SUNDAY MORNING WORSHIP SERVICE, 26 March 2023
Sermon Text: Luke 23:39-45
Sermon Series: “Jesus’ Words on the Cross” (#2)
III. WITH ME
We’re contemplating on the words of Jesus spoken on the cross. Last week, we heard the first saying, that is, “Father, forgive them,” and realised how deep the Lord’s grace toward us sinners was. His word amazed us because it was a prayer the Son of God made to His Father at such a situation of deep agony. Hung on the cross, Jesus sought forgiveness of sins of those who nailed Him and that proved to our eyes and souls that Jesus is the Saviour.
Then, the next saying we hear from His lips is this, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in paradise.” He spoke these words to one of the criminals hung next to Him on that day. What a stunning declaration of salvation! It is the most amazing announcement that resonates our ears and souls. In this Saviour’s words, truth is adorned with joy; hope is substantiated; lifelessness is instantly replaced with new and vibrant throbbing of life.
By the way, being able to consider joy, hope and new beginning at such a situation as this stuns us, blows our mind away, because this announcement was made on the cross. In the moment of the Saviour’s last breath, at the very end of the condemned criminal’s shameful life, the blessing and joy of heaven are bestowed upon the underserved. This is the joyful truth of Jesus’ salvation which is available for all people who come to the Saviour in repentance and faith, and this salvation is readily available for the penitent and believing sinners.
So, let us follow the Spirit of God leading us once again to Calvary of the 1st century AD where Jesus was hung on a tree, and enables us to see and hear the glory of Jesus’ salvation as well as its power and beauty, and rejoice in Him.
In this second words of Jesus, let us first focus on to whom this salvation is declared. The Lord Jesus says, “YOU will be in paradise,” and this is one of two criminals hung next to Jesus. The Lord means, ‘You who are condemned to death and breathing your last will be saved.’
In vs. 32 and 39, these men are introduced to us as ‘criminals.’ The literal meaning of the original Greek word used here is ‘evildoers’ or ‘evil natured.’ Although Matthew’s Gospel 27:38 describes them as ‘robbers,’ they are not ordinary pickpockets. Rather, they are malicious, cunning and treacherous antisocial criminals of the day. This criminal to whom Jesus announces salvation admits in v. 41 that they deserve the punishment. Yet, to one of these treacherous criminals, Jesus declares salvation.
Everyone who hears the words of Jesus should rejoice. Why? Because Jesus is making known God’s truth on salvation so clearly and vividly to everyone’s ears. None could miss this truth that’s so plain. In this statement, the Lord is saying that there’s none who cannot be saved – convicts as well as the rowdy, hot-tempered as well as gossipers and pretenders and haters, all can be saved as their multitude of sins can be removed and forgiven. Also, no one’s sins are too heavy to be cancelled. If a criminal like this one crucified next to Jesus is saved, anyone and everyone can hear the same announcement of salvation from the lips of the Lord Jesus.
How often do we Christians hear from people, saying, as their response to our invitation to the faith in Jesus, ‘Well, I don’t think I deserve that; if I go to church, I’d spoil everyone there’? While such a response often holds back our keen objection, it makes us heartbroken and grievous, doesn’t it? If the convict who deserved such a punishment of crucifixion is forgiven and saved at the very last moment of his time on earth, who could be excluded from Jesus’ matchless grace? None! So, Paul the apostle makes it clear in Acts 17:30 that “[God] commands all people everywhere to repent.” Salvation through forgiveness of sins is readily available for all who come to Jesus, like this criminal of Lk. 23. No matter how much sins one carries with him, no matter when he comes to the Lord – as long as it is ‘now’ than ‘later’ – that person will find Jesus’ salvation.
Having said, let me point out to you that salvation is not for all people, nor is it automatically awarded to anyone unless that person meets its only condition. This condition is described in the case of the criminal we’ve been focusing on this morning. Listen to the words of this condemned man in v. 41 of today’s text, as he rebukes his fellow criminal, “we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man [Jesus] has done nothing wrong.” Then, he turns to Jesus and asks, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”
Here, he is saying two things; firstly, he confesses that he is a sinner; he deserves death sentence. But Jesus is not; He is innocent but dying at the sinner’s spot. He the innocent One is dying, being numbered with the transgressors. Moreover, He has just prayed to God for forgiveness of those who have nailed Him to the cross!
This criminal also confesses that Jesus is the Saviour of sinners God has promised through His prophets. So he asks the Saviour humbly, yet, urgently and fervently. He calls the Lord’s name and says, ‘Jesus.’ This is more than a casual calling; it is with deep reverence. I say this because some Greek NT manuscripts have in v. 42 ‘Lord!’ instead of ‘Jesus!’ So, his calling the Lord is like the case of the lepers in Lk. 17 who raised their voices on the street, calling Jesus, ‘Master’ – they said, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” Or like the case of Stephen, the first Christian martyr in Acts 7. As he was stoned to death, he looked up and called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” In like manner, this unnamed sinner calls Jesus his Lord and confesses his sins to Him.
