Luke 23.39-43 | “Today – you will be with Me in Paradise!”
Jesus said to this repentant criminal,
“TODAY – YOU WILL BE WITH ME IN PARADISE!”
In so doing, He made two promises to him – and for him…in his predicament…these two promises are good news & Good News:
- You are going to die today – before this day is over!
- When you do die, you and I will be together in Paradise!
So, let me ask you: “If you knew for sure you were going to die today – do you also know for certain that you would go to be with God in Heaven?”
You may not die today. It may still be some time before you. And, no one of us knows when we will die.
But, one thing is for sure – YOU WILL DIE. The survival rate for human life – from the beginning of the human race right down to this very day and hour – the survival rate for any human being getting out of this life without dying is EXACTLY TWO! That’s right – TWO! Out of all of the billions of people who have lived in the human race since the creation of Adam and Eve – exactly two have gone to Heaven without dying: Enoch and Elijah.
And so, the exceptions prove the rule. All the rest of the human beings have DIED. It is certain, inescapable, sure – you will die.
On the other hand, THE SURVIVAL RATE FOR CRUCIFIXION WAS ZERO. No one survived crucifixion. You always died on the cross. No criminal was ever taken down from the cross alive. That’s what crosses were for: killing those who were hanged on them. And, crosses were 100% effective!
So, this criminal knew when he was impaled to the cross that he wouldn’t survive – he wouldn’t come down alive.
But, after his change of heart – and after his appeal to Jesus to have mercy on him – he was promised that when he died on his cross that day, he would wake up in Paradise with this same Jesus!
And so, I ask you again, “If you knew for sure that you were going to die today, do you know for certain that you would go to be with God in Heaven?”
Would you like to know for sure – with certain assurance – that if you were to die today, that you would go to be with Christ in Heaven?
So, let’s go back to the Cross and see what’s going on there – and receive the message Jesus Christ has for us from His Cross.
PILING ON JESUS
Every single person around Jesus’ Cross that day was piling on Jesus – venting and spewing their hatred, disdain, and spleen against Jesus.
1 – The Jewish leaders and elders led the way
Luke 23.35 – The people stood watching, and even the leaders were scoffing: “He saved others; let Him save Himself if this is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One! ”
Matthew 27.41-43 – In the same way the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked Him and said, 42 “He saved others, but He cannot save Himself! He is the King of Israel! Let Him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in Him. 43 He trusts in God; let God rescue Him now — if He takes pleasure in Him! For He said, ‘I am the Son of God.’ ”
You can see them in your mind’s eye, as they strut around among the crowd that was gathering around the Cross, hyping them up, working them up – inciting them against Jesus, just like they had done earlier that morning when Pilate was trying to release Jesus back to them.
[And, Jesus was praying to the Father: “Father, forgive them…!”]
2 – Then, the passers-by, bystanders, gawkers, rubber-neckers – all took their cue and followed their lead
Luke 23.35 – And the people stood by watching…
Matthew 27.39-40 – Those who passed by were yelling insults at Him, shaking their heads 40 and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save Yourself! if you are the Son of God, come down from the cross! ”
[And, Jesus was praying to the Father: “Father, forgive them…!”]
3 – Even the soldiers entertained themselves by joining in the mockery
Luke 23.36-37 – The soldiers also mocked Him. They came offering Him sour wine 37 and said, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself! ”
They may have jabbed and poked one another and high-fived one another: “We have crucified a lot of low-lifes before, but this is the first King we have crucified!”
[And, Jesus was praying to the Father: “Father, forgive them…!”]
4 – But – what may have been most remarkable about all of those who mocked and jeered at Jesus as He was hanging and dying on His Cross – is that even the two criminals who were being executed along with Him that day also turned on Him and blasphemed Him – cursed Him!
Matthew 27.44 – In the same way even the criminals who were crucified with Him taunted Him.
This word “taunted” or “reviled” is the word “blasphemed” – they mocked and cursed at Jesus in every disdainful expression they could think of.
Mainly, they were just picking it up from the religious leaders and the people who were surrounding them on their crosses.
