many people in the Bible overcame a very turbulent past and became great and faithful servants of the Lord. Abraham, the Father of the Hebrew nation, at one time worshipped other gods. Let’s turn to Joshua 24:2
2 And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the Lord God of Israel: ‘Your fathers, including Terah, the father of Abraham and the father of Nahor, dwelt on the other side of the River[a] in old times; and they served other gods.
David, the second king of Israel, although he committed adultery. He had Uriah put to death and killed in the battlefront so he could have Bathsheba his wife. He became a man after God’s own heart. Paul, the great apostle of Jesus Christ, at one time had the Christians arrested and killed. Even though at one time these men lived ungodly lives, they were given another chance and eventually they became great servants of the Lord and so can we. We must forget our past failures and focus on our future successes. Paul put it in a very good way. Let’s turn to Philippians 3:13-14
13 Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, 14 I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
All too many of us think that, “I have committed such terrible sins in the past. There is no way God would forgive me of my sins.” You are wrong. Once we have been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, once we have had our sins washed away, we are a newborn baby in Christ. We are to walk a new path, a new life in Christ, but if we continue to live as we lived in the past. If in the past we were a sinner and we committed sins. In the past we have all this ugliness in our life and we continue to live in that same lifestyle then we had not truly accepted Lord Jesus Christ as our savior. We have not truly repented of our sins, which means to turn away from, we have chosen instead to live the life of sin. Then your salvation becomes questionable.
The third thing we learn from this story is that we must accept God’s salvation before it is too late. You know the other thief on the cross. He had the opportunity to get his life right with God. His life ended without salvation. Maybe if he had a few more years he would have eventually made the decision to follow Christ. But his time ran out.
Sometimes when we hear people say, “Well, I believe in God and all of that stuff but I am not ready to give up my party life, my fun life yet.” Brothers and sisters, time is running out. Several years ago my family and I used to listen to a preacher on television. I remember one story that he told that really stuck with me. He told us about this young girl, 17 years old. During one of his evangelical services, they had what they call an “altar call”…they’d ask people to give their life to Christ. You notice that during the service she has been crying, she seem to have been moved by everything she had heard, but yet when it came to giving up her life to Christ she just held back, so afterwards he spoke to her and asked her what was keeping her from accepting Christ.
She said, “I am young. I am 17 years old. There are a lot of things I want to do. I want to have fun in life. If I become a Christian I can’t have any fun.” Although we know that is not true, we have just as much fun as anyone else. It’s just a lot more cleaner. She says, “Maybe another time. There is a party coming up that I really want to go, because there is a boy there that I really like. I think we can hit it off. After the party, I’ll come again and maybe I’ll give my life to Christ.” The following week as they were having the service they heard this terrible crashing noise outside. People went running outside and this young woman was laid on the steps of the church. She had gone through the windshield of the car. Her time had run out.
We had in this very church a truthseeker, who used to sit in the back last year. She was in her 70s and she had decided to accept Christ as her savior. We had spiritual convocation coming up. She wanted to be baptized, but during that time, she also wanted to go back to New York to visit her children. She said, “When I come back from New York, the next spiritual convocation that you have…then maybe I will be baptized.” Unfortunately, she passed away of cancer before she received baptism with the remission of her sins.
Our time is running out. We may walk out of this chapel this morning and get in the car and never make it. Life is so unpredictable. We don’t know. We might have only a very short time left. We need to place our faith in Jesus and receive God’s wonderful gift of salvation before it is too late. We have to continue to strive to hold fast to our salvation all the way to the very end. You know I talked about this before, God gives us choices in life to make. Adam and Eve was given a choice of obeying God and not eating a forbidden fruit and having eternal life in the Garden of Eden forever and they chose to disobey God and they suffered the consequences. Throughout the Bible we see the disobedience of men. Man making the wrong choices. We also see right choices being made. Daniel and his three friends.
I also talked about in the past why there were only three crosses. You ever wonder that? Why there wasn’t 10 and 12 or 15 crosses up there of people hanging. Why was our Lord Jesus the only one placed in the center with the thief on each side? Because God shows us that up to the very end, we all have a choice to make. We can choose to live a life to accept Christ as our savior and live a life of righteousness or we can choose to live like the other thief, rejecting Christ and dying in our sins and suffering eternal damnation. The choice is ours so we must remember the cross. Remember the story about the thief. Actually, remember the story about the two thieves. The one who accepted the Lord Jesus as His savior whose heart was changed and he repented and he received his just reward. All the sins he had committed in the past were gone and done with. All that mattered were those words, the last words that came out of his mouth.
And we also need to remember the other thief who saw and witnessed the same things as his friend, but he had such a hardened heart that he chose to die in his sin rather than to accepting Jesus as his savior. The choice is ours. We praise and thank God that we have this opportunity to gather together this morning for Sabbath service and I hope that these words of encouragement, these words of learning from our Lord Jesus on the cross will help us to remember the grace of God, the salvation of God is such a wonderful gift and that we should never ever take it for granted. That we should never ever think that we can continue to live a life of sin, a life of unrighteousness and expect our Lord Jesus to continue to forgive us. Amen.