On the south coast of
China on a hillside overlooking the harbor of Macao,
Portuguese settlers once built a massive cathedra.
But a typhoon proved stronger than the works of
man's hands and the walls and fortress of the old
fort have long ago come and gone. Some centuries ago
the cathedral fell in ruins except for the front
wall. High on the top of that jutting wall is a
great bronze cross. Throughout the last several
centuries thousands have been reminded of life in
the One who died on another cross. Ships have
gone down in the traitorous waters of the South
China Sea and men have clung by faith to the One who
died for them on the Cross of Calvary.
In 1825 Sir John Bowering
was shipwrecked there. Clinging to the wreckage of
his ship, at long last he caught sight of that great
cross, which showed him where he could find safety
on the shore. This dramatic rescue moved him to
"In the cross of Christ I
Towering o'er the wrecks
All the light of sacred
Gathers round its head
The apostle Paul said,
"For I determined not to know anything among you,
save Jesus Christ and Him crucified" (2 Cor. 2:2).
Again he said, "We preach Christ crucified" (1:23).
I ask you to consider
with me the second word that Christ spoke from the
Cross. There were three men dying on crosses at
The execution was carried
out outside the walls of the city of Jerusalem. The
three men carried their own crosses. The person
crucified "died a thousand deaths" that day. Large
nails were driven through their hands and feet (Jn.
20:25; Lk. 24:40). The victims suffered from severe
inflammation, swollen wounds around the nails, pain
from torn tendons, burning thirst, a strained
position that made exhaling nearly impossible.
Finally when they could no longer push themselves up
by their feet they could exhale no longer and
Moreover, in the
suffering of Jesus only the damned in hell would
know what He endured on the cross. Even then, they
could not enter into the depths of His suffering
because they were guilty sinners, but Jesus was the
innocent suffer from heaven. He was sinless. He
never experienced personal sin. He was suffering the
spiritual death of all the accumulated debt of every
sinner throughout history.
Thousands of people were
gathering in Jerusalem that day for the Passover
celebrations. No doubt many were passing down the
road and would witness firsthand the crucifixion. As
they gathered about the cross, staring, gazing, and
looking upon the horrible scene the religious
leaders were leading them on in shear hatred toward
All this time Jesus kept
on saying, how many times we do not know: "Father
forgive them; for they do not know what they are
THE CROSS OF REBELLION
This criminal was
rebellious to all that was going on around him. He
is described as a "criminal." The word means doers
of evil things. Both Mark and Matthew describe him
as a outlaw, or revolutionary and insurrectionist.
This is no common criminal. This was his habitual
way of life. He had a long criminal record. No
doubt this man had been a rebel at heart all his
Perhaps he was rebelling
against the Roman government. Possibly he wanted to
free his people from Roman control and had tried by
legitimate means, but was disappointed by his zealot
friends when his organized efforts failed. Then he
organized a guerrilla band to fight the Romans. Now
on this cross he is rebelling against all the Romans
stood for––law, order, peace, justice, etc.
He was rebelling against
society. He is characterized as a "criminal." He had
gone about the countryside robbing, murdering and
raping. He hated the mob that was wagging their
heads and shouting at him. He was rebelling against
everything society stood for.
No doubt he was rebelling
against organized religion of his day. The religious
leaders were stirring up the mob to frenzy. He hated
everything the pious Jews stood for, and loved. No
doubt, he had broken all their commandments. "Thou
shalt not take the name of the Lord in vain."
"Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy." "Honor
your father and your mother." "Do not steal."
But tragically he was
rebelling against the LORD God. He was rebelling
against His love. The historian Luke tells us, "And
one of the criminals who were hanged there was
hurling abuse at Him saying, 'Are You not the Christ
[the Messiah]? Save Yourself and us!" (v. 39). The
words "hurling abuse" literally means "blaspheming."
