************ Sermon on Luke 23:43 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on March 16, 2014
"Today You Will be with Me in Paradise"
Second Message Lent 2014
We continue our study today of the seven words from the cross. We look at what Jesus said as He suffered and died for our sins. We listen and learn as Jesus says, "Today you will be with me in paradise" (Lk 23:43).
In this second word from the cross we learn something about ourselves and something about the Lord.
I We Learn About Ourselves
A It had been prophesied that the Suffering Servant would be "numbered with the transgressors" (Is 53:12; cf Lk 22:37). So it should not surprise us that two criminals were crucified with Jesus. Matthew's gospel identifies them as robbers (Mt 27:38).
There is so much we don't know about the two men. What did they steal? How long have they been stealing? Why did they take up a life of crime? They did grow up in poverty? Did they grow up without a father? Did they steal out of need or did they steal out of greed? Did they justify their actions by stealing only from the wicked Romans? Since they were guilty of the same crime where the two men partners in crime? Did they know Barabbas, the other man who was supposed to be crucified with them? Like I said, so many questions.
We do know some things about the two criminals crucified with Jesus. We know they were not simple thieves who secretly enter a house or property and steal. The Greek word used by Matthew indicates someone who uses violence to rob; they were the ancient equivalent of home invaders or carjackers. And, from their conversation upon the cross it is obvious the two criminals know each other. So maybe they were partners in crime; maybe they even started their life of crime together.
We also know they got caught, got thrown in jail, had a trial, and were found guilty. So, like Jesus, they woke up as the sun began to rise, left their prison cell, walked up a hill, carried a cross, and were nailed to a cross. On a Friday some two thousand years ago, they received their just punishment upon a cross. In the eyes of the world, these two criminals were worthless losers; they deserved to die for following the path of violence and theft.
We look at these two criminals and we learn something about ourselves. The two thieves are an illustration of us all. We are just as guilty as they. We, too, deserve judgment. We, too, deserve hell's deepest agony. We, too, deserve to die upon a cross. Why, you may ask. Because God is terribly angry about the sin we are born with as well as the sin we personally commit. His justice demands that sin committed against His supreme majesty be punished with the supreme penalty. I repeat: the two condemned criminals are an illustration of us all.
B But there is also something else we learn about ourselves. When we look at the two criminals we see the two possible responses of a lost-in-sin mankind to the Savior.
Jesus was crucified between the two criminals. Both of them had equal access to the Savior. Both could read Pilate's notice, "THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS" (Lk 23:38). Both could see and hear everything that was going on. Both could watch as Jesus graciously gave His life for the sins of the world. In the two criminals we see the two possible responses to Jesus: rejection and belief, mockery and faith. In the two criminals we see how people today respond to Jesus.
How do you respond to Jesus? Like the first criminal, do you despise and reject and mock and revile the Lord? Or, like the second criminal, do you respond in belief and faith? Are you like criminal one or are you, by the grace of God, like criminal two? Don't forget, don't ever forget, that like both criminals you deserve death. Now, as you are dead in your trespasses and sins, do you respond to Jesus in belief and faith or in rejection and mockery?
C Take a look at the first criminal. Like the Pharisees and religious leaders, he hurled insults at the King of Glory (Lk 23:39). Imagine that. Picture that. A crucified criminal joined the choruses of others, mocking and attacking the Lord. How long did these insults come from his lips? One hour? Two hours? Three hours? We don't know. We aren't told.
Listen to his mockery: "Aren't you the Christ? Save yourself and us!" (Lk 23:39). Unknowingly, he hit on the truth. In the darkness of sin he somehow knew and realized that Jesus was the solution. You see, this first criminal was desperate. He was looking for a way off the cross. He knew he was dying. He knew the pain was going to get worse. Maybe, just maybe, Jesus would pull a miracle and save him. Or maybe, just maybe, the authorities would have mercy on him because he was on their side and against Jesus.
