Which Side of the Cross?

Meditations on the Cross March 24, 2024 Luke 23:32-46 Notes


Although Christ entered Jerusalem on a Sunday to adoring crowds waving palm branches and shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” (Matt. 21:9), Christ exited Jerusalem on a Friday to an angry crowd shaking their fists and yelling, “Crucify him!” The crowds in Jerusalem were divided in their response to Jesus. They had different views of Jesus and took different sides. The message of Christ and His cross still divides people today. It still calls people to choose sides.

You and I weren’t in Jerusalem when Jesus made his triumphal entry on Palm Sunday 2,000 years ago. Nor were we there when He was hung on a cross between two criminals. We may not have been there, but the sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross calls all of us to answer: “Which side of the cross are you on?”

In the gospel according to Luke, he recorded that Jesus was crucified between two criminals, one on the right side and one on the left side. They were both criminals facing death, both seeing and hearing how Jesus faced death. Yet they chose different views of the cross of Christ. They chose different sides. We are faced with the same choice. Which side of the cross will you choose?

Audio

Transcript

It is great to see all of you here on this Palm Sunday, the day of Christ's triumphal entry into Jerusalem, 2000 years ago! That's why we gather here on this Sunday, to remember what Christ has done. We're continuing our series entitled, "Meditations on the Cross." Today's question that we'll be working out, that we'll be answering together, is "Which Side of the Cross?" Which side of the cross are you on?

You know, people take sides on things during this particular month, especially. I'm looking around the room. I'm not seeing a lot of bright colors. I was looking to see if I'd see any red in here this morning. Okay, you've got it hidden.

I don't see it from here, Betty, but there's a little bit of red. We've got all three of our North Carolina teams still in the running for March madness.If you're not from North Carolina, you don't understand what's going on right now, but, March Madness is a big deal.

I'm a "transplant" here, but I've been here long enough to know about March Madness. UNC and NC State are  in the "Sweet 16." Duke's playing later on today. I'm just glad you all came to church because people take sides. I'm not going to take a side on this issue; I want to try to stay friends with as many of you as I can.

Whenever we first moved here, where we live, our kids ended up going to Fike high school. When my two sons played football at Fike, we made sure we sat on the 50 yard line, on the home side, right? We sat with the other parents that were cheering their kids on; we tried to wear the right colors and everything. We got to know which side we were on.

Then, when our daughter, Erin, became a cheerleader, we had to move over to where we could see the cheerleaders, right? That was a new thing that we had to now. I don't know if you know anything about Fike high school.

Fike high school has kind of a "blasphemous"  kind of name. They're the "Golden Demons;" all of my kids went there. My daughter would be leading these cheers, "Get on the demon train." I would be up there cheering along with her until it came to that cheer. Not in the name of Jesus was I getting on that demon train. I'd pull for Fike  other than the demon train cheer; I wasn't getting on the demon train. You have to know which side you stand on, right?

Some years later, a dear friend of mine and church member, Jeff, had season tickets to ECU football games and  His dad had season tickets, too. They would go over and spend the whole day at ECU.  One particular weekend, his dad couldn't go and Jeff asked me, 'Hey, pastor, do you want to use my dad's ticket? We'll go spend the whole day.'

We hung out, did the tail gate and everything. Then, we go and sit in the Pirate club. He made sure that I wore  purple or gold. He didn't want me to show up in the wrong color of shirt. I did good. I got the right shirt.

We go to the football game; we had a great time tailgating and everything. We go in and we take our seats.  Everybody in the Pirate club has season tickets. I feel like I'm doing good.

I've got something to drink. I've got some peanuts and we're enjoying the game. Then, some things start happening. See, this is before I got trained. All three of my kids end up going to ECU, but I hadn't been trained in proper cultural etiquette yet at this point. All of a sudden, ECU got a "first down."

Now on the 20 yard line, when it's a first down, the announcer would pause. Everyone in all of the stands in the Pirate club would stand up and go, "Pirates!" when it's a first down. "Pirates!"