This rebel railed on, taunted, hurled insults, and
began to blaspheme against Jesus. For all we know he
had never seen Jesus before this day. But he was
echoing all he heard the priests and people
The religious leaders
were not content that they had succeeded in having
Jesus crucified. The chief priests, scribes and
elders were busy stirring up the people to heap
insults on Jesus (Matt. 27:41). They were "sneering"
at the crucified enemy. They shouted that He could
save others, but if He really were the Messiah
surely He could save Himself.
This criminal echoed the
rulers who "were sneering at Him saying, 'He saved
others; let Him save Himself if this is the Christ
of God, His Chosen One" (v. 35). The word for
"sneering" or "scoffing" means literally to turn his
or her nose up at someone. They were sneering,
jeering and making fun of Jesus. But it was not just
a passing gesture. The original language tells us
that they kept it up. The activity went on for some
time. It is action in the past that continues over a
period of time. They kept shouting at Him, "You
saved others from death, save yourself!" If You are
the Messiah, the Anointed of God, save Yourself.
He echoed the soldiers
mingling about the cross in verses 36-37. Pilate had
been used in this terrible ordeal so he took out his
rage by having the soldiers put a written an
accusation above the head of Jesus that read: "This
is the King of the Jews" (v. 38). That was Pilate's
way of getting even and mocking the Jewish leaders.
They continued to come up holding up their flask of
cheap sour wine and making sport of Him mockingly
invited Jesus as king to come down from the cross
and join them in a toast to His kingdom. "The
soldiers also mocked Him, coming up to Him, offering
Him sour wine, and saying, "If You are the King of
the Jews, save Yourself!" Someone retorted, "How did
they know God didn't drink sour vinegar!"
After about an hour of
bitter taunt, he continued to plead in his agony,
"Are You not the Messiah? Save Yourself and us!"
Don't miss the imperfect tense; he keeps on taunting
Jesus over and over again. It is a continuous rage
of sarcastic, mocking bitter taunt.
All this rebel wanted was
a way of escape. He looked on the death of Jesus and
made his appeal on the level of a prison break. The
rebellious criminal kept saying, "Are You not the
Messiah? Save Yourself and us!" Come on down from
the cross and take us with You. We'll join you in
Your crusade against Rome.
The paradox is though he
rebelled against all the forces he was caught up by
them and echoed their rebellious cry as if it were
In essence he was saying,
"Jesus take me down from this cross. I don't mind
being a sinner, but I do not wish to suffer for my
crimes. I don't mind being what I am. I have no
objection to being a criminal.
We are all rebels
Lest we get too hardened
against this rebel we need to keep in mind that we
all have a tendency to rebel against God. We may not
be a robber, or murder, or insurrectionist, but deep
down in our heart of hearts we say no to Jesus.
The Hebrew prophet
Jeremiah said, "The heart is deceitful above all
things and desperately wicked" (17:9). The prophet
Isaiah echoed our hearts when he wrote in 53:6,
"All of us like sheep
have gone astray,
Each of us has turned to
his own way;
But the Lord has caused
the iniquity of us all
To fall on Him."
And in 64:6 he wrote,
"For all of us have
become like one who is unclean,
And all our righteous
deeds are like a filthy garment;
And all of us wither like
And our iniquities, like
the wind, take us away."
The Bible makes it very
clear that we have all come short of God's
expectations. We have all come short of His perfect
standards. That is what it means when it says, "We
have sinned and come short of the glory of God"
(Romans 3:23). We have gotten an "F" on our
spiritual report card. We fall short of His perfect
holiness. Our sin and unbelief separates us from God
who is perfect holiness, righteousness and justice.
The prophet Habakkuk wrote, "Thine eyes are too pure
to approve evil, and Thou canst not look on
wickedness with favor . . ." (1:13a). Therefore
there is a severe penalty against all sin. "The
wages of sin is death . . ." (Romans 6:23).
