Join us for worship each Sunday morning at 10:30am you shall be with Me in Paradise! Luke 23:39 - 43

November 28, 2021 Speaker: Jim Galli Series: The Gospel According to Luke

Topic: Sunday AM Passage: Luke 23:39–49

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Luke 23:39 - 43 you shall be with Me in Paradise!

32 And two others also, who were criminals, were being led away to be put to death with Him.33 And 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. 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.” 36 And 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!” 38 Now there was also an inscription above Him, “THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.”  

39 And one of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!” 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 justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” 43 And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”

We would do well to review some history and look for a moment at the total irony of the cross as we begin this morning.  Luke records for us that Jesus prayed;  “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”

Let's consider the irony of what is happening.  The jews are in a hurry to get this business over with so that they can slaughter their lambs and keep the passover.

They are in a great rush to finish this Jesus business and get on to more important things, keeping the passover.  And yet, those lambs they are slaughtering are not more than a picture ceremony of the one single lamb of God who will take away the sins of the whole world.

The writer of Hebrews tells us that the blood of bulls and goats can never remove sin.  They are anxious to get on with a ceremony that has no power over sin to actually remove it and they have no clue that the person they have nailed onto a cross is God's chosen lamb who will once for all time by this one sacrifice, remove sin permanently for all who believe.

It just gives a whole new meaning to “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”

The jews had assigned a meaning to the passover of deliverance from Pharoah in Egypt.  God miraculously delivered them from their captors.  God's angel of death slew the first born in every household except for the jews who slaughtered a lamb and painted that lambs blood on their doorposts.  Death passed over those houses.

And so Passover was a celebration of deliverance.  But what the jews failed to understand is that the passover blood on the doorposts, the blood from the slaughtered lambs caused God's wrath to pass over those households who believed and slaughtered the lambs.

The deliverance wasn't from Egypt.  It was from God's wrath against all who sin.  Sin requires the blood of imputation.  The wages of sin is death.  Someone has to die.  The blood of thousands upon thousands of lambs over the centuries, coming out of the temple in a river for thousands of years was just a picture of the blood of God's lamb that had to be sacrificed, once for all time, to take away sins.

The irony is that Israel is in a rush to get Jesus dead and off the cross, the once for all blood shed for all who believe, they're in a rush to get that over, they don't have a clue, but they are in a hurry to slaughter a lamb for passover that cannot ultimately remove sin or effectively satisfy God's wrath.

How is it that the obvious cannot be seen.  A people are blinded.  They crucify their Messiah.  After all of the miracles, which they never denied, they crucify the One who brings a man dead four days out of the grave and back to life.

The conundrum of it all is simply astonishing.  Un-explainable.  The logic just breaks down.  And that's really what Luke's story about the thief on the cross drives home.

Luke is the sole gospeler who tells us this story of the penitent thief.  All we know of this is from Luke alone.  Matthew, Mark, and John tell us of the two thieves on Jesus right and left, but not anything more.

In fact both Matthew and Mark tell us that both thieves were casting the same insults upon Jesus that the rest were also doing.  From Mark 15;

29 And those passing by were hurling abuse at Him, wagging their heads, and saying, “Ha! You who are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, 30 save Yourself, and come down from the cross!” 31 In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes, were mocking Him among themselves and saying, “He saved others; He cannot save Himself. 32 “Let this Christ, the King of Israel, now come down from the cross, so that we may see and believe!” And those who were crucified with Him were casting the same insult at Him.

At the beginning, both thieves hurl the same abuse and mockery at Jesus.  Hey, you Christ, you who saves people, we could all use some saving around here.  How 'bout saving us from this punishment.  It's the same mockery that the rulers and the soldiers are throwing at Him.  Hey, big shot, get us out of this mess.  A miracle right about now would be great.

Another irony.  Christ, the King, does in fact have the power to accomplish what they ask.  He could come down from the cross.  He could speak the word and transport those thieves to Damascus if He desired.