He wanted to be saved, yet this first criminal had no remorse for sins. He had no interest in repentance. He had no fear of God. He remained defiant of God. So, standing on the threshold of death, he mocked and rejected the Christ. His heart was so hardened by sin that he cared not for his soul. Even at the last hour he would not repent and believe. The Bible speaks of such men who have rejected God throughout their lives, and at the last are not even able to cry upon His name.
This first criminal, I am afraid, is a picture of most people today. They, too, reject the Lord of glory. They, too, face death and enter eternity without Christ. Are you one of these people?
D Now, take a look at the second criminal. According to the gospel of Matthew and Mark, he joined with the first criminal and the crowds in hurling insults at Jesus (Mt 27:44; Mk 15:32). Telling us what? Telling us he was just as fallen, just as lost, just as wicked as the first criminal. He, too, deserved judgment and death. He, too, deserved the eternal wrath of God.
But something happened as he hung there next to Jesus. He started to change his mind about Jesus. He saw a man, like him, who was beaten, slashed, torn, ripped apart, barely alive, bones poking through the torn flesh, lungs gasping for air. But he also saw enough to realize Jesus was innocent and pure (Lk 23:41). He saw and heard the dignity and grace of Jesus. So he rebuked the first criminal, his partner in crime. "Don't you fear God?" He knew God and the judgment throne was awaiting the two of them. He knew that was no laughing matter, no light matter. He knew he couldn't squirm or talk his way out of this predicament.
And then he asked something: "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom" (Lk 23:42). "Remember me ..." We all want to be remembered. Twenty six years ago an old lady gave me this Bible. HOLD UP BIBLE. "Promise me that you won't forget me," she said. She pointed out the inscription inside: "Mrs. J. Haverkamp gift to Rev. A. Dieleman, June 23 1987." Her biggest fear in life was that someday she would be forgotten. That no one would remember her. This reminds me of the sad, sad words of the psalmist:
(Ps 103:15-16) As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; (16) the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.Think about this: no one is irreplacable. Even presidents and kings can be replaced and life goes on. Once you realize this about yourself you have gained a wisdom about life that some people never seem to reach. Some people panic about this. They build elaborate memorials and gravestones to themselves. They put provisions in their will. They give bequests. As long as their name is mentioned and/or displayed. Because they don't want to be forgotten. Do you think this was the big concern of the thief on the cross? That he would not be remembered? That he would be forgotten? That life would go on without him?
If you are a Christian, you will not be forgotten. If you are a Christian, you will be remembered. Because your name will be written down in the Lamb's book of life (cf Rev 13:8). This is the promise of Jesus to those who believe.
Earlier, at the Last Supper, a Jesus about to suffer and die told His disciples and followers to remember Him. He said, "This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me" (Lk 22:19). Now, it is the dying thief on the cross who asks to be remembered.
Isn't this a strange request to make of Jesus? After all, Jesus is suffering and dying on the cross. "Remember me ..." Go back to Mrs. Haverkamp and the Bible she gave me. Would it have made sense for her to give me the Bible if I was old like her? Do you think she would have given me this Bible if I was eighty or ninety? Of course not! She wanted to be remembered by the living, by someone young and vigorous. Likewise, the thief on the cross wanted to be remembered by someone alive and vigorous. You don't ask dead and dying people to remember you. Meaning what? Meaning the thief on the cross believed death would not be the end for Jesus. Meaning the thief on the cross believed Jesus was still going to be alive.
But there is more. "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom" (Lk 23:42). By the grace and Spirit of God this thief somehow realized that the person hanging beside him on the cross was and is a king with a kingdom. That His is power and glory and position. That His is a scepter and a throne.
Isn't this amazing? A thief sees a king – a living king – on the middle cross. So he says, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom" (Lk 23:42).
Do you see yourself in this thief? Do you fear God? Do you, a fallen sinner, recognize Jesus as Savior and Lord? Do you, a fallen sinner, look to Him as you rightly face the judgment and wrath of God? Do you repent and believe?