Not only do we find a
cross of rebellion, but also a cross of repentance
THE CROSS OF
REPENTANCE (Luke 23:40-42)
The other criminal who
was being crucified with Jesus also got caught up in
the riot for some time. There was everything to
obscure his vision just like the rebellious thief.
Matthew tells us "And the robbers also who had been
crucified with Him were casting the same insult at
Him" (27:44). Both of the criminals were joining in
heaping the insults on Jesus. What were those
insults? Matthew writes, "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'" (vv. 41-43).
This man saw
himself as a sinner
But this second thief
finally came to his senses. He turned on and
interrupted the other thief rebuking him. Luke
continues, "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" (23:40-41). He sternly reprimanded the other
It is an enduring fear of
God, present tense that grips his soul. Do you not
dread a holy and righteous God? The thief reminds us
of Hebrews 9:27-28. And inasmuch as it is appointed
for men to die once and after this comes judgment,
so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the
sins of many, will appear a second time for
salvation without reference to sin, to those who
eagerly await Him." The same writer said, "It is a
terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the
living God" (10:31). We live in a generation and
society that has no earthly idea what that means.
Nor does it wish to know.
This thief saw himself as
a sinner, a rebel against God. He changed his mind
toward God. "And we indeed justly, for we are
receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this
man has done nothing wrong" (Luke 23:41). In essence
he was saying, let's quit playing the blame game.
You and I are guilty.
He was willing to be
saved. He could not save himself physically. More
importantly he could not save himself spiritually.
He could not come down from the cross and get
baptized. He could not go and do good works. He
couldn't join a church. All that sinner could do was
cast himself on God's grace!
He confessed his need of
Jesus as his Savior. "We indeed justly.' "We are
receiving what we deserve" echoes from his lips.
He recognized Jesus
as his only Savior
The criminal kept on
saying, "Jesus, remember me when You come in Your
kingdom!" (v. 42).
This thief saw the
possibilities of salvation by grace alone through
faith alone in Christ alone. He kept on saying over
and over again, "Jesus, remember me when You come
into Your kingdom!"
This was not a lone shot
at random into the sky. This man kept storming the
ears of the Savior. "Jesus, Jesus, remember me. . .
Jesus when You come into Your kingdom. . . Jesus,
Jesus. . ." These words kept pounding the ears of
Jesus. There is complete confidence in his words as
he cries out, "Jesus, Jesus. Remember me." He did
not pray, "if," but "when."
The words of this
penitent thief reminds us of Romans 10:9-10, 13.
Paul writes, "that if you confess with your mouth
Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God
raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for
with the heart a person believes, resulting in
righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses,
resulting in salvation. . . for "Whoever will call
on the name of the Lord will be saved."
There was a spiritual war
taking place on Mount Calvary that day. One thief is
calling out for Jesus to come down from the cross,
and the other pleading for Jesus to save him
spiritually. What will Jesus do?
Lest we should forget
Jesus has also been praying over and over again,
"Father forgive them . . ." "Father forgive them;
for they know not what they are doing." "Father
forgive . . ."
Grace is not clemency.
Salvation is not pardon without payment for the
crime against God. God is a righteous God and
someone has to pay the penalty for our sins. Jesus
is on the cross of redemption paying the price of
our redemption in full.
THE CROSS OF
The cross on which Jesus
died tells us about redemption. Jesus is not dying
because He was bad, but because He was supremely
good. Both criminals keep up their plea. Christ must
make a decision. Come down from the cross and save
all three, or endure the cross and its shame and win
a kingdom. Save self! Save souls! Which shall it be?
Heaven waits. All the saints in heaven strain
breathlessly wondering what He will do.
The power of His
sovereign grace kept Him on the cross. He was
sacrificing Himself as their Substitute.
Jesus was dying as
The apostle Paul tells
the reason why Jesus endured the cross. "For while
we were still helpless, at the right time Christ
died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a
righteous man; though perhaps for the good man
someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates
His own love toward us, in that while we were yet
sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:6-8). Jesus
was not dying as a martyr, or a criminal. He was
dying as my representative in my place on the cross.
