Online Text Sermon - Crucified Sinner Saved, Luke ch.23 vv.42-43
|Preacher||Rev. Maurice Roberts, Inverness|
|Sermon Title||Crucified Sinner Saved (Evangelistic Service, Waternish)|
|Text||Luke ch.23 vv.42-43|
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"And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise" (Luke 23:42-43).
I wish to look this evening at this familiar scene which we have read many times before - the scene which was enacted in Palestine, outside Jerusalem, at a place called Calvary - sometimes known as Golgotha, the Place of a Skull - because two thousand years ago or so, the most important event which has ever taken place in this world occurred. There were three crosses, Jesus Christ crucified on the middle cross and on either side there was a malefactor crucified - one on the right and one on the left.
My friends, I take this passage today on the assumption that there are those among us who are seeking the Lord, either because they have never yet found Him or else because their faith is weak and they have no assurance that they belong to God. I take it we are all familiar with the teaching of the Bible that we must, all of us, be converted if we are to enter at last into glory. I take it we know, from the teaching we have received over many years that, at death, the souls of believers enter into glory and the souls of those who are not believers enter into hellfire. This therefore is a most serious subject which is before us this evening, a subject more important than everything which is being discussed today, either in the House of Commons or the House of Lords. We are not here talking about politics, or economics, or social welfare, or education, we are talking about eternal life and how we may get it. We are speaking about the greatest act of God in all human history, which is the death of his own Son, Jesus Christ, and the benefits which that death brings to all those who look to Christ by faith and put their confidence in Him. I'm looking at this to try to help those of you who are seeking God and seeking salvation; I am looking at this to help those of you who are wanting assurance of salvation; and I am doing so trusting in God that He may help you. It is my dearest wish to help you and to be of benefit to you in the speaking which we are doing this evening. That is the wish of all the Lord's people here. We long to have every one of you brought to a sure and certain confidence that you are in Christ, that you are ready therefore for death, and judgement, and eternity, and that without Christ we are not ready for any of these things.
My subject is before you, it is Calvary, and I want to bring it to you under three headings, briefly tonight. I shall first of all look at Christ on the middle cross, then I shall look at the thief who repented of his sin, and then I shall look at the thief who did not repent of his sin. We shall begin by looking at the central cross, Jesus Christ.
The gospels tell us that before He was crucified, our blessed Redeemer Jesus Christ was tried six times during the night and early morning of His crucifixion. It was illegal by Jewish law to judge anyone or to put them on trial through the dark hours of the night, for the obvious reason that everybody put on trial must be tried fairly, and fairness is obtained when the public is present to witness what is being done. Our Lord's trials were all unfair. There were three church trials, all of them unfair. He was first placed before the high priest's father-in-law, Annas. Annas gave a private trial to Christ and then hurried Him away to Caiaphas his son-in-law who was the high priest at that time - a worldly man, a carnal man, an unbelieving man, but a very religious man, showing that the two are not always found to be the same. Then, having brought Him before Caiaphas, Caiaphas summoned the Sanhedrin, and the Sanhedrin gathered very hastily - that is to say the general assembly or church court of the Jews - and they tried Christ and found Him guilty of blasphemy, for which they immediately condemned Him to death.
Now the Jews had no power to put anyone to death. They were a subject nation; they were under the power of Rome, the Roman Empire. So what they did was this: they took our Lord as a guilty criminal before the man who was the Procurator, or the Governor, of Judea, Pontius Pilate, and they accused Him to Pilate. Pilate investigated Him and having found no fault in Him, he discovered that Jesus came from Galilee and immediately sent Him to Herod - Herod being the King of Galilee. Herod could not find any fault in Christ and sent Him back to Pontius Pilate. Pilate having examined Him again and again and again, at least three times, said to the Jews who were waiting for the result of the trial, "I find no fault in him." And when they pressurised him to put Jesus Christ to death, he took a bowl of water, washed his hands before them and said, "I am free of the guilt of this man." And they cried out a terrible cry. They said, "His blood be on us and on our children," and, as the Jews, have ever suffered from that day to this the punishment which they inflicted upon Jesus Christ. They have been hounded from country to country, from pillar to post, they have been put into pogroms, and into ghettos, and into holocausts, and for two thousand years they have paid the price for that fearful cry which they uttered in Jerusalem, or outside Jerusalem, "His blood be on us and on our children."