II We Learn About Jesus
A "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom" (Lk 23:42). How does Jesus respond?
The response is absolutely amazing: "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise" (Lk 23:43).
We see that God's grace exceeds human expectation. What did the thief ask for? Nothing definite. Unlike two of the disciples, he did not ask the Lord for a special place of honor in His kingdom (Mk 10:35-37). He did not even ask for forgiveness. All he asked was, "remember me."
It was a very modest request. But it was a request made of a King. It was a request made of THE KING. "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise" (Lk 23:43). Not, "I will remember you when I come into my kingdom." No waiting for this man. No postponement until the future. Something is going to happen TODAY already.
B "Today you will be with me ..." (Lk 23:43). But Jesus is suffering and dying. And the criminal is suffering and dying. So, again, we are told death is not the end of Jesus. And, now it is revealed, death is not the end of the criminal as well.
Now, what is the highlight of life after death? Ask a Muslim. They point to the seventy virgins promised to every true believer. Jesus points us in a different direction, an entirely different direction. Jesus doesn't point to palm trees and dancing girls and dates and figs. Jesus points to Himself. "Today you will be with me ..." (Lk 23:43).
The highlight of the future life is that it is life with Jesus. It is life centered on Jesus. It is life in the presence of Jesus. "Today you will be with me ..." (Lk 23:43). "With me."
Do you remember how this life is pictured in Revelation 4 & 5? We see every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth, tens of thousands of angels, seven spirits, four living creatures, and twenty-four elders. Everyone is looking in one direction and only one direction. Everyone's attention is on one person. Everyone is looking at Jesus and praising Jesus and falling down before Jesus. Jesus is the all in all. Jesus is so glorious and so awesome and so wondrous and so gracious that you can't tear your eyes away from Him.
Jesus is the bridegroom. The church is His bride. And the two have eyes only for one another. They share love and joy. "Today you will be with me ..." (Lk 23:43).
Notice what Jesus adds to this: He uses the word "paradise." "Today you will be with me in paradise" (Lk 23:43). "Paradise" is the one Persian word in the Bible. It is a word meaning "enclosure" or "park." When a Persian king wished to give one of his subjects a special honor he would invite him to walk in the royal garden with the king. In the Greek translation of the Old Testament the Garden of Eden is God's park – this is where God walked and talked with Adam. The thief is promised, then, life with Jesus in a perfect place, a special place, a place set apart.
C Do you know what else we are taught about Jesus? We are taught that no man is beyond the grace of Jesus. The worst of sinners can be saved. There is no doubt that the man was a criminal. He had broken the laws of the land and was crucified for that reason. But the greatness of his sin does not matter to Jesus. The greatness of his sin does not alter his chance to be saved. Let no one despair in thinking they are too bad to be saved. As the song puts it, "the vilest offender who truly believes, that moment from Jesus a pardon receives."
D One last thing we learn from this passage. We see that salvation is totally by grace. As Paul puts it, it is the gift of God (Eph 2:8-9). The thief did not deserve salvation and could not earn it. His salvation didn't depend on religious ceremonies, good deeds, or any kind of contribution. There was no time for any of these things to take place. Yet, he was saved anyway. Because salvation is by grace.
Think about the thief of the cross. He would never attend a worship service, teach a Sunday School class, bring a friend to church, be part of a Bible Study, put money in the offering plate, feed the hungry, become a Cadet counselor, or help with VBS or TASC. Yet, he was saved. Because salvation is not by works. Because salvation is by grace.
Let me end with the one word of our text I have not looked at yet. A simple word. A well-known word. A word we use every day. The word "Amen." Translated in our Bibles as "I tell you the truth."
Amen. This is sure to be. I tell you the truth. You can stake your life on this. Jesus holds before every sinner who repents, like the thief on the cross, the same promise: "I tell you truth, Amen, today you will be with me in paradise."
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