But, He cannot pay for sin and save ultimately if He did what they mockingly ask.  He could save temporally, but not eternally.  If He comes down from that cross, you and I will be crushingly guilty of sins that we are eternally bankrupt to pay for.  If he physically rescue's those thiefs, there is no avenue for eternal rescue for them, or us.

So they mock and taunt but Jesus is paying the ultimate penalty.  His death will pay the price for some even, who are blaspheming God in those very moments.  At least one we know of.  We are thankful to God that He did NOT come down from that cross and save Himself, or these thieves.

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

We don't know how much time has gone by.  Have they been on the crosses for 3 hours at this point?  No one can say.  But we DO note that now, it's one criminal doing the taunting, not both.  That's significant.  What happened during those intervening hours?

The taunt is mockery.  You claimed to be the all powerful Messiah.  You can't save anybody!  You're a joke.  You're powerless, hanging there just like us.  What good is a Messiah that is powerless.  Messiah was supposed to come with great signs in the sky.  He's powerful enough to crush Rome and drive them out.  He'll rule the whole earth.

But look at you.  Stuck up on that cross like a bug with a pin through it.  You're a joke.  If you're really the Christ, save us.  Get us out of this mess!  
He'd like very much to come down from that cross, this thief, so he can plan his next break in.  Save me temporally, so I can get on with my rebellious sinful life?

My fear is that's what contemporary evangelicalism is actually selling.  Jesus can fix your life.  Jesus can fix your marriage.  Jesus can make you happy.  Jesus can fix your job, get you that raise, get you that promotion.  He can make the transmission fall out of the car in front of you that just cut you off.  Jesus can get you out of the mess you created.  Jesus is a genie in a bottle.

Actually this thief's abuse is deeper.  It's the abuse we hurl at someone we put some hope in to save us temporally, to make things better temporally, but who failed to do that.  We love to hate people who made big claims and did nothing.  Nothing for us.  It's always all about us.  Right here.  Right now.

But, there's two thieves and we're down to a single thief telling Jesus He's a useless worthless joke.  Luke is specific.  One of the thieves . . . what about the other one?  Is he dead already?  

40 But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?

Whoa!  Where did that come from.  Something changed.  Somehow this thief has left the nasty now and now behind and has begun to think about eternity.  He's moved beyond get me out of this mess so I can continue in my rebellion, to think about the obvious.  Let's surmise what might have been his thoughts;

We will soon be dead.  God IS.  God created everything.  God is perfect, we can tell that just by looking at what He made, even without His written revelation.  God IS.  God is Perfect.  God is Holy.  We are NOT.  Therefore, God will judge.  Therefore, God is fearful.  I'm a bankrupt who can't pay.  God will demand payment.

We're proof.  We've begun paying the unpayable penalty.  Maybe it's time to stop mocking and start pleading for mercy?  All of what I just said is possible to surmise from what this thief just spoke.  

You know, I grew up in the heyday of Campus Crusade for Christ and their famous little tract, the 4 spiritual laws.  And you open that up and law one says, God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life!  

It was the 1960's.  We were sort of at the peak of the Norman Vincent Peale; Power of Positive Thinking.  We would win the world with a positive message.  The old win some by being winsome.  God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life?

Actually a more accurate message might be; You've been born into a rebellious sinful world and God is furious with all sinners.  God has a terrible plan for sinners, and oh, by the way, it's not your life.  It's His.  If you thought it was yours, that's just part of the rebellion.

Anybody want to go canvas the neighborhoods with me?  With that message? Actual real salvation begins in a real acknowledgement of sin against a God who is Holy, and a fear for the consequences of the rebellion of sin against that God.

That's why the Psalmist and the writer of the Proverbs says again and again, The fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom.  The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.  Fear of a God who plainly states to Moses in Exodus 34;  I will by no means let the guilty go unpunished.

I've got really bad news.  The default we were born into is sin.  We are all guilty.  God will by no means let the guilty go unpunished.  That doesn't sound like God grades on a curve.  All have sinned.  All are guilty.  God will punish ALL guilt.  Fear Him.  

The good news can't begin until the bad news is understood, believed, and God is feared.  That's where this thief has landed.  Listen again to what he says to his co-thief;  40 But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?