When this was done, they took the Lord Jesus Christ and, making Him carry His cross, they pushed Him out of the city to this Place of the Skull bearing His cross. This was done with a hollow square of Roman soldiers. Our Lord was hurried from street to street; they took the longest possible way so that as many people as possible would see the victim suffering in this way. It was meant to deter others from committing any similar crime, though our Lord of course was guilty of no crime. He was carrying not only the cross but also there was the sentence over his head, and the sentence was neither more nor less than this: "This is Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews" in three languages, so everybody present in the city could see and read. Our Lord then, being taken to the place of execution, was laid down on the ground and these fearful Roman nails driven into His hands and feet, and He erected in this place where He was to be crucified in the full sight of all those who were his witnesses.
Sadly, His own disciples all failed at this time. Judas Iscariot betrayed Him for thirty pieces of silver and, having being convicted in his conscience of the wickedness of his action, committed suicide; Peter denied Him three times with oaths and affirmations of a strong nature; and then all the disciples forsook Him and fled. The women, however, stood nearby and the prophecy was fulfilled in the case of Jesus' mother Mary when it was said at the birth of Christ, or shortly after, "(Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed" (Luke 2:35). Mary was now seeing her firstborn Son crucified in shame, and in dishonour, between thieves, and the open sight of heaven before the Jewish world, her own most precious Son.
Well now, that is what happened, and these are the events as we are told them in the Holy Scriptures, and I want to explain to you now that it was not, it was not Pontius Pilate who brought Jesus Christ to the cross; and it was not Judas Iscariot's treachery that brought Jesus Christ to the cross; nor was it the hatred of the Jews; nor was it the enmity of the Romans. What brought the Lord Jesus Christ to be crucified before them all was His love for this world, His love for the souls of men and women. He came into the world to be crucified, He came in order to be lifted up on the cross so that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. It was the Father's love for the world that brought Jesus Christ to the place of crucifixion. The word of God explains to us what it is that Jesus did when He was nailed to the accursed tree. We are told it was that He was "made sin for us... that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Corinthians. 5:21). That is to say there was an exchange. Jesus Christ did something which brings an exchange between Himself and sinful men. He takes our guilt and our damnation upon Himself and suffers for it, and He offers, provides, gives and promises everlasting life and peace and salvation, on the terms that we do nothing but believe alone in Him and are sorry for our past sins. Another way the Bible puts it is this: it says He was crucified, "the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God" (1 Pet. 3:18), that is to say, His act of dying on the cross is a substitution; He represents all His own people in their guiltiness; He suffers our guilt, being himself innocent. And that, beloved friends, is why Jesus had to be born of a virgin. If Jesus had been born as we are all born, of two parents, then the consequence for Him would have been what it is for us, that as we are born into this world, we are in Adam's covenant, and the first sin of the first man is immediately imputed to us even before we are born, in our mother's womb. So we are worthy of death because of the imputation of Adam's first sin before we enter this world and leave our mother's womb. So a special birth was arranged for the Son of God, as He took our human nature to himself in his mother's womb, He was born without a human father. The way to put it is this: as to His divinity, He has no mother; and as to His humanity, He has no father, no earthly father. It was the Holy Spirit of God who brought that seed into the womb of the virgin, and that which was born of her was therefore without sin. He was a second Adam, He was a second head of the human race, He came to start a new humanity in which the love of God would be in the hearts of all His people. Though the Jews did not recognise what was meant by the sign over His head, it seems as though Pontius Pilate had some inkling that Jesus Christ was a very remarkable and unusual and wonderful man, because he wrote these words, "This is the King of the Jews." And you remember the Jews complained and said to Pontius Pilate, "Do not say he is the King of the Jews, but that he says 'I am the King of the Jews'." Pontius Pilate, in a very cryptic, mystic way, replied, "What I have written, I have written." He is the King of the Jews, and the King of the world, and the King of the universe and the Maker of all things in heaven and earth. He is the one worshipped of all angels in the glory of eternity before the world began, and He came into the world to take our human nature and die for us, that we by his death might have life; that we through His blood may have cleansing; that we through His agonies and sufferings may have everlasting glory; that we through His rejection by men may have acceptance with God, at last, in heaven.
