Summary: From a simple look at the two thieves hanging with Jesus, we find that there are really only two choices to make about Jesus.
Last week I said that from Genesis to Revelation there has only ever been one plan of salvation, “for by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast.”(1) Today we look back at the cross by faith and put our trust in the redeeming work of Jesus Christ. In the Old Testament times folk looked ahead to the cross by faith and put their trust in the redeeming work of Christ. In today’s message, we are going to take a look at two men who neither looked back or ahead, but instead had the opportunity to look to the cross head on, for they themselves hung right beside it, one on the left and another on the right, but only one was saved that day.
Today I want to take us to the scene of the cross and ask you to take a fresh look. Which of the two malefactors do you most identify with? Have you ever confessed Christ and had the assurance that one day you will be with Him in eternity? Or do you identify with the other who was hostile toward Jesus? Let’s read our text in Luke 23:39-43.
And one of the malefactors who were hanged railed at him, saying, If thou be the Christ, save thyself and us. But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we, indeed, justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds. But this man hath done nothing amiss. And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him. Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.
There’s a story told about a man by the name of Edwin Thomas, a master of the stage during the latter half of the 1800s. He was a small man with the huge voice, and was one of the most well known actors of his time. He played the part of Richard III at the age of fifteen, and quickly established himself as a premier Shakespearean actor. In New York he performed Hamlet for one hundred consecutive nights. In London he won the approval of the tough British critics. When it came to tragedy on the stage, Edwin Thomas was in a select group. When it came to tragedy in life, the same could be said as well.
Edwin had two brothers, John and Junius. Both were actors, although neither rose to his stature. In 1863, the three brothers united their talents to perform Julius Caesar. In the play, Brutus kills Julius Ceasar, so the fact that Edwin’s brother John took the role of Brutus was eerie considering what he would later do, because just two years later it was this John who played the assassin in Julius Caesar that took the role of assassin in Ford’s Theatre to fire a bullet at the head of President Abraham Lincoln. You see, the last name of the brothers was Booth--Edwin Thomas Booth and John Wilkes Booth.
Edwin was never the same after that night. Shame from his brother’s crime drove him into retirement. He might never have returned to the stage had it not been for a twist of fate at a New Jersey train station. Edwin was awaiting his coach when a well-dressed young man, pressed by the crowd, lost his footing and fell between the platform and a moving train. Without hesitation, Edwin locked a leg around a railing, grabbed the man, and pulled him to safety. After the sighs of relief, the young man recognized the famous Edwin Booth.
Edwin, however, didn’t recognize the young man he’d rescued. That knowledge came weeks later in a letter, a letter he carried in his pocket to the grave. It was a letter from General Adams Budeau, Chief Secretary to General Ulysses S. Grant. It was a letter thanking Edwin Booth for saving the life of the child of an American hero, Abraham Lincoln. How ironic that while one brother killed the president, the other brother saved the president’s son. The boy Edwin Booth yanked to safety? Robert Todd Lincoln.
Edwin and James Booth. Same father, mother, profession, and passion-yet one chooses life, the other, death.(2)
Why is it that people choose the way they do? I don’t suppose there’s an easy answer to that question, but Jesus said it would be that way when He said,
“Enter in at the strait gate; for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be who go in that way; because strait is the gate, and hard is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.”(3)