If you would like to hear this sermon in audio, please click on “Grace Sermons,” and find it by date, 4.14.13.)

Big Idea: It’s ALWAYS too late to be good enough for heaven, but NEVER too late to get in.

Context: Crucifixion amidst mockery 32-38

1.         Two criminals were led away and crucified alongside Him. 32-34

32 Two others also, who were criminals, were being led away to be put to death with Him. 33 When they came to the place called The Skull, there they crucified Him and the criminals, one on the right and the other on the left. 34 But Jesus was saying, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots, dividing up His garments among themselves.

2.         Crowds stared on and rulers mocked Him 35

35 And the people stood by, looking on.And even the rulers were sneering at Him, saying, “He saved others; let Him save Himself if this is the Christ of God, His Chosen One.”

Sneering = derivative of the ideas of looking down the nose at.  We might say, “Even the religious leaders were looking down their noses as Jesus as He hung…”

“…the Christ, His Chosen One…”  They unwittingly used the very terms of description found in OT texts that would have assured them that Jesus certainly COULD NOT “saved Himself”! = Isa 53: 4 Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted.  5 But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed.

3.         Soldiers and their government mocked Him with cruel drama and irony. 36-38

They mocked him by the play-acting 36-38

36 The soldiers also mocked Him, coming up to Him, offering Him sour wine, 37 and saying, “If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself!” = “sour wine”: the cheap, crude wine the soldiers probably kept close by was an ironic substitute for the highest quality wines served to kings in their palaces.

The government of Rome mocked His claim to be the Messiah 38

38 Now there was also an inscription above Him, “THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.” = A look at all of the gospel accounts reveals that this inscription was actually produced in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, so no one would miss the clear message of Rome:  “This is what happens to those who challenge our king!”

Two Criminals and Christ Jesus 39-43

I.          The first criminal hurled abuse at Him, and remained lost 39

39 One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!”

Hurling abuse = lit, blaspheming.  Blasphemy is the railing, offensive, accusatory speaking out against somebody, mostly in the Bible, it is to do so towards God Himself. 

II.         One criminal sought eternal life from Him, and was saved 40-43

A.        He realized his own guilt 40-41a                       

40 But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 “And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds;

B.        He recognized Jesus’ perfect innocence 41b

but this man has done nothing wrong.”

C.        He requested that Jesus grant him eternal life 42

42 And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!”

And He was saying = (Imperfect Active Indicative = continuous past action) = the criminal was repeating, “Jesus, when you come into your kingdom…”

The repentant criminal’s statement in verses 40-42 is packed with significance.  It provides much information concerning the criminal’s new beliefs and hopes about himself, and Jesus:

–He had experienced a radical change of heart regarding Jesus; from being a fellow-blasphemer, mocking Jesus as He was nailed to the cross, this criminal became shocked and fearful at the words of his fellow criminal.

–He had a new, chilling certainty of his own guilt and just punishment for his sins (crimes).

–He was insistent, repeatedly seeking Jesus’ attention and favor.   He understood the stakes, unlike the other criminal, who continued to blaspheme, the Lord.

–He appealed to Jesus personally, calling Him by His village name, the name His mother and father gave Him—Jesus.  “Remember me” = keep me in Your mind and thoughts, plans and actions.

–He believed Jesus would rise from the grave.  “When you come into Your Kingdom…”  Remember: NO ONE survived crucifixion!

–Finally, he believed that Jesus had the power to save, although He was dying before their very eyes…  John 19:32 The soldiers therefore came, and broke the legs of the first man, and of the other man who was crucified with Him;  33 but coming to Jesus, when they saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs = Jesus died first, before the two criminals.

He received the promise of eternal life from Jesus 43

43 And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”

“Today with Me” = This is the hope of the believer in death—immediate presence of Jesus; no shadowy land of waiting, no “soul sleep” for thousands of years, no crossing of any mythical River Styx, etc., but instead, the immediate presence of Jesus in Paradise.

Application: What do these verses teach us about the Savior Jesus?  

1.         People really do change their minds about Jesus! 

The thief on the cross seems to have begun as a part of the larger group who were mocking Jesus—but at some point he changed, and became a believer, a worshiper of Jesus, and was saved!  WE must remember and hope, that people really do change; often suddenly and inexplicably, and in the midst of the most terrible mocking of Christianity, and Jesus Himself.

2.         Jesus never changes in His mind about saving all people who simply trust in Him.  

Although He was challenged to “come down” and “saved Himself,” self-salvation was never really an option to Jesus—He came to seek the lost, and to save them.  The cross was/is the saving work that Jesus came to do!  Nothing can dissuade Jesus from His unconditional understanding of, and commitment to, His passion to save people today!

3.         Assurance of salvation is found in simply trusting the promise of Jesus to save, NOT in acting like a saved person.

Today, there many who ask, “How can I know I am saved from sin and judgment,” and too many well-meaning leaders and teachers who provide those people with lists of do’s and don’ts to keep—all based on the behavior of the Christian.  This is looking into the mirror to find something that simply isn’t there—self-worthiness of heaven.  But the criminal on the cross couldn’t do anything to “prove” his faith, or gain assurance of it!  He simply had to trust in Jesus’ promise, and that is the wonderful pattern we must follow today.  Don’t look in the mirror for assurance of your salvation—you won’t find it, and if you do, you’re fooling yourself.  Look to the third Man on the cross, the one who did NOT deserve to be there!