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SEVEN WORDS FROM THE CROSS II - A Cry of Assurance

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작성자 최고관리자 작성일15-12-29 22:51 조회1,125회 댓글0건

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* In preparing for these series sermons, I just like to acknowledge that I was very much indebted to Erwin W. Lutzer's Cries from the Cross(Chicago: Moody Press, 2002).  


 <Luke 23: 43>

 

 

 While leading a ministry, I often run into difficult and sensitive situations.  An especially difficult situation is when a member of the congregation asks for the last rite service for a dying family member who does not believe in Jesus.  Such situation is very precarious for the dying person, as they stand on the crossroads between heaven and hell after a long life on earth.  Depending on the decision one makes during one’s last moment, one can either go to heaven or hell.

 

  Some people receive as their savior moments before their death, but some stubbornly refuse to recant until the end.  The important thing to remember is that even if one receives Christ one second before one dies, one can still receive salvation, just as the Bible had promised.

 

 ​The second word from the Cross appears in Luke 23: 43.  To one of the convicts that were crucified next to Him, Jesus says, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”

 

 This phrase shows us that no moment is considered late in returning to Jesus.  Today, we will look at the four spiritual lessons that today’s word provides.

           

 First Lesson: Jesus was crucified along with criminals.

 

Jesus was not crucified by Himself at the top of Golgotha.  Flanking him on either side were two criminals.  On that day, there was not one cross, but three crosses on top of the hill.

 

 If any of us were the Roman Centurion in charge of the execution that day, we probably would have kept the two criminals together and placed Jesus’ cross a little further away.  But Jesus and His Cross stood right in between those of the two criminals.  In a sense, He was treated like the vile criminals of the Roman Empire.

 

  Why?  Was this just a coincidence?  No, it was not a coincidence.  The holiest Son of God being crucified with the lowest of criminals did not happen by coincidence.  This was entirely within God’s plan.

 

  Isaiah 53: 12 predicts that Jesus will be “numbered with the transgressors,” meaning He will be punished with the criminals.  God placed Jesus in the lowest possible category of criminal right up until His last breath.  God placed Jesus in a dirty manger when He was born, and even in death God surrounded Him with the worst criminals of the society.

 

 Herein lies the secret of the Gospel.  Herein lies the mystery of God’s plan in saving mankind.  From birth until death, Jesus was always humble and low.  He became a transgressor.  God made His only Son Jesus bear all the embarrassment and sins of the mankind.  

 

  Remember that three crosses on top of Golgotha did not happen by accident on that day.  Jesus was crucified with the criminals because of the divine providence of God.

 

 Second Lesson: Two lives that stood 10 meters in front of heaven and hell.

 

  We will never find out what kind of crime the two convicts committed, but we can be sure that they committed some heinous crimes.  They were criminals, ones who committed crime against the society.  They were probably armed thieves who stole from others and took other people’s lives. 

 

 Among the two, we do not know who committed the graver of crimes.  One thing we can be sure about is that these two probably committed crimes all their lives, and as a result, were sentenced to death by punishment reserved for the most notorious criminals of the day crucifixion. 

  The two of them stood at a crossroads during this last moment of their lives.  In a moment, both of them will be dead.  Their fate is like those spirits who stand 10 meters in front of the gates of Heaven and hell.

 

 We can see the images of these two criminals, who hung on either side of Jesus, around us today.  If we go to a hospital’s intensive care unit, we can see many people who are about to take their last breath on earth.  Among those about to die, many of them have not received Jesus.  Among those about to die, some have done more bad deeds than good.

  What will happen to them once they pass away from this world hours, minutes, or seconds from now?  What is the difference between these people and the two convicts who were crucified alongside Jesus?  Are the images of all of them not the same?

 

 Perhaps the image of the two convicts is not limited to people facing imminent death.  Perhaps this image is applicable to the whole mankind.  Of course, most of us have never committed crimes like the two convicts.  Most of us have never stolen from others.  Or took other people’s lives.

 

 But if we put our hands over our hearts and recollect earnestly, we are, like the two criminals, sinners.  God gave us talent, health, time, and wealth yet, we have not used any of these gifts to benefit God.  We used these gifts to satisfy our own greed.  We wasted these gives to satiate our desires.  Therefore, we are spiritual thieves, frauds, and criminals.  The whole mankind has sinned, like the two criminals.

 

 Then two groups form on either side of the Cross of Jesus.

 

 One of the convicts did not believe in Jesus.  He ridiculed Jesus.  He denounced Jesus.  According to verse 39, this convicted derided Jesus by telling Him to save all of them if He was indeed Christ.  In this convict’s eyes, the real Christ would not have perished helplessly on the Cross.  This convict refused to look back on his own transgressions even until the very end.  He did not understand the fate of the Son of God, who must die at the Cross like a common criminal for the salvation of mankind.

 

 But the other convict was different.  Take a look at verses 40 and 41.  “But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation?  And we indeed justly, for we received the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.’” 

 

 This convict understood that the reason for the crucifixion of Christ was the fundamental way in which Jesus was different from rest of them.  He understood that while they were receiving just punishment for their transgressions, Jesus was not.  He knew that even though Jesus had done nothing wrong and that He is the most righteous of beings, He, for some reason, had to bear the cross.  Furthermore, this criminal repented his past crimes and harbored genuine fear of God in his heart.

 

 The two criminals who stand 10 meters in front of the gates of Heaven and hell this image vividly depicts the mankind standing before a crossroads.  The amount of sin who committed more sins and who committed less does not determine which road one will find oneself on.  The amount of distance from Jesus who is crucified closer to Christ also do not determine which gate one will enter.  The only factor that determines between Heaven and hell is belief in Christ who believes and who does not.

