Summary: Faith or the lack of faith is the difference between heaven and hell. There is no way to over-emphasize the necessity and value of faith. Charles Wesley wrote, "Faith, mighty faith the promise sees, and rests on that alone; Laughs at impossibilities, and says it shall be done."
Not all heroes die a noble death. Jacques de Lalaing, the flower of knighthood, who was
considered the pattern of chivalry for all of Europe, and who was called the last hero of romance,
died an early death in 1453. It was not of a lover's broken heart, or in a tournament with his flag
flying. He walked into a cannon ball fired by a shopkeeper in the little town of Ghent. That was
not a very noble way for a hero to die, and the fact is many of the heroes of history die very
There is nothing very glamorous about being fed to lions, or about being burned at the stake,
or even dying in a wreck, or by a disease. When you come right down to it, there are not very
many ways to die that are noble and glorious. It ought not to bother us as to how we die, however,
for this passage we are looking at reveals to us that the very first saint to enter paradise died in the
most horrible and ignoble way. He died on the cross a victim of capital punishment in the worst
possible way. Nevertheless, he is one of the heroes of Christian history. It was not because of the
way he died, but because of the faith he expressed before he died. Because of his faith Good
Friday was good for him long before it was dreamed to be good for anybody else. He was not only
first in paradise, but he was the first man to experience the goodness of Good Friday. He died on
that day, but it was also the day he began to live forever. It was already Easter for him.
When I was just a small boy in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, the lights went dim one night and
we all knew why. The only man ever to be electrocuted in the State Penitentiary, just up the hill
from where I lived, had just come to his inglorious end. Years later I learned that George Sitts had
put his faith in Christ months before he was strapped in that electric chair. He studied his Bible
and wrote his testimony that was published for millions to read. He left this world by a horrible
and disgraceful method, but like the thief on the cross he died in faith.
Faith or the lack of faith is the difference between heaven and hell. There is no way to
over-emphasize the necessity and value of faith. Charles Wesley wrote, "Faith, mighty faith the
promise sees, and rests on that alone; Laughs at impossibilities, and says it shall be done." Only
faith has the audacity to believe in the impossible and be hopeful in a hopeless situation. What
could be more hopeless than to be dying on a cross as a thief, who is being rejected by society?
Such is the setting we see on Calvary, and yet, faith brings a dazzling glory into that dismal gloom.
This dying thief, after rebuking his criminal companion for his lack of faith, and after revealing his
awareness of his own sin and guilt, turned to the center cross and said, "Lord remember me when
you come into your kingdom.
If ever a man had reason to be pessimistic about the future it was this dying thief, whom
tradition has called Dumas. He had no future whatever according to the eye of flesh, but Dumas
saw the future through the eye of faith, and he had hope. He did not say to Jesus that he wanted to
be remembered if he came into his kingdom. He said he wanted to be remembered when he came
into his kingdom. He had complete confidence that Jesus would be a victorious and conquering
King who one day would rule over a kingdom. That conviction was based on faith, for the
evidence for it was conspicuous by its absence. Jesus was dying just like he was. It looked as if
his future was to be short and filled with nothing but pain. He did not have the evidence of the
resurrection like we do. He did not have a long history of the power of Christ to change lives. All
he had to build his faith on was the presence of the suffering Savior.
Tholuck rightly asks, "Did ever the new birth take place in so strange a cradle?" Calvary was
a most unlikely context for a conversion. There was no beautiful church, no glorious music, no
flowers or choir. The environment was all wrong, for it was a setting of horror and hate. The one
positive factor that gave birth to faith, however, was the eloquent love of Christ in the midst of that
hate. "Father forgive them for they know not what they do." It was this attitude of Christ's love