This man asks the Lord to remember him when Jesus comes into His kingdom. To a Jew like this man in the first century AD, the kingdom of God means salvation through God’s Messiah. The kingdom of the Messiah means the glorious victory the Messiah will won for His people, squashing the enemy, Satan. So, this man hung on the cross vows to Jesus in his heart and soul – as his arms and legs are all firmly bound to the tree – and asks, ‘My Lord, the Saviour of the world, please remember me!’ His request is, in this sense, the same as Simon Peter’s confession that is recorded in Mt. 16:16 in these words, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
This is the only condition for salvation – that is, repentance and faith in Jesus. Having realised one’s own sinfulness and inability to save oneself, sinners must turn to Jesus and ask His mercy, believing that He alone can deliver sinners from damnation. Anyone and everyone who meets this only condition of salvation will be saved. This criminal saved on Calvary is the example of all who are saved by the grace of Jesus Christ.
The next point to consider is the time Jesus mentions concerning this man’s salvation. It is ‘today.’ Yes, Jesus saves sinners ‘today.’ He does not lag in receiving and saving a penitent sinner who comes to Him today. If you come to Jesus today and confesses your sins and asks Him His mercy, Jesus will save you today.
Yet, to be more specific and accurate in terms of timing, I should say Jesus saves ‘right now’ and ‘at the very moment’ anyone comes to Jesus and vows to Him. The Greek word used here and translated into English as ‘today’ is, in fact, ‘at this time’ or ‘just now’ rather than ‘sometime today.’
What amazes us more is that this time of salvation is emphasised in the original Greek NT text. Almost always, those people who spoke and used the biblical Greek put any word they wished to emphasise at the front of a sentence. We also do the same in many cases. So, in the Greek original text, we read ‘today’ first – and ESV brings it to us by putting it first in the sentence – and so, ‘today’ is emphasised, meaning, ‘right now,’ ‘at the very moment’ of sinner’s approach to Jesus for the forgiveness of sins and rescue from sin’s curse. Jesus never piles up sinners’ request but instantly cleanses all sins of the penitent, and removes the curse of death from him. Simultaneously, he is moved into the marvellous light of Jesus’ grace.
If anyone has confessed sins and trusts the Saviour, but doubts the certainty of his salvation, that’s a serious misunderstanding of the power of Jesus’ salvation. Consider this – would Jesus say one thing and do otherwise? Absolutely not! That’s out of question. What He says, He does; He promises and accomplishes His promise. He says in Jn. 11:25 and following, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he dies, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” This last question is for anyone who doubts. Your answer and mine are the same – ‘Yes, Lord, we believe and doubt not!’
It is ‘just now,’ at the very moment that Jesus’ grace washes away the sins of penitent sinner who comes to Jesus!
III. WITH ME
The last part of Jesus’ saying is the announcement of the penitent man to be WITH JESUS in paradise. He means that the criminal saved by faith will be in paradise or heaven. His sins are now removed, thus, being made righteous in the sight of God, he will be admitted into the place where God reigns in His righteousness, where His glory fills the space, and all blessed ones of God dwell in full joy. It’ll be an instant admission like one’s receiving forgiveness of sins and salvation is instant.
Having said, let me point out to you why Jesus says that the saved man will be ‘WITH JESUS’ in heaven. He could’ve simply said, ‘you will be in paradise,’ couldn’t He? Instead, the Lord adds, ‘with Me.’ He says it because it is truly important, and He emphasises it in grammatical terms also.
As I explained to you earlier, this phrase, ‘with Me,’ comes before the rest in the original Greek sentence. A literal translation can be this – “today, with Me you will be in the paradise.” Jesus highlights and underscores ‘being with Him’ more than ‘you will’ or ‘in paradise.’ What the Lord means by it is that salvation is ‘being with the Saviour’ or ‘residing in Him.’ Where the sinners saved by grace dwell with Jesus is, therefore, the paradise, the heaven. I’m not telling you that the heaven is not a place in the spiritual realm but on earth. Never do I mean anything like that. The heaven is our eternal home. Until the time of Jesus’ return to earth for the final judgment, it remains in the spiritual realm. But when Jesus finally throws the devil into the eternal fire and brings all God’s elect and blessed into His bosom, this world will be renewed to be new heavens and earth, our eternal dwelling place with the Lord.
What I’m trying to tell you is that where Christians are with the Lord Jesus, there is a part of the paradise or an outpost of heaven as an extension of our eternal home. No wonder why the Lord says in Mt. 18:20, “where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I among them.” No wonder why the Apostle Paul being inspired by the Holy Spirit tells us that our body is a temple of the Holy Spirit.
This is, again, what Jesus means when He says ‘today, you will be in paradise.’ Although a Christian saved through faith isn’t dead but lives now and here on earth, this believer is instantly moved into the paradise because he/she is now with the Lord Jesus! So, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, believe that you’re with Jesus and, in Jesus, you’re in paradise!
Let me conclude. I urge you to see the glory of Jesus’ salvation in these words of the Lord spoken on the cross. He is ready to save all who come to Him in repentance and faith.
See also the power of Jesus’ salvation. He saves a sinner, and immediately the effect of salvation is upon the saved.
As you behold the glory and power of Jesus’ salvation, I want you to realise also the beauty of Jesus’ salvation. He is with you and me, and wherever we are, that place is the heaven, paradise. Where Christians gather together, that place is an outpost of heaven, and the Lord and King Jesus Christ resides in our midst.
So, come to the Saviour, and start living heaven on earth in Jesus! ***