(excerpt from Sunday Sermon)
One of the criminals next to Jesus on the cross at some point here saw something about Jesus that the criminal on the other side did not. The one on the other side yelled insults at Jesus, but this one interjected...
Luke 23:40 …“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.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 And he said to him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
There are so many different things wrapped up in that last sentence that should be very comforting for the believer, but we’ll look at three of them here:
- The simplicity of salvation.
- This criminal hanging next to Jesus didn’t pray a certain prayer. He was never baptized. We don’t even know how much of the Bible he knew. But here he is, recognizing that the punishment he is experiencing is just; it’s deserved. He confesses his sin. The Holy Spirit had opened his eyes to see that this man hanging between him and the other criminal was the Son of God, that he would one day inaugurate a new kingdom, and that only by Jesus’ mercy could he be saved.
- What we learn: Anyone who adds more hoops to jump through in order for someone to be saved has corrupted the truth. Salvation is simple: 1. Confession of sin, 2: recognition of Jesus as Lord, and our need for his mercy.
- Salvation is by faith, not by works.
- This man next to Jesus was either tied or nailed to a board where he would remain until he died. He was not leaving until he physically could not breathe anymore. There was not a single good thing he was now able to do for God. Not a single effort he could give to the kingdom of heaven that could prove he deserved to be in paradise.
- What we learn: Entrance to heaven is not dependent upon what you are able to accomplish for the kingdom in this life.
- There is a preacher named Alistair Begg who imagined the scene in heaven when this criminal reached the pearly gates. He imagined that the angel says, “Okay, what are you doing here?” The man says “I don’t know.” The angel says “what do you mean you don’t know?” Man says, “I don’t know.” Angel: "Hmm. Okay, well, let me ask you a few questions – where do you stand on the doctrine of justification by faith?" The guy says, “I’ve never heard of it.” "What church are you a member of?" “None.” “What do you believe about scripture? Predestination or Free Will? Are you Continuationist or Cessasionalist?” The man just stares blankly. Finally the angel says, “Okay… seriously, how did you get here?" The guy says, “The man on the middle cross said I could come!”
- If that scene were to be real and the angel asks us how did we get here, and we start the sentences in the first person, we’re already in trouble. Because I believed, because I went to church, because I know doctrine really well. We are not saved because we did something. We’re saved by faith in what Jesus did.
- When a believer dies, they are immediately in paradise.
- When Jesus begins his sentence with the words ‘I tell you the truth’, what comes next is very important. So Jesus really is saying to this thief, ‘As soon as we pass through this pain into death, we’re going together to paradise.’
- What we learn: When those who have put their trust in Christ die, immediately their souls go to be with the Lord, to know his presence, and to wait for the resurrection of the body. We cross the valley of death into something far more wonderful than anything we can possibly enjoy here. Our Lord, in speaking to this thief, speaks also to all who put their trust in him, and promises his presence with them in paradise the moment that they die (Sproul, 412-413).
These are such great comforts to the believer!