The Bible puts it also another way. It says that "he is the propitiation for our sins" (1 John 2, 2; 1 John 4,10). What is a propitiation? Let me explain briefly. The word 'propitiation' means a turning away of the anger of God. You can compare the anger of God, if you like, to a waterfall - coming, cascading down onto your head. My friends, I am speaking with love when I say this, and not with anger, but it's with truth I say it. If we die without Jesus Christ as our Saviour, then a waterfall of divine anger will fall upon us instantly and carry us down to the bottomless pit. That is what I deserve, that is what we all deserve, we are all wicked sinners - the Bible tells us that - "There is none righteous, no not one." Propitiation means this: it means a deflecting, a diverting of this terrible waterfall of wrath which deserves to come upon our heads because we are sinners. So the Lord Jesus in His great love for the world, in His great love for your soul and mine, He came and shed His blood, taking the place that you and I rightfully should have had, and He stood between God and His people, and He gave himself, a substitution and a propitiation, to bear away the sin of the world.
We do not value what Christ has done until we come to benefit from it by personal faith. We don't understand the wonder of this until we actually give our hearts to Christ. We never know what He has done or how wonderful His kindness is until our own hearts are touched by it when we are converted, when we are brought by the grace of God into the Christian faith and we become personally under the sense of our indebtedness to Jesus Christ. That is what can happen, and it has happened to numbers of people here in this very room. May I mention my own beloved father as an example in point. My father was converted late in life, many years ago now; he has long since left this world. He was brought up, as most of us are, without an awful lot of knowledge of salvation or of God. He grew, was married, had his family and reached about the age of sixty-something when my sister and I urged my dear father to read the Bible. I, my sister and my mother had all been converted a few years before. We pleaded with our beloved father to read the Bible, and he did He read it and read it and read it, and one day, when my dear wife and I were living in Ayr, where my first congregation was, a letter came from my father - can I ever forget it! It said this, "I hope I shall now be counted worthy to be included amongst the elect of God; I have come to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ." Well my friends, we don't value Christ until we get Him in that personal way, and that's why this meeting has been started and arranged here tonight. It's that every one of you, beloved friends, may know in your own heart and be convinced, personally, that Jesus Christ is not only a Saviour, not only the Saviour but that he is your Saviour! Isn't that what Paul came to know on the road to Damascus?
You know, Paul hated Christ, and Paul persecuted Christ's people - you don't need me to tell you that, you've known that a long time - but let me remind you of that wonderful experience he had on the road to Damascus. That he had letters in his hand to arrest Christians and to haul them off to prison and to judgement, and to persecute and kill them. He had already assisted in the death of Stephen, the first Christian martyr. People had stoned Stephen; they had laid their coats and clothes at the feet of this young man, Saul. Saul was glad to see this heretic Stephen put to death by stoning. But then, on the way to Damascus, you remember, Saul of Tarsus saw this bright light, brighter than the noonday sun, and he fell down; and the voice said, "Saul, Saul why do you persecute me?" And he replied, "Who art thou Lord?" "I am Jesus whom thou persecutest." When he heard that, his whole life was changed.
