Summary: A sermon, for Palm Sunday, Good Friday, or Easter, explaining that the THIEF ON THE CROSS was saved by faith alone.
On a never to be forgotten day, while a mob of bloodthirsty, mocking Jews, Romans, and other Gentiles looked on, three men were nailed to three crosses on a hill then known as "Golgotha(which means The Place of the Skull.)(Matthew 27:33)" Today, most Christians refer to the hill as Mount Calvary. Two of the men being spiked to their crosses were "robbers," hardened criminals. They had been tried and then justly sentenced to death by crucifixion as punishment for the crimes which they had committed against society.
The third man being nailed to a cross was named Jesus, Jesus of Nazareth. He was a man known around the nation of Israel as a wise teacher, a miracle worker, one who was not afraid to speak up against the evils and evil religious leaders of the day. He had spoken to and fed crowds of thousands. He had raised the dead. Many hailed him as the Messiah who had been spoken of by the Hebrew prophets. He was a man who had only a short time given himself up to the Jewish and Roman officials. A few short hours earlier, he had been tried and unjustly sentenced to death by a cowardly Roman governor named Pilate. A man who had declared that he found no crimes that could be attributed to Jesus. He was willing to put to death an innocent Jew, just to quiet the ferocious, bloodthirsty crowd. To keep the peace. Jesus had been forsaken in his hour of trial by the silence of his disciples.(Were they silent because they had confidence that he would get himself out of this dangerous situation, just as he had done several times previously? Or were they silent because they feared for their own lives? You can read the accounts in the gospels and decide for yourself.)
Pilate ordered that a notice should be hung above Jesus on the cross, "which read: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS."(v. 38) The religious leaders protested the wording of the notice: But it remained on display as a symbol of the power of the conquering Romans.
The palm branches of the previous Palm Sunday had been turned to thorn branches, which were shaped into a crown and placed on the head of Jesus. The same crowd that had on the previous Palm Sunday sung praises about and to him, and had tried to make him their king by force, taunted and teased Jesus. With the same voices that had claimed him as king, perhaps even Messiah, they were now shouting, "You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!"(Matthew 27:39-40) The religious leaders insulted him and said, "He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen one."(v. 35) The Roman soldiers mocked Jesus and said, "If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself."(v.37) Most of the people, who were probably dressed in the same cloaks that they had thrown on the ground for Jesus’ donkey to walk over, were filled with disappointment and hatred. They smugly taunted the one they had so recently proclaimed to be king.
(Illustration: Just a few days ago, the people of Iraq were shouting praises to Saddam Hussein. He was the blessed ruler, the protector of the populace… What a joy for the world to see his statue toppled, to see people throwing rocks at and hitting with their shoes any picture or statue of Saddam. It reminded me of the times in the Old Testament when brave men tore down the idols of the false gods. Saddam had been "king" by force. Jesus was/is King of Love. The people could not understand. They were impatient and traded their king for decades more of Roman rule. Because of their unbelief, Israel has had to endure centuries of oppression. Remember the Children of Israel, who because of unbelief, had to endure slavery in Egypt and forty years in the wilderness centuries before the ministry of Jesus.)
For a while, even the two criminals that hung on the crosses beside Jesus blasphemed and insulted Jesus saying things like, "Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!"(v. 39 & Matthew 27:44 & Mark 15:32) Then a strange happening took place. One of the dying criminals rebuked the other and told him to stop his insults. What had happened to this hardened, criminal, who had only a short time before joined with others in mocking Jesus? What had taken place as he was slowly and painfully loosing his life on the cross?
Let us stop, LOOK at and LISTEN to this criminal and try to discover the reason for the change. First, by looking at what this man had been like. Second, by looking at him repenting and putting his faith in Jesus. Third, by listening to him praying. And fourth, by listening to the answer that Jesus gave to the request/prayer of this blasphemer and criminal.