They would  all stand up, except I didn't stand up. I almost spilled my drink. What's going on? This happened a couple of times. Finally, about the third time, I noticed people in the Pirate club were all looking at me. Jeff, you brought some outsider here in the Pirate club. So, Jeff leans over to me, with a whispering voice and says,  "Pastor, look, if you ever want me to bring you to one of these games again, you had better start standing up and saying, "Pirates!" when we get a first down. He said, "You have to know which side that you're on, right?" So, I finally got the training. I understood how to do that.

I don't know if you saw the movie, "The Lord of the Rings." There's a situation in "The Lord of the Rings," where two of the Hobbits are in this forest were these talking trees, called “treebeards.”

It was a time when these talking trees were in denial about what was happening in the story, so Pippen, one of the Hobbits, is being carried along by this talking tree named Treebeard. Pippen asks the tree, "Whose side are you on?" The treebeard said, "Side? I'm on nobody's side because nobody is on my side."

The treeboard didn't realize that there was trouble coming and so he thought he could stay neutral. But, there comes a point, as he soon found out, that you have to choose a side.

Two thousand years ago on Palm Sunday, Jesus arrived in Jerusalem to the shouting of adoring crowds, waving palm branches and saying, "Hosanna, Hosanna, this is the son of David coming!" But, several people in that same crowd, that same fickled crowd, by the end of passion week on that Friday, were no longer adoring Him. They were an angry crowd, shaking their fists and shouting, "Crucify him. Crucify him!"

You see, they had switched sides, many of them. They've been confused about which side of Jesus they were on. It's important that we choose that today. That's the question today, "Which side of the cross are you on?"

We're going to be looking in the book of Luke, chapter 23, where we read about how Jesus was crucified between two thieves. The worship team just led us in a song, helping us picture what it would have been like to be one of those criminals crucified next to Jesus. As we consider these two criminals, we see that they choose sides on how they're going to respond to the message of the cross. I believe, as we consider this, we'll see how we're brought to a place of decision ourselves. Let's look at the text.

We are in Luke, chapter 23, picking up at verse 32, "Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. 33 And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. 35 And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!”

36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”

39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” 44 It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, 45 while the sun's light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. 47 Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!” This is God's word. Amen.

We're looking for three views of the cross of Christ. The first view is:

1. The TRAGEDY of the cross.

We're looking at it from the side of the criminal who made the decision to reject Jesus. Looking at it from that side, the cross becomes a tragic scene, a sad scene, a broken scene of suffering.

You see, there were two criminals.The gospels tell us that there was one on the right and one on the left. One criminal makes a decision to stay in his condition, to stay in his sin, facing death. He is on the same hill, crucified beside the same Lord. Indeed, as we read the other gospels, the book of Matthew actually reports in Matthew, chapter 27, that both criminals started out mocking Jesus. One continued, but one has a change of heart.

Let us first consider the one who continued in his mocking, the one who continued to pour out bitterness, because the state of his soul was one of bitterness. Even as he died, he died in bitterness. It's a sad story. It's a tragic story.

When we look at the cross from this view, it looks like Jesus was defeated. It looks like Jesus got caught up in a political mess and He was defeated. That's not the story, but that's the way it must look like from this particular thief's perspective. Matthew actually called them "thieves."

Matthew called them "robbers."  Luke reports that they were "criminals." Another translation says "malefactors," literally evildoers, in the Greek. It has the idea that they were habitual criminals, that they were repeat offenders. We are all just like the two criminals on either side of the cross. We are all sinners.

We are all repeat offenders. We are all facing a death penalty apart from God. May I give you three reasons why this was a particular tragedy for the criminal who rejects Jesus? May I, also, say to you that the story of the cross, this story that we're talking about this palm Sunday, the good story, the gospel story, it's not a good story for you if you reject it. It's a tragic story for you if you reject it. It's a tragedy for those who reject the Good News about Jesus' death on the cross.

Here's the first reason why this is a tragedy: It's because he refused to believe that Jesus was Lord. He refused to believe. Do you see in verse 39 that it says, "One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!”

Save Yourself and us? You might say what sounds like he asked Jesus to save him. No, you're not getting it. You're not understanding the mode of his language here. The word "railed" is here in the ESV.

