Summary: Only by God’s grace can we find salvation, even at the last moment.
First Baptist Church
February 17, 2002
"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
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