Summary: Do you want to have your sins forgiven? Do you want to go to heaven when you die? Do you want to live in the light instead of being enslaved by darkness? Look to the cross, and know the way of the cross leads home.
Scriptures: Luke 23:43
A mother was preparing pancakes for her sons who were ages five and three. The boys began to argue over who was going to get the first pancake. Mom recognized the teachable moment and said, "If Jesus was sitting here right now, He would say let my brother have the first pancake." The five year-old turned to his little brother and said, "Hey little buddy, you get to be Jesus today!"
Our lives are filled with similar struggles of selfishness and sin. Many have found comfort in the honesty of the apostle Paul, who openly confessed his struggle in Romans 7 to do the right thing when his flesh dragged him toward activities that were sinful. I mention the ongoing struggle with sin to illustrate how incredibly wonderful the forgiveness of God is for those who accept it. This forgiveness is made possible because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. While we must honor God in our daily lives, our greatest need is responding to God's amazing grace to save us from our sin. Jesus did more than provide help to deal with our stresses related to our daily lives. He delivers from sin. He offers more than making life easy or giving us every desire of our heart. He redeems us for eternity. Jesus did more than teach positive thinking, goal setting, and achieving success in our chosen field of work. He offers a one way ticket for a trip to paradise.
This promise of eternal life to a condemned criminal illustrates the unique holiness and majesty of the Lord Jesus as clearly as anything He ever said. He promised to provide what every person hopes for, but what no one could ever produce with human effort. Author and professor, Calvin Miller, described Jesus' words as, "A cross cry that illustrates the transcendent power of Jesus as He unites the present with the eternal by promising to provide rest for our souls in eternal paradise." The promise also transcends the plight of a thief on a cross.
While we do not face the horror a crucifixion because of our crimes, we need to respond as the thief hanging beside Christ did to enter paradise with Jesus.
I. Condition of a sinner
The thief described in the text graphically reveals the condition of every soul before a holy God.
A. Physical helplessness
The thief was physically helpless. He was unable to attend synagogue. He could not give an offering. He could not perform good deeds. He was nailed to a cross! His condition reflects the insufficiency of our good deeds to accomplish salvation. There is nothing we could ever do physically to obtain forgiveness of our sins. No amount of discipline, no amount of service, no amount of financial resources, and no amount of anything we do can qualify us to enter paradise with Jesus. We are physically helpless.
B. Moral corruption
The thief was also morally corrupt, which is why he was being crucified. He openly admitted his corruption, he recognized his guilt when he rebuked the other thief for mocking Jesus. "We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve" (Lk. 23:41).
Scripture clearly declares that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. The Bible says that no one is righteous, and the wages of our sin and unrighteousness is death - separation from God. Like the morally corrupt thief, we have disqualified ourselves for paradise through sinful acts of disobedience and corruption.
C. Spiritual death
The thief was also spiritually dead. The consequence of his earthly crimes was execution on a Roman cross, and his soul was headed to everlasting darkness until he cried out to Jesus.
In describing our sinful condition before coming to Christ, the apostle Paul used the terminology of being spiritually dead.
Ephesians 2:1-2 says, "As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient."
Just as Adam and Eve died spiritually when they ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, we share in spiritual death that disqualifies us from paradise. We need someone, we need something greater than our sin to make us alive so that we can respond to Jesus' offer of eternal paradise.
II. Conversion of a sinner
That process of being transformed from a dead sinner into a living child of God is beautifully portrayed in the thief's conversion experience. An anonymous criminal leaves a lasting legacy of how any person might receive forgiveness of sin and inherit eternal life.
A. Admit your sin
First, he admits his sin, "We are punished justly." The sad reality is that many people are unwilling to admit their sin before a holy God. They want to boast of how good they are, believing that they are self made men and women, as if God needs their pitiful attempt at righteousness to make heaven a better place. If their unwillingness to admit sin were not so tragic, it would be amusing.