He was dying in my place on the cross and my
substitute. He was paying my sin debt to the
righteousness of God. "He [God] made Him [Jesus] who
knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we
might become the righteousness of God in Him" (2
Once again we note
carefully the original language in Luke's
description. It is a once and for all decision that
Christ makes. Jesus "said." It is past tense. There
is no need for repetition. Jesus answered once and
for all. He doesn't repeat his words. These are
solemn, emphatic, affirmative words of Jesus. What
does He say?
Jesus said, "Truly I say
to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise" (v.
"Amen," certainly, for
sure, beyond doubt. It is a great word of assurance.
"Truly I say to you." These are words of commitment,
confidence and assurance. "Amen, I will not fail
you. I will go through with it for you. You can
depend on me."
"Today" before sundown.
The Jewish day came to an end at sundown when the
light of the first star began to shine. Before the
end of sundown today "you will be with me in
"You will be with Me in
Paradise." Wherever Jesus was going the man was
going. Paradise is always used of another name for
heaven (2 Cor. 12:2, 4; Rev. 2:7). It is a garden
place, a place of beauty and repose. It is a
prepared place for a prepared people. The night
before Jesus had made this promise to His disciples
as He comforted them concerning His own death. He
said, "Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in
God, believe also in Me. In My Father's house are
many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would
have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you.
If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come
again, and receive you to Myself, that where I am,
there you may be also" (John 14:1-3).
Salvation by grace
alone through faith alone in Christ alone
This is vital theology
for us today. "Today," not tomorrow. The penitent
sinner did not have to wait until the Messiah comes
in glory. "Today," tells us that both of them, the
sinner and the Savior, will enter together into the
Father's presence in heaven! "I solemnly say to you,
this very day you will be in Paradise with Me." What
assurance to a dying thief. Whisper those words in
my ears when you are ready to pull the sheet over my
head! I stake eternity on these words of Jesus.
Peter tells us in Acts
4:12, "There is salvation in no one else; for there
is no other name under heaven that has been given
among men by which we must be saved."
The death of Jesus Christ
is sufficient to make you right with a holy and
righteous God. You do not need to add anything else
to what Christ did for you on the Cross. His death
and resurrection are sufficient to save the worst of
sinners. You do not have to add your suffering to
the suffering of Jesus. In fact, if you add one
touch of your own suffering to His suffering you
destroy His atonement for your sins. His death alone
is sufficient to save your soul. This vile sinner
was instantly transformed into a saint fit for
heaven. He did not have to go to some imaginary
place and suffer for his sins. Jesus clothed the
believing thief in His own spotless righteousness (2
The thief on the cross
was saved without recourse to baptism, church
membership, Lord's Supper, sacraments, good works,
etc. "For by grace you have been saved through
faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of
God; not as a result of works, so that no one may
boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ
Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand
so that we would walk in them" (Ephesians 2:8-10).
You do not need to perform any sacraments; you only
need the blood of Jesus to cover all your sins.
"Today" the redeemed
thief would be in conscious presence of fellowship
with his Savior in Paradise, while his body
disintegrated in the refuse of Gehenna outside the
city walls of Jerusalem. On whatever day you die you
go straight to be with Jesus. "Today," whatever our
today is we will close our eyes in death and be
ushered into His presence to be with Him for all
eternity. "For indeed while we are in this tent, we
groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be
unclothed but to be clothed, so that what is mortal
will be swallowed up by life . . . for we walk by
faith, not by sight—we are of good courage, I say,
and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to
be at home with the Lord" (2 Corinthians 5:4, 7-8).
The soul does not go to sleep; the body does until
the great resurrection day.
Today! On the same
morning the despondent criminal was stumbling around
in the darkness on the dirt floor of his prison cell
he was rejoicing with His Savior that evening
walking on the pure celestial streets of heaven.
