Summary: Tonight, I want to look at two people and the truths they teach us. They are the criminals that hung on the cross on each side of Jesus, the day Jesus was crucified.
Lessons learned from two Criminals
I expect to learn things when I read the teachings of Jesus, after all, even the Jews who rejected Jesus saw Him as a Great Rabbi, a Great Teacher.
I expect to learn things when I read the writings of the Apostles because these men spent three years with Jesus day in and day out and they watched His miracles, they saw His concern for people and they sat at His feet as He taught them.
I expect to learn things when I read the Epistles of Paul. After all, he was well learned in the Jewish tradition before He met Jesus then he had that most transforming encounter with Jesus on the Damascus Road and God chose to use him in a powerful way.
I expect to learn things when I read the words of King Solomon in the Old Testament because he asked God for wisdom and God granted his request.
But the Bible is full of people who you would never suspect could teach you some significant truths but somehow they do. Tonight, I want to look at two people and the truths they teach us. They are the criminals that hung on the cross on each side of Jesus, the day Jesus was crucified.
Read Scriptures: Luke 23:32-43
I. In life, every choice that we make separates you from somebody or something.
Luke 23:39-40 “One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: "Aren't you the Christ? Save yourself and us!" But the other criminal rebuked him. "Don't you fear God," he said, "since you are under the same sentence?”
When Jesus’ death is unveiled to us in the Scriptures we discover two criminals that have so much in common with one another.
They were convicted to die by the same system that condemned Jesus. Their sentences of execution were to be carried out on the exact same day at the exact same time. And they hung the same distance from Jesus- one on the right side of Jesus and one on the left side of Jesus.
Their commonality even extended to both hurling insults at Jesus at one point.
Matthew 27:44 “In the same way the robbers who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him.”
These men were so much alike. Then something happened - one of them made a choice. The choice to believe that Jesus is the Messiah. The choice pushed him away from the other criminal and that same choice moved him closer to Jesus.
The choices we make in our lives have the same consequences. Each choice we make will move us closer to something or someone and further away from something or someone else.
II. Jesus silence toward the unrepentant criminal teaches me that God does freely give me the choice as to where I will spend my eternity.
Vs. 39 “And one of the malefactors who were hanged railed at him, saying, if thou be the Christ, save thyself and us.”
I struggle with this passage of Scripture. I know some great evangelist who nearly every word out of their mouth is “repent and be saved.” They would die to have the opportunity Jesus had at this moment.
Here is Jesus, the greatest of the great evangelist, and He has the perfect scenario to win this soul for the kingdom. In a few hours this thief will die on the cross and face eternity.
Maybe a little pressure, maybe a couple of words of encouragement, maybe explaining a Scriptural truth or two can turn the tide and move this man from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light. But Jesus is silent; He says nothing to this criminal; He allows the man to slip into eternity un-repented of his sins.
And I struggle with thinking “Shouldn’t Jesus have said something;” after all He is the Good Shepherd who leaves the 99 sheep to go search for the one that is lost.
But I got to remind myself that Jesus is also the Prodigal’s Father who did nothing but wait to see if the son would ever return home.
God’s involvement and my free choice- how they work together I really can not explain but I clearly see both of those at play in the Bible and in life.
The un-repented thief reminds me of that free choice.
III. It only takes one good choice to overcome a multitude of bad choices.
Luke 23:42-43 “Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." Jesus answered him, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”
To be hung on the cross this probably was not either criminals’ first offense. They probably have made a lifetime of bad choices to get to this point. Those bad choices may have included the people that they hung with; the things that that did; the things that they said.