Let's see if you can guess what that word is in the Greek. I will say the greek word for you. See if you can guess what this word translated, "railed," is. It's "blasphēmeō" in the Greek. Does that sound familiar, that word, "blasphēmeō" in the Greek?

Yes, it's the word "blasphemed." He "blasphemes" the Lord. The criminal is mocking Jesus. As he hangs on the cross, dying, his bitterness pours forth from his mouth, "If you're really the Messiah, really the Christ, save yourself and save us, too." He doesn't really mean it.

He's saying the words, but he doesn't mean it. He refused to believe that Jesus was Lord. He joined the other accusers. As we read in verse 35, we see the Jewish leaders were mocking Him. They stood by watching and scoffing.

"He saved others. Let him save himself if he's really the Christ, the son of God." They're mocking Him. Even the Roman soldiers were mocking Him in verses 34 through 38.

The Roman soldiers were gambling over His garments. They've stripped Him naked. They're mocking Him. Verses 36 and 37 say that if you're the king of the Jews, save yourself.

Then, in verse 38, it says that there was an inscription over His head. We've seen the pictures, right? But, it wasn't just Jesus that would have had that. All of the criminals would have had an inscription. It would state the reason for which they were being condemned. There would be a sign up there saying that  this is why this man is hanging on the cross.

Now, we read in the book of John, chapter 19, that it was written like this, John 19:20 (NKJV) "Then many of the Jews read this title, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin."

Pop that back up again. This is a reproduction of what it might have looked like. The top row would have been in Hebrew, the second row in Latin, and the third row in Greek. All of these languages would say, "This is the king of the Jews." That really ticked off the Jewish authorities.

They went to Pilate when they saw that sign. They said to Pilate, 'It  shouldn't say that. It should say, "He claimed to be the king of the Jews." The gospel says that  Pilate said back to them, "What I've written, I've written." He kind of poked them in the eye with that, as if to say, Look, you tricked me into this. I didn't want to crucify this man. In fact, my wife told me she had a nightmare about this, that I should not go near this innocent man, that I should release him. But I gave him over to you to be crucified.

So, Pilate puts the inscription on there. Ironically, it's true. Ironically, Jesus is being crucified because He is the king.

But yet, this criminal rails at Him. He blasphemes Him. The Jewish leaders blaspheme Him. The Roman authorities blaspheme and mock Him. They refuse to believe.

Here's the second reason why it's a tragedy: It's because he remained in his sin. Here, he hangs on the cross next to the One who could deliver him. He decides to stay in his condition. He remains in his sin.

The criminal was asked by the other criminal. It's a strange story, if you think about it. We've heard it so often, we forget how unusual it is. But, here hangs Jesus in the middle with these two criminals and one is mocking Him.

According to Matthew, the other criminal who had been mocking Him has a change of heart. He begins to argue with  and rebuke the other one. He says to him, in verse 40 "... “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.”

He begins to rebuke the other criminal. 'Don't you fear God?' But, the criminal remained in his sin. Notice, that Jesus says nothing.

This is the third reason that it is a tragedy:  He received no answer from Jesus. This man says, 'If you're really the son of God, if you're the Christ, save us and save yourself.'

Jesus didn't say one word to this criminal. He didn't say anything to the Jewish leaders that mocked Him. He didn't say anything to the Roman soldiers that mocked Him. He didn't say anything to the criminal who mocked Him. This man received no answer from Jesus.

In Isaiah 59:2 (NIV), we read this, “But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.” In another place in Isaiah, it says, Isaiah 53:7 (ESV) "He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth." He was silent before them. He didn't say a word.

The only word He said was a word He said to His father as they mocked Him. He said in verse 34, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” This is our Jesus.

This is the Christ crucified. This is the tragedy of the one who didn't hear Him say this - 'Father, forgive them. They don't know what they're doing.' In 1 Corinthians, chapter one, we can see that this criminal did not see the reality. 1 Corinthians 1:18 (NLT) "I know very well how foolish the message of the cross sounds to those who are on the road to destruction. But we who are being saved recognize this message as the very power of God."

