1. Today we go back together nearly 2,000 years. We go to a place called Calvary or the Skull. Picture the scene as three crosses stand on the hill and on each of them is a man who will soon meet his death. If we were living at this time, there would not be that much unusual about the scene. For it was common for criminals to crucified on a cross, almost a weekly event. It was a horrible death, but an effective deterrent to crime.
2. But on this day, there was something different. - For among those who were to be killed, there was one who claimed to be God Himself. One who was called Jesus. And His death would change things forever. His cross would become a symbol of hope forever and throughout the earth. It is because of Him and what happened to Him on that day, that we gather weekly to worship Him.
3. But today our focus is not primarily on the cross on which our Lord hung, but on the crosses that stood beside His - one on the left and one on the right. Our focus is on the two criminals that hung on these two crosses.
1. These two men were both thieves, they are both guilty of sin. Matthew says that. at first, they both heaped insults on Jesus. They were both experiencing the agony of crucifixion. They were both about to die and both want to escape that death. They both heard Jesus say "Father, Forgive them for they do not know what they are doing." They both see the sign which says "This is the King of the Jews". They both see Jesus and the peace with which He suffered. And yet each one responds to Jesus in a different manner.
2. As we see how they respond, I ask you, how do you respond? For as we will see, although we are not robbers or criminals, we may be more like these two than we think. And we also need to make the choice as to how to respond. The most important choice you will ever make in your life.
3. As we said both men wanted to be saved. They both knew the claims of Jesus. That He was the Messiah who would come to save the people from their enemies - the Romans who were the ones who were crucifying them.
4. But by now only one of the two was insulting Jesus. And in a derogatory, mocking way he says "Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us." "If you are really who you say you are, why don’t you save the three of us. Show us who you are by your actions, prove it." He is asking Jesus to save him as a last resort. There seems to be no other way out, so why not try this way. John Piper refers to this approach to God as "car-jack theology." If you are real, God, get me out of this mess. A car-jack is a dirty, useless thing to be kept out of sight until you have a flat tire (a little difficulty). Then you get it out, let it do the dirty work and put it away again. "If you're such a good car-jack, jack me down off this cross, Jesus. Jack me up out of this sickness, out of this financial mess, out of this lousy job."
5. The problem is that such an attitude shows no brokenness or repentance. But that is the way we sometimes come to God. "If you are there help me, is that not what you are there for God." This approach to God does not work. The thief would not be saved - either from His death or from the fires of hell.
6. But the other thief has parted ways with the first one. As we said he had also mocked Jesus. But now, all of sudden, he seems to have changed. John Calvin, shares with us, in a powerful way, how this sudden change was the work of God:
a. In this wretched man there is held out to us a singular picture of the unexpected and unbelievable grace of God, first that he was suddenly changed in the hour of death into a new man, from the gate of hell raised to heaven, then that he won pardon in a moment for all the crimes in which his whole life had been sunk, so as to be received into heaven before the Apostles and the first-fruits of the new Church. First a shining instance of God's grace is seen in the conversion of this man. It was not by the native instinct of the flesh that he changed his cruel brutality and proud contempt for God to an instant repentance, but by the leading-of the hand of God. As all Scripture teaches, penitence is His work. The grace is all the more excellent in coming contrary to anyone's expectation. Who would ever have thought that a thief in his last breath would have become both a devout servant of God and a leading teacher of faith and devotion to the whole world, so that we too may seek from his lips the rule of true and proper confession?