Everyone around Jesus’ Cross were turning all their attention toward Jesus – to mock and jeer Him – to celebrate their victory that day by finally getting rid of Him in this violent, despicable, and heinous way!
CHANGE OF HEART!
But, all of a sudden, something remarkable happened in the thought processes and heart of one of the criminals!
And, this took place rather quickly. All of these first events before the darkness descended on Golgotha took place in the first 3 hours – from 9am-noon.
Both of these criminals began their own execution experiences by joining in on the blasphemies that were being hurled toward Jesus.
But, suddenly – one of them is cursing Jesus by himself – and the other one is noticeably silent!
Luke picks up this part of the story in Luke 23.39 – Then one of the criminals hanging there began to yell insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us! ”
The other criminal is NOT joining in with him. The silence from the other criminal is deafening. He is thinking in his own conscience. He is taking all this in – everything that is going on around the center Cross:
- Why is all this hateful attention being directed at this so-called King of the Jews?
- They are being crucified also – but no one is barely paying any attention to them! Who is He?
- He keeps hearing Jesus pray to the Father: “Father, FORGIVE THEM! … FORGIVE THEM … FORGIVE THEM!” – Who can pray like that under this abuse, injustice, and pain?
- They keep jeering and mocking – calling Him “The Son of God”
- Could He really be The Son of God?
- What is all this “He saved others” all about?
- Did He really save others?
- How did He save others?
- What did He save others from?”
He painfully twisted his body to look at the placard nailed over Jesus’ head. “Jesus of Nazareth – King of the Jews”
The elders and chief priests keep mocking Him as “The King of Israel.”
- “Well,” he thought, “I am a Jew.”
- “Is this Jesus my King?”
- “What kind of Kingdom does this Jesus have?”
- “What does He rule over?”
He knew what was on his own placard. Probably something like: “Felony Grand Theft” / “Murder” / “Anarchy-Insurrection-inciting riots” – whatever.
Finally – he thinks differently about Jesus! …and even about himself! He can’t take all the blasphemy any more!
He screams out to the other criminal! “STOP IT!”
Luke 23.39-41 – Then one of the criminals hanging there began to yell insults at Him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us! ” 40 But the other answered, rebuking him: “Don’t you even fear God, since you are undergoing the same punishment? 41 We are punished justly, because we’re getting back what we deserve for the things we did, but this man has done nothing wrong.”
THAT’S IT! – “But this Man has done nothing wrong!”
It flashes into his mind like a bolt of lightning!
It pierces his conscience like a light-saber!
It floods his soul with light and charges his heart with life-energy!
It grips him with the conviction of truth!
Even dying there himself like he was – on his own cross – it thrills his soul with courage and hope!
He saw that Jesus was dying the way He was…
- with calmness and confidence
- with courage
- with Grace
- even joy and sovereignty
because Jesus knew who He was! and Jesus knew what He was doing! and He knew where He was going!
HE WAS THE KING! AND HE WAS GOING TO HIS KINGDOM!
And so, he speaks up to the other criminal in Jesus’ defense – and he prepares to appeal to Jesus for his own mercy!
WHAT IS GOING ON IN HIS MIND – AND CONSCIENCE?
What is going on in his mind and conscience is, first of all, REPENTANCE TOWARD GOD! REPENTANCE FROM HIS SINS!
He screams out to the other criminal…
“Don’t you even fear God, since you are undergoing the same punishment? 41 We are punished justly, because we’re getting back what we deserve for the things we did, but this man has done nothing wrong.”
Do you hear what he is doing? He is taking his honest place as a sinner against God! He is confessing his own personal sins against God, and he is repenting from them.
WHERE IS THIS CONVICTION & CONFESSION COMING FROM?
It is coming from  this personal encounter with Jesus Himself – and also from  the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit Himself is convicting this sinner of his own sins against God.
The word ‘repentance’ literally means: ‘a change / turning of mind’
- not just a change in your whim or opinion
- but a change in your very ways of thinking about things
- you see everything differently – you see like God sees
- you think about everything differently – you think like God thinks
Before now, this criminal had looked at all his misdeeds as misconduct maybe – but something to try to get away with.
