Summary: This is the second message in a Lenten series on "The Seven Last Words of Christ." I also have information on appropriate dramas that can be used as an introduction to this and the other six messages in the series.
CROSS WORDS: WORD #2—THE POWER THAT DOESN’T FALTER
ARE YOU ABLE TO REMEMBER,
WHEN A THIEF LIFTS UP HIS EYES,
THAT HIS PARDONED SOUL IS WORTHY
OF A PLACE IN PARADISE?
These words, composed in 1926 by the hymnist Earl Marlatt in his hymn “Are You Able,” should pierce our hearts into Christian Action this Lenten Season and challenge us in future ministry.
Criminals can be redeemed. The blood of Jesus and His grace are more than sufficient for such an amazing transformation. Jesus sets this precedent in the second word He speaks from the cross. After Easter I want to return to this same text and drama and approach the message from that stand point, for I see this as an area of ministry the Church often neglects, but today we take a different approach.
There is no sin so terrible, no crime so violent, that Jesus can not forgive the offender who truly repents and turns to Him. Luke does not record the Penitent Thief’s name, but perhaps you have heard him called by the name of Dismas, a name first applied to him in the twelfth century Apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus. Dismas is a Greek name meaning “sunset” or “death.”
In Catholic tradition he is the patron saint of prisoners, death row inmates, funeral directors, reformed thieves, and undertakers. In Christian art he is portrayed as carrying his cross immediately behind Jesus; being crucified at Jesus’ right hand; and holding his cross, sometimes with his hand over his heart, symbolic of remorse and repentance. His feast day is March 25th, traditionally the original date of the Crucifixion of our Lord.
Perhaps you know about the ministry of Dismas House, a Christian organization that furnishes initial housing and support for exoffenders upon their release from incarceration. The intended patron saint of this ministry is the Good Thief. Whatever his name may be, he is proof beyond all doubt that the blood of Jesus is omnipotent and His grace is all sufficient to forgive any and all sin, no matter how horrendous it may be. Murder, rape, robbery, terrorism, prostitution, sexual promiscuity, infidelity, whatever the crime/sin may be, as Isaiah 1:18 guarantees us:
“Come now, let us argue it out,
Says the LORD:
Though your sins are like scarlet,
They shall be like snow;
Though they are red like crimson,
They shall become like wool.”
Crimson was the deepest, most permanent, red dye. Its stain was essentially impossible to remove, but the promise of I John 1:7 and 9 is absolute: “. . .the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. . . . If we confess our sins, He who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
If no crime or sin is beyond the forgiving grace of Jesus, what does our Lord mean in Matthew 12:32 when He says, “. . . but blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven, either in this world or in the world to come?” Study notes in THE LIFE APPLICATION BIBLE make this observation on Matthew 12:32: “The unpardonable sin is the deliberate refusal to acknowledge God’s power in Christ.”
I’d paraphrase that somewhat: “The unpardonable is one’s continual, deliberate refusal to accept Jesus Christ as their personal Saviour and Lord." Jesus mentions the unpardonable sin only after the Pharisees have attributed his miracle working power to Satan. The unpardonable sin is that attitude, that spirit, that continual and willful denial that God’s power abides in and works through Jesus Christ. It is a deliberate hardness of heart that continues to refuse the wooing of the Holy Spirit calling one to repent of sin, accept Jesus Christ as personal Saviour and Lord, and become a born again Christian! Now in my theology "born again Christian" is redundant terminology, for you are not a Christian at all unless you are born again.
Only those individuals who continue throughout life to say no to the Holy Spirit are guilty of the blasphemy against Him. The ministry of the Holy Spirit is to draw us all to faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour. Jesus makes this clear in John 16:8 when He says of the Spirit, “When He comes, He will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment.” Paul then affirms in I Corinthians 12:3 that “no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.’”
The Holy Spirit begins His ministry in our hearts by convicting us of sin and calling us to repentance. He then gives us the power to surrender ourselves to Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Saviour. It is our continual rejection of the Holy Spirit’s calling us to repent of sin and accept Jesus as our Lord and Saviour that we blasphemy Him. If we do so through the moment of our death, then and only then can we not be forgiven, for at that point we enter eternity without knowing Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Saviour, and that is the one sin that can never be forgiven.