 

 Intellect, race, or wealth does not differentiate the world that receive salvation and the one that does not.  The number of good people and bad people does not differentiate them.  The Cross alone differentiates entire humanity, entire world, and entire cultures.

 

 On one side of the Cross are those who believe in Lord Jesus.  Those are the people who receive salvation.

 

 On the other side are those who do not believe in Jesus, even until the very end.  Those are the people who live in a world without salvation.

 

 Third Lesson: The convict who believed when there seemed to be nothing to believe in.

 

 One of the convicts believed in Jesus.  Therefore, he pleads to Jesus as recorded in verse 42, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”

 

 His request was a very simple one.  It was also a very vague one.  He did not ask for some reward when the Kingdom of Jesus advents.  He did not ask for salvation.  He merely asked Jesus to not forget him and remember him.

 

 In the eyes of the society, he was a criminal, and a notorious one at that.  The society he lived in probably wanted to forget about him and his vile deeds.  One deserving such a grave punishment his own family probably wanted to forget about him and his crimes.  “Please remember me.”  What a naïve, yet beautiful request?

 

 The important fact is that in the heart of this criminal, albeit faintly, belief in Jesus seeped in.  More importantly, he started believing in Jesus in a situation that was very not conducive to kindling of faith. 

 

 Let’s think about this.  Jesus is hanging from a Cross, in an utterly powerless and helpless state.  Jesus could not save even Himself at the moment, let alone others.  This convict did not ask Jesus to remember Him when He was up and about, performing miracles.  He did not depend on Jesus when Jesus was healing the diseased, raising the dead, and turning water into wine.

 

 He did not start believing in Jesus during the height of His popularity.  He did not start believing in Jesus when there were hints of resurrection and ascension into Heaven.  Quite the opposite, he started believing in Jesus when Jesus was hanging from a Cross, about to die powerlessly.  It was at this precise moment that he believed Jesus to be the Son of God.

 

 Jesus was in a powerless state where He could not even help Himself, let alone saving others.  And this convict was asking Jesus to remember him, when Jesus was in this utter helpless state!

 

When we are faced with difficulties, we do not seek people who are in a worse situation than us and ask for their help.  This is a common sense!  But this convict was asking Jesus, Who definitely was in a worse condition than him, to remember him.  Does this not clearly show the pure, unadulterated faith that this convict possessed?

 

Some scholars claim this story of the convict that received salvation as the first sermon of Christianity.  It is because this convict understood the secret of redemption and salvation, while Jesus’ own disciples failed to grasp this concept and abandoned their Lord in scattering to the four winds.

 

The disciples could not grasp the fact that the Messiah was to be abandoned, suffered, and crucified on the Cross.  Therefore, they abandoned the crucified Jesus and scattered to the four winds in hopes of saving their own lives.

 

 But out of nowhere, this convict discovered that Jesus, who was dying on the Cross, is the true Messiah.  He understood the reason why this Son of God, the Holiest of beings, was being crucified on the Cross next to lowly criminals like himself. 

 

 Fourth Lesson: The last companion on earth and the first companion in Heaven. 

 

 How did Jesus respond to the request to remember him?  Take a look at verse 43.  “And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.””  The convict’s request was very ambiguous; yet, Jesus’ response is very specific and clear.  Jesus is telling him that today, he will enter Heaven with Jesus.

 

 The first person to accompany Jesus into Heaven was not Peter, James, John, or other disciples.  It was not Virgin Mary, Jesus’ mother.  It was not Disciple Paul.  Rather surprisingly, it was this convict, who spent his lifetime committing sins and crimes against his fellow man.  He became the first guest of Heaven.

 

 Therefore, Spurgeon described this convict as “our Lord’s last companion on earth and His first companion at the gates of paradise.” 

 

 It is true.  This convict did not receive communion nor was he baptized.  At that moment, he could not even carry out a single act of altruism no matter how much he wanted to.  Both his hands and feet were nailed to the cross.  He could not use his two hands and feet to carry out good deeds.  So, we can safely assume that he did not enter Heaven on virtue of his efforts or good deeds done during lifetime.

 

 His entrance to Heaven was based solely on his faith.  Through faith alone, he received the glory of entering Heaven with Jesus.  It is true!  Salvation does not keep track of our good and bad deeds.  It is a gift that is 100% based on God’s graces.  

 

 Jesus, during His time on earth, sought the one lost sheep instead of the 99 sheep that grazed around Him.  Therefore, He says in Luke 19: 10, “for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”

 

 This story of the convict who received salvation shows that Jesus followed this ideal to the end.  That is why He saved this convict, who spent his entire life doing nothing but evil deeds, at the very last possible moment. 

 

 Both convicts were given the same opportunity.  Perhaps this opportunity that was afforded to both of the criminals was their first chance, not the last.  But one of them refused this chance to the end.  But the other one humbly accepted this opportunity.

 

 The convict who received salvation committed so much crime during his life that according to human eyes, he does not deserve to enter into Heaven.  But the unconstrained love of God saved him.  Not only that, it made this convict the first entrant into Heaven.

 

 At this very moment, in hospitals, countless numbers of people are dying without receiving Jesus as their savior.  There is no tardiness in returning to Christ.  Even if we repent our sins and return to Jesus one second before we die, the gates of Heaven still will open for us. 

 

 Through today’s words, I hope that each of us can learn the important lesson that no matter how bad a criminal one may be, one can receive that first opportunity within Christ Jesus.  Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

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