That's what happens, whether we're children or grown-ups, or in the last few years and days of life. When we are converted, we come to see one thing is more important than all the world, and that is that the blessed Jesus is the Saviour of our souls. Oh! He is the one who transforms our life and gives us hope to live and hope in death, hope for time and hope for eternity. He is the one that sweetens all our life and makes all things different from what they ever were before. I would like to ask you, my dear friends, in the course of my remarks just now, as I proceed to go to my second point, I am going to ask you personally: Do you know this Saviour Jesus Christ for yourself? I am not asking if you know about Him. Of course you do, probably your mother has taught you these things, far better than I could do, from her very knee when you were young. But my question is not: Do you know about it, but do you know Him? Have you met Christ in your own life? Have you come out of darkness into light? Have you turned your back upon this vain and foolish world? Have you come to see that nothing really matters but to know God and to live for God and His glory in this life? Have you come, I say, to put your trust personally in this blessed and holy Saviour, Jesus Christ who died, the just for the unjust, and was made the propitiation for the sins of the world? That's the way to get eternal life; there is no other way. It is to look to Christ and believe in Him.
My second heading is this, turning from the central cross of the great Lord, the redeemer of men. I turn now to this side where there was what we call the 'penitent thief'. It appears from the teaching of the Gospels as far as we can understand them, that at first when they were crucified, round about nine o'clock in the morning, that both these thieves were cursing the Lord. It appears that they were both like that to start with, and that's understandable, they were desperate men, they were thieves and possibly robbers, which means violence was involved. They were dangerous characters. They were not nice men, to say the least, and their language would have betrayed the fact that they were coarse and wicked men. They cursed the Lord, both of them, at first, at first. But then, wonder of wonders, this one, hearing his neighbour thief cursing the Lord Jesus Christ, he began to say something different. He said, "Do you not fear God, seeing that we are in the same condition of being condemned? and indeed, we justly so. But this man has done nothing wrong, nothing amiss." (Luke 23:40, 41) Now what has happened to this man? From the narrative as we have it in the Gospels it appears fairly clear that he came to this change of mind before midday. I'm sure I am telling you what you know very well. Our Lord was crucified at roughly nine o'clock in the morning on that Friday and He died at about three o'clock in the afternoon, which means He was six hours or so on the cross before He died. But at midday, darkness came down for three hours, just before our Lord commended His soul to God in death. So before the darkness came down at midday, this thief evidently had understood who it was that was being crucified on the central cross, and he said the wonderful words that we have read, "Lord," he said, "remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom." Now I can't tell you what it was that led to the conversion of that man, I do not know. Was it the things he heard Jesus say? Because you remember when our Lord was being nailed to the cross or about that time, instead of cursing as most men did when they were being crucified, our Lord said this, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." If this man heard these words, he certainly would have never heard anything like that in his life, from a man suffering the cruelties and indignities of the cross. Or was this man impressed by the love of Jesus for His own mother? Because His mother was standing nearby and John the Apostle standing beside her, and Jesus suffering unspeakable agonies for us forgot all about Himself and He said, "Woman, behold thy son, behold thy mother." Even when His pains were at the worst, our Lord's love flowed towards others. He was concerned for the good of others, always. Whether it was these things the thief heard and saw, or whether he took notice of the words above our Lord's head, "This is the king of the Jews," or was it the face of Christ? We do not know, but it is very astonishing that the man was ever converted at this time; amazing, because what he saw with his eyes was a man like himself, bleeding - His head, His hands, His feet - a Man seemingly defeated, overwhelmed by troubles at the hands of His enemies, a Man whose life he supposed, or might have supposed, was a failure. But no! He saw in this Man One who was the King of Glory, One who was soon to leave this dark world, rise in majesty, and sit down at the right hand of God. He saw that - don't ask me how he saw it. It was the work of God, and God can do anything, and God can open the hardest heart, and the blindest eyes, and the deafest ears. What we do know is, this man was an orthodox Christian, he saw what you and I rejoice that he saw, and that is he saw that Jesus Christ is the eternal, everlasting, glorious Son of God, with a kingdom, and with the keys of that kingdom, and he saw that Jesus had the keys to open the door to glory, or else to lock it shut against him. And so he says, "Lord," he says, "Lord, when you come into your kingdom, remember me."