We are sinners.  We are proof of Exodus 34.  We are guilty.  We are condemned.  We are nailed on crosses our sin was so heinous.  God is beginning His judgment.  Pinch yourself, there you are, on that cross.  Oh, I forgot, you can't pinch yourself can you.

He rebukes his fellow thief.  Do you not fear God??  How can you keep mocking Jesus?  Mocking always comes from a position of supposed superiority.  Jesus, the useless Messiah.  Jesus the impotent King.  But his friend gives him a reality check.  

Maybe it's time, since you are in fact nailed onto a cross, to stop mocking Jesus and start fearing God who you're about to meet face to face.  It gets better:

41 “And we indeed justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.”

Newsflash.  We deserve this punishment.  And more.  We will soon meet our maker and this death on this cross hasn't paid any of our debt.  Fear God.  You're in no position to mock.

And then the thief says something astounding.  but this man has done nothing wrong.”

This fellow's theology just gets better and better.  Fear God.  We are a living illustration of God's word.  The soul that sinneth, it shall die.  We're well on the way.  We're getting what we deserve.  Everything God said He would do to sinners is happening to us, and God is just.  We deserve it.  

But Jesus is sinless.  but this man has done nothing wrong.”  Jesus isn't dying justly for His sins like we are.  He did nothing wrong.  No sin.  Somewhere in all of this, the light has come on.

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

Let me read you the small print between the lines.  From what the thief just said, we can conclude his conclusion.  Jesus never sinned.  Jesus is in fact the Messiah, the lamb of God.  Jesus is going to die, but that won't be His end.  Jesus will come again and He will whenever that happens, bring all of the promises.  Jesus will in fact return to this world and be God's King on God's throne.  

All of that must in fact be believed in order for him to make the statement of belief that he just said;  “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!”   All of that is necessary for the words; when you come in Your kingdom.  But like those sales pitch guys on TV, I have to keep saying, but there's still more here.

Jesus, remember me.  Jesus, don't come down off of that cross and save us for this nasty place.  Jesus, remember me . . . in the next place.  You are the King.  You will return.  Please, remember me.  Can I be forgiven?  Can I have a part, with you, in that place, in that time?

He doesn't understand all of the doctrines of grace and imputation.  We don't have to give people lessons in the mechanics of imputation and grace in order for salvation to happen.  

Somewhere, some how, this thief believed Jesus was in fact God's chosen One, he believed Jesus would return and reign, and he asked for the necessary forgiveness to be included.  Remember me.  And that's enough!

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

Not only will I remember you then, you won't have to wait for my return and my reign on earth.  Today.  Today!!  We'll be together in paradise, today.

That isn't the end of our lesson.  Now I'm going to get all John Calvin on you and ask you some hard questions.  Impossible questions really.  Inscrutable questions.  Look it up.  Inscrutable.  It's a good word to define why we cannot ever fully understand or explain God.  How inscrutable are His ways!  It means beyond finding out.  Beyond our mental abilities to understand.

Paul, at the end of Romans chapter 11, after 3 chapters of foreknowledge and election that everyone avoids, Paul cries out the answer to all of the questions we can't answer!

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!  Ro. 11:33 ESV

OK, fasten your seat belts, here come the questions:

How is it that an entire nation of God's chosen people who have had the benefit of thousands of years of prophecy, everything God said would happen, happens just like the prophets said, then Jesus arrives with the Herald announcing His arrival, just as prophecied, the heavens open, God also announces Him as His beloved Son, the Spirit descends on Him like a dove, He does miracles the likes of which have never been witnessed before, because no one witnessed creation, and that's the only miracle that's bigger.

The evidence is impossibly overwhelming and yet the nation is blind.  They can't see the obvious.  Totally blind.  Blinded by God.  Blinded by judgement from God.  They reject Him.  They account the miracles to Satan.  They hold a mock trial.  The cannot find any sin.  They nail Him on a cross.  Total blindness, except for this thief?  Really?

And even this guy is going along with the blind crowd, mocking Him.  And then somehow, up on that cross, the lights come on and he believes.  How does that happen?

