Sermons

Summary: Only by God’s grace can we find salvation, even at the last moment.

First Baptist Church

February 17, 2002

Luke 23:32-43

"Express to Paradise"

Jesus was whipped and beaten. But He was not the only one that

Friday morning. There were two other men, criminals, they had

been convicted of crimes and had been sentenced to death. Death

by crucifixion. We don’t know what their crimes were, we can

infer a little from the Greek that they had done some treacherous

things. Maybe they were thugs, who had stolen and killed so they

could profit, however their crimes really don’t matter.

They were guilty, they knew it and they admitted it. They

exhausted all their appeals and now they were facing the

punishment for their crimes. Just like Jesus, they walked down the

same street carrying their cross to the place of execution. A place

called "Golgotha" — or skull hill. It was called that, because when

you looked at the hill from a certain angle, you could see two

sockets for the eyes, a nose and a mouth. It resembled a skull.

That was the place where the Romans executed common

criminals, and Jesus was considered a common criminal.

What occurred on the cross that day is a testimony to life. There

were three men, each one represented one aspect of life. Jesus

was the Savior, the One who came to save all people from living

an eternity void of love and joy. One was a criminal who would

have made John Wayne, Sylvester Stallone and Clint Eastwood

look like wimps. He didn’t believe he needed to be saved from

anything other than death. The third man represents those people

who ultimately accept the gift of grace that Jesus offers us, the gift

of salvation.

There were no other possibilities in regards to responding to God’s

salvation. That is the basic point of those three crucifixions on that

day. God used Jesus and the two criminals to dramatize the only

possible responses to God’s promised Messiah: belief or unbelief,

acceptance or rejection, repentance or unrepentance.

So, let’s take a little deeper look at what happened to those two

criminals who hung on either side of Jesus. Matthew’s gospel tells

us both men were violent robbers and along with the chief priests,

teachers and on-lookers, they "heaped insults on" Jesus (27:44).

They saw Jesus as no better than themselves.

Both men wanted to be saved, neither wanted to die the death that

was ahead of them. Each man in his own way asked the same

question of Jesus, "Save me!" Yet, the meaning behind the

questions were very different. The tough criminal told Jesus,

"aren’t you the Christ? Save us and save yourself." On the

surface it sounds like a reverent petition. Like a prayer for

salvation, a prayer you or I might utter.

Yet, it was filled with sarcasm and condemnation. When we take

a deeper look, he is really saying, "Get me out of this mess. I

don’t regret what I’ve done, I only regret being caught. I don’t

mind what I am, I only mind where I am. I am only interested in

comfort — now. I’m not sure you are King of anything unless you

do what I tell you to do and free me so I can continue to live a

rebellious life." Does that type of prayer sound familiar to you? It

may be one that we have said on many occasions when we feel

our backs are against the wall.

He wanted Jesus to prove He was the Messiah, for no other

purpose than to get out of the mess and pain he was already in.

Then comes the second criminal. Something must have happened

to him that caused him to change. Next to him was a man without

violence — praying, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know

what they are doing." And somehow. . . somehow. . . something

clicks. It comes together — God, as father — Forgiveness.

Could it be? Is He really the One? Those words, "Forgive them.

. ." Who would pray for forgiveness for the people who are

performing their execution? Jesus would.

So, he questions the tough guy, "Don’t you fear God?" Somehow

the man on the middle cross had become God. Initially nobody

could tell the difference between the two criminals, two thugs

being crucified for their crimes. But suddenly, there’s a twist and

this man proclaims that Jesus has done nothing wrong, we are

guilty, He is not.

And then he asks Jesus in a prayer, "Jesus, remember me when

you come into your kingdom." He was asking Jesus to make just

a little bit of room for him, maybe save a place in the corner for me

and I’ll be happy.’ But that’s not what he’ll get, as Jesus tells him,

"I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise." And

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