Friends, that's the spirit of faith, that's the way people get into the kingdom of God, when they make themselves very small, and Christ very big, and that's why not many get into the kingdom of God, because they want to make themselves very big and Jesus Christ very small. But that's not the way to get into heaven, or to get into the kingdom of God in this world. I ask you, if you are in the position of not ever having been converted; if you don't know what it is, my dear friend, to be in the kingdom of God; if you don't know what it is to be saved and to be able to profess Christ; if you're not a member of a church giving a credible profession of faith; if you have never got to that point, then I say, listen carefully because this man is the example you need to have set before you, to help you to get into the position of being able to confess Christ for yourself. What does he say again? "Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom." Those were sweet words. There are no words as sweet as words of faith in Christ. There's a lot of noise being made in this world: noise on televisions; still worse noise being made by these awful guitars that are everywhere; noise of pop music; noise of this and noise of that. What God is listening to is the still, quiet voice of faith. If you pray to God in faith, He hears that above all the noise of this world. If in your heart now you truly desire to know the way to heaven, and if in your heart now you are asking God to give you light and understanding and grace, He is listening to what you are saying in your heart of hearts, and in the depth of your soul. If the words of this man were sweet, the words of Christ our Saviour were sweeter still. Oh what words these are! No matter how many times we hear them, they are the sweetest music in the world, "Verily I say to thee, today thou shalt be with me in paradise." Isn't that a pillow to die on? Oh don't you feel that this man got a wonderful promise from Christ? "Today thou shalt be with me in paradise."
You may want to say, What is paradise? Well I will tell you, paradise is the intermediate state of heaven. As soon as a man dies, his soul leaves the body - that's what death is, it's the body without the soul. When the soul leaves the body in physical death, then the body collapses into dust and we place it in the earth; we dig a hole and put the body in the earth, until the end of the world when we come back again. But the soul, when it leaves the body, immediately goes into eternity, either in heaven or in hell - immediately! We don't have to wait for the burial, we don't have to wait for the minister to do anything, it happens at once. The soul leaves the body and immediately appears before God, for judgement, private judgement. The public judgement is at the end of the world, but the private judgement must take place immediately in death so that God will pronounce whether it's to be in heaven, or elsewhere. Paradise is the heaven to which the soul goes between death and the resurrection. The souls of believers are perfectly happy, and perfectly holy in that paradise. But they are not complete; they long to have their bodies back - and they'll get them back! My friends, the Christian will get his body back when the end of the world comes and the Lord Jesus Christ returns from heaven with a shout and the voice of the archangel, and heaven and earth passes away with a great noise and all the elements melt with a fervent heat, and the earth and the works are burned up. Then the bodies of the dead will come out of their graves, Christians and non-Christians, and their souls and bodies will come together, as they are now in this life. Only, the righteous will shine like the sun and be admitted into the kingdom of their Father, in the final state of heaven. And the wicked being raised up in shame and dishonour, looking ugly and foul and filthy, with their soul will be cast down with the devil and his angels. That is the eternal state of heaven and hell.
So I say, what a promise this man got! "Today thou shalt be with me in paradise." You and I are not young, we are passing through this world at a great rate. My hair was once as black as a young man's hair is expected to be; no more. We are passing quickly through this world. My friend, I beseech you, if you have not got Christ, oh think what a fool you will be to go on from this meeting without seeking for Him with all your heart and soul, because if you meet death without Christ you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven, it is impossible. But if you believe in Jesus Christ and give your heart and soul to Him, He will say the same to you, because these words were not said for the sake of one man only but for the sake of all His beloved, believing people who trust in Him. When you come to lay down your head on that last final time, when death will summon you out of this world, then you can sweetly believe His word, "Today thou shalt be with me in paradise."