How about Paul, on his way to Damascus.  Spitting mad at christians, papers in hand to stone as many of them as he can find.  And suddenly a bright light and he gets knocked to the ground and temporarily blinded and has an encounter with Jesus.  Pretty dramatic.  Let's pick one less dramatic.

Lydia.  Sitting by a river, listening to a quiet Bible study;
Acts 16:13 On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate along the river, where it was customary to find a place of prayer. After sitting down, we spoke to the women who had gathered there. 14  Among those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.

Or how about Acts 13 when Paul gets to Pisidion Antioch and preaches in the synagogue there and ultimately the jews begin to reject the message and to blaspheme, and Paul tells them, OK we're going to the gentiles.  We'll pick it up in vs.46 “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; since you repudiate it, and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. 47 “For thus the Lord has commanded us,

48 And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.

Oh, wait a minute, did you catch that last little throw away line?  and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.

How can an entire chosen people be blinded but a thief up on a cross suddenly believes?  How is it that we read through the book of Acts and every time salvation occurs, it was God who opened the heart to believe.

On a quiet river bank a group of ladies who have gathered there to pray, they were religious jews or proselytes, and God chooses Lydia, opens her heart to believe, and she responds joyfully.  What about all the other nice ladies at the river that day?  God opened Lydia's heart.  God knocked Paul down and appeared.  God appointed some gentiles to eternal life, and they believed.

Do you see a pattern here?  Paul explains;

1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ...   Eph. 2:1 - 5

Israel was blind because they were dead.  God compounded that blindness because of judgement.  They rejected their Messiah and became doubly blind, doubly dead.  

The lights came on for that thief on that cross because God quickened him to believe.  God made him alive and suddenly he believed.  And then he spoke what he believed.  

The inscrutable part is if you question why?  Why that thief and not the other thief.  That's where you fall over the cliff.  God doesn't tell us.  

In that same passage in Exodus 33 where He says I will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, He also says;  I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy.  

That thief began his day mocking the Son of God, the King of kings, and he ended his day in paradise forever with his King.  Such is the grace of God who quickens a vile sinful mocker to life and gives him a place at the table with the King of kings.

This is deep water.  We marvel at God who blinds an entire nation in judgement yet quickens one blind thief on a cross to life.  The veil is lifted.  He sees his sinfulness and he fears God.  Then he states his belief in Jesus as God's chosen One who will return in His kingdom.  Then he asks if somehow, that messiah, that Jesus, can remember him.  Include him.  And Jesus does!

Who lifted the blindness?  Who quickened his dead heart to life.  Who even gave him the faith to believe?  All of it is a gift from God to this thief.  Eph. 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;

Everything that just happened with that thief on that cross originated with God.  God quickened his dead heart to life.  God opened his eyes to see his sin and his need.  God caused him to fear for his great sin.  God gave him the very faith necessary to believe.  The thief gets zero credit for his glorious salvation.  God gets all of the glory.  He caused it all.

This is deep water because in our natural fallen state we want to ask God;  Why that thief.  Why not both thieves.  Why just Lydia?  Why not all of the ladies by the river praying?  Why not all the gentiles?  Why are some appointed to believe?  Does that mean the rest are appointed NOT to believe.

And as soon as you ask those questions you impugn the nature of God.  Because He doesn't tell us why.  He's God.  He calls one thief into glory but not the other thief.  You don't get to ask why.  As soon as you do, you begin to sink down into the deep waters.

God has told us that He owns everything.  He has told us that His judgements are righteous altogether.  That's enough.  That's all we need to know.

Some radio message reaches deep into a muslim country where the christian population is way below 1 percent, and in that nearly total darkness, someone can hear the message about Jesus death and burial and resurrection, for us, and suddenly the lights can come on.  God chooses who He chooses.  I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy;  He says.

And we marvel at the glory of His grace that He saved any of us.  And we remember that our job is to deliver the message intact and not worry about the effect.  Only God can bring the increase.  When it pleases Him to do that, He does.  Our job to preach.  His job to quicken and save who He chooses.