There is another great
truth in this lesson. Only one thief was saved that
day at Calvary. Jesus did not say, "Today both of
you will be with Me." He did not say in the end all
will be saved regardless of their personal choices.
He did not teach universal salvation for the whole
world. Only one thief called upon Jesus to save him
that day. Only one was saved. Only one will spend
eternity in heaven with Jesus. That truth is still
true today. No, not everyone is going to the same
place! Those who choose to not receive Christ spend
eternity in hell.
It took faith for the
dying man to trust another dying man for eternal
life! This is probably the greatest example of
saving faith in the New Testament. It is an example
for each of us today. The one making the promise
dies first! The thief is saved by faith alone in
Jesus alone. Jesus presented to His Father on that
day a trophy of grace! "Remember me. . . Remember
me! You shall be with Me, close to My side today.
This day you shall be with Me!"
Have you come to the
place in your spiritual life that you know that if
you died today you would go to heaven?
Let's suppose that if you
died today and stood before the Lord God and He
said, "Why should I let you into My heaven?" What
would you say? What do you think you would say?
Señor are you ready
I have a friend who lives
in Central America. His name is Jacobo. At one time
in his life he was a successful organizer for
communist trade unions among the banana workers. His
life was powerful, with plenty of influence, lots of
money and women on the side. He had everything he
wanted in life.
But other union leaders
hated him. One day his driver–bodyguard drove up to
a four way stop on a highway outside of town.
Suddenly a jeep pulled up in from of them and
another pulled up from behind and gunmen jumped out
of the vehicles and riddled Jacobo's car with
His driver slumped over
on him with his blood pumping out all over his body
saying, "Jacobo, don't let me die." In a mater of
minutes he lay dead.
Another car pulled up a
few minutes later and dragged Jacobo's limp body out
of his vehicle and drove him to a hospital. A
Christian medical doctor bent over Jacobo's limp
body on the operating table and said, "Señor, are
you ready to die? You probably won't make it through
this surgery today."
That surgeon led Jacobo
to put his faith in Jesus Christ as his savior
before surgery began. Then he removed a dozen
bullets form Jacobo's body. One of his hands, his
shoulder, back and abdominal area have long ugly
scars from that surgery. Yes, Jacobo did survive. He
remained true to his decision for Christ and the
surgeon discipled him in God's Word. Today Jacobo
faithfully serves Christ as a missionary in Central
America. He is a living testimony of God's saving
grace in Jesus Christ.
No amount of human
goodness, human works, human morality, or religious
activates can gain acceptance with God. You cannot
get to heaven in your own merits. We are all in the
same boat spiritually. Religious, non-religious,
moral or immoral all still fall short of the glory
"He saved us, not on the
basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness,
but according to His mercy, by the washing of
regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom
He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ
our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we
would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal
life" (Titus 3:5-7).
No amount of human
goodness can make you as good as God. He is perfect
in His righteousness and He demands that we be
perfect. We must be as good as He is. Before Him we
stand as naked, helpless and hopeless as the thieves
on the cross. The only person who has ever lived a
sinless life is Jesus Christ. That is why He died as
our Substitute. Because of what Jesus did for you on
the cross God can save you today if you put your
faith in Him as your Savior. Trust in the person of
Christ and His death for your sins right now.
Recognize your sinfulness and need to be saved,
realizing that no human works can result in
salvation, and rely totally on Christ alone to save
you. "As many as received Him, to them He gave the
right to become children of God, even to those who
believe in His name" (John 1:12). "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. For God did not send the Son into the
world to judge the world, but that the world might
be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not
judged; he who does not believe has been judged
already, because he has not believed in the name of
the only begotten Son of God" (John 3:16-18).
Complete Series on 7 Last Saying of Christ
23:32-43 Eternal Life Today
Series: Seven Last Saying