My friends, have you all got that faith? Oh! I pray you, don't leave this place without asking for it. Don't even go home without asking for it. Whilst you are here in this very room, pray God in your heart of hearts, "Oh! give me this faith that this dying man had on the cross beside our Lord. Oh give me his faith." God's word is true.
Let me tell you of a friend of mine in Glasgow. He met a minister at a funeral, and the minister said to him, "Friend, you need to be born again." He had never heard that, so he said, "Am I in a dangerous condition? I have never heard of that before. I haven't been born again." The minister said, "Yes, you are in a dangerous condition." And he lent him a book all about the new birth and conversion. The man went to work next Monday morning and he sat in front of his desk, or behind his desk, and he said to himself, "I didn't like that minister at the funeral. That minister was meant to comfort me and others like me, and he told me I needed something. I didn't like it," he said. Then he had second thoughts, he said, "That minister must have meant it for a good reason. I'd better get this sorted out," he said. "I'd better work it out whether he was telling the truth." So this is what he did. He stood up, like this, "Lord," he said, "I don't understand, but if this is true, reveal thyself to me that I might know thee and be saved." And the man said this. He said "God opened my eyes just like the Apostle Paul, and I saw it, that Jesus Christ is the Lord and Saviour of my soul." And he became a new man, there and then. It wasn't the work of God, it wasn't himself, it wasn't auto-suggestion, it was the grace of God. If you are honest with God, He will give you knowledge of yourself and knowledge of Christ. That's why people don't get it; it's because they don't want it.
Let me come very briefly to my third point before I close, and I shall be brief. The third thing concerns this other thief, the impenitent thief. He is a warning to us, isn't he? He might have done what the other man did; he might have said, "Lord, remember me too, I also need this." He doesn't do that. We don't hear a word about this man, and the silence is ominous. This man's soul is lost. When a few minutes later he died, he went down to the depths, and he is still there, cursing the day when he was born, and cursing the day he died. Oh! the sadness of it; oh! the unnecessary folly of it. If only he had repented and turned to this blessed Christ, he too could have been seated in glory with the angels. One thing is clear isn't it? we are not saved by works. This man had no good works and he knew it, he was a wretch and a rotter, a thief, an evil man; he couldn't make himself clean for God. How then did he become so clean as to get to heaven? I will tell you. It is because all a man needs to get to be cleansed is faith alone, in Christ alone, and as soon as you believe in Jesus, He will clothe us with His own righteousness, the righteousness which He achieved and obtained by His holy, perfect life, and by His blood and agonising death. The active obedience of Christ and the passive obedience of Christ, they constitute one garment of righteousness, which He freely gives to all who pray to Him for mercy. He offered it to this man and he got it. He offers it to everyone here, you can have it. "Whosoever will, let him come and take the water of life freely" (Revelation 22, 17).
But, my friend, if you don't, your blood is on your own head and you will have no excuse before God. I told you about my father. As I close, let me tell you how he died. He came to faith in Christ very late, but we believe it was true faith. I saw him on his death bed. He'd had a stroke and he could not speak, so I said, "Father, I am going to ask you a question, not now as a son but as a minister." I said, "Father, as you are dying and leaving this world, are you trusting in Christ?" He couldn't speak because of his stroke but he did this [made a sign to signify 'yes']. I said, "Father, I am going to ask you the question again; it is the most serious question of all, Are you trusting in nothing but Christ as you leave this world? [made another sign] Well," I said, "Then, Father, it won't be long before you and I are together in heaven." Tears ran down my face. That's the last I saw him, but I knew where he went. Oh my beloved friends, make sure, make sure that Christ is yours. He gives Himself to all who want Him, and He promises you He will take you to heaven and make you sit with Him on a throne of glory. But you must, you must repent and believe in Him.
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