But, now, he realizes that his sin is against God! ALL of his sins are against God! He is about to die – and he will answer to God for his crimes and his sins! And, HE IS TERRIFIED!
“Do you not even fear God?!” The state is fearful enough. Caesar is fearful enough – but all Caesar can do is kill your body. God has power to kill both your body and then kill your soul in Hell forever!
SOMETHING ELSE IS GOING ON IN HIS MIND, SOUL, AND CONSCIENCE!
What is going on in his mind and conscience is FAITH TOWARD JESUS CHRIST!
He now sees Jesus Christ differently than just a short while ago when they were first nailed to their crosses.
NOW – He sees Jesus Christ
- as the true Son of God
- as the true Savior of sinners
- as the One who somehow is being punished for the sins he himself is afraid to die under
This same Jesus – who Himself is dying in weakness on the Cross beside Him –is actually King over His Kingdom of Grace!
He really doesn’t believe that this crucifixion and death is the end of Jesus!
And he said, “Jesus…Lord – remember me when You come into Your Kingdom!”
That is, “extend mercy to me,” “save me to Your Kingdom,” “bring me to Your Kingdom!”
He believed that Jesus was going to live beyond this Cross! He believed that Jesus was going to enter into His Kingdom – victorious! And – he wanted Jesus to take him with Him!
And – that is precisely what Jesus did THAT DAY!
And He said to him, “Truly, I say to you,
TODAY you will BE WITH ME…IN PARADISE!”
That is what you must do to be saved!
Romans 10.9…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved!
He confessed with his mouth that Jesus is Lord! And, he believed in his heart that God would raise Him from the dead!
And, later that afternoon, when Jesus exclaimed “Father, into Your hands I entrust my spirit!” – He may have also added something like: “Oh, and by the way, I’m bringing a new brother Home to Paradise with Me! He has believed on Me! I’m sure that’ll be OK!” And the Father would have replied, “My Son! Of course, that’s OK! That’s what I sent You to earth to die for! Bring him on!”
Here is what we may learn for ourselves today from this repentant criminal:
- You are never too bad or too sinful to be saved from your sins! And – none of your neighbors and friends are too bad or too sinful to be saved from their sins!
- You are never too late or too far gone to believe on Christ and be saved from your sins!
- OK – so you haven’t cared a whit up until now…today but, TODAY, right now – YOU CARE DEEPLY!
- So, you have lived carelessly and never gave Jesus a thought but TODAY, right now – YOU WANT TO KNOW THIS JESUS!
- So, you have ignored and squandered all the previous opportunities to repent of your sins and trust Jesus to die the death of punishment for your sins that you should have to die – but TODAY, RIGHT NOW – you are willing to come to Jesus Christ by the faith of your heart – and believe that He died there on His Cross in your place – SO YOU CAN LIVE FORGIVEN!
Here you are now! Here is Jesus now!
“Come, every soul by sin oppressed, there’s mercy with the Lord!
And He will surely give you rest by trusting in His Word!”
- Don’t ever give up hope on anyone you are praying for and want to see saved! No sinner is hopelessly lost until that sinner has died without trusting in Jesus Christ to forgive him/her of their sins.
- Don’t ever underestimate the power of a printed word – or a spoken word – that God may use to bring someone to faith in Christ! There will be scores of Grace Encounters & Divine Appointments that God will arrange and set up for you…when all we will have time and opportunity to do is speak the Name of Jesus or say a word about Jesus – or maybe leave a printed message of some kind in someone’s hand.
Be prepared – and don’t be ashamed to do what God gives you opportunity to do – as small or insignificant or weak as it may seem!
From all indications, all this dying criminal had to learn from as witnesses to Christ were
- watching Christ Himself
- looking at the printed placard and accusation that hung over Christ’s head
- and hearing the jeering snide mockeries being hurled at Christ!
But, he did hear that! He did see that!
And that is what Jesus Himself used to bring this long-term, hardened sinner to faith in Himself.
God used all these means to shine the light of the knowledge of the Glory of God in the Face of Jesus Christ into this sinner’s darkened conscience – and brought him to see Christ as He is!
Live the Word of Christ!
Speak the Word of Christ!
Share the Word of Christ!