To him, the cross was foolishness. It was bitterness. It was tragedy.

It was a "double tragedy," if you will. In literature, this is called a "double tragedy."  It was already tragic that he's being crucified. That's tragedy enough, that's sorrow enough. But that he's being crucified beside the One who could save him, and he denies it.

That's a "double tragedy." We see this throughout literature. Shakespeare was famous for writing stories with a "double tragedy." "Romeo and Juliet" is one. I don't want to ruin it for you if you've never read Romeo and Juliet. So.  just plug your ears for a second.

At the end of the story of Romeo and Juliet, it's a "double tragedy," because Romeo gets word that Juliet is dead, and so, he kills himself. But, she wasn't dead. Then, she finds out that he is actually dead, so she kills herself. Now, that's called a "double tragedy." But, there's a worse tragedy; it's this tragedy that this man, who was sinful and dying, was facing an eternity without God. The man right next to him was Jesus, the Savior, the Son of God. With a word, he could have turned to Jesus  and said, 'I'm a sinner. Would You save me?' and he would have been saved.

It's a double tragedy for this man, and it's a double tragedy for you, too, having heard the gospel and you turn away from it. It's a double tragedy because you heard the truth, yet you rejected it. This is the first view of the cross of Christ. It can be a tragedy for those who reject it.

Here's the second view:

2. The TRIUMPH of the cross.

For the other criminal, the cross which led to his physical death actually became a triumph for him. The man on the other side of the cross. As we have said earlier, in Matthew 27:44, it says that both of the criminals were reviling Him at first.

They were both blaspheming and mocking at first. But, somewhere along the line, there was a change of heart in this particular criminal. I wonder what happened. Perhaps this criminal, before he was arrested, heard Jesus at some point. Maybe he'd been out there, picking pockets or something, in the crowd when he was hearing Jesus.

He had some awareness of Jesus. It seems obvious he knew something about Him. Maybe he heard them talking about Him while he was imprisoned and he was hearing them talk about this One.

This is a strange story. This man's never done anything wrong. Why are they crucifying him? Maybe that was it, or maybe it was,  just hanging on the cross, he had a heart change because he heard the words of Jesus.

As we read all four Gospels together, there are seven last sayings of Jesus. We have three of them recorded right here in Luke's gospel; there are three of His last seven sayings here. Maybe this criminal is listening and he sees how everyone's mocking Jesus, including himself. He starts off that way, too. But then he hears Jesus say, "Father, forgive them. They don't know what they're doing," and something breaks in his heart. Something clicks.

The spirit of God touches him. He hears the "knock on the door."  All of a sudden, he comes to his senses as he's hanging there, he rebukes the one criminal who is still mocking Jesus.

Let me give you three reasons why this man was accepted by Jesus. Let's just think about it for a second. First of all, he admitted he was a sinner. Look at verse 40,...“Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?"

He's talking to the other criminal and here's what he says, 'We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. I know I deserve this. I had this coming.'

He's not in denial. He's clearly thinking this out. I'm a sinner, too. He admitted he was a sinner.This is the first reason: he has accepted that he is a sinner. You see, that's where we all have to get to.

In my community group a couple of weeks ago, we were talking about this idea of getting an opportunity to share the message of the cross with people, to talk to people about what Jesus did for them on the cross. I asked, "How's that going for you when you're talking to your friends or family about the gospel?" One of our members said, "Usually when I get to this part of the story, I have several friends that will say to me something like this." They'll say, "Well, I'm not that bad. I don't really get this whole thing about being a sinner. I feel like I'm as good as the next person." You know what? They're right. They are as good as the next person.

Both thieves were just as good as the other one. Both criminals were just as good as the other one. They both fell far short from the goodness of God, from the righteousness of God. See, this is the difficulty.

This other criminal, though, was clear-eyed about it. He admits that he had this coming. He is being  punished justly. He admits that he is a sinner. Then in verse 41, he acknowledged Jesus as sinless, "And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.”

That's the second reason that this criminal was accepted by Jesus: he acknowledged that Jesus is innocent. Look what he says in verse 41, "...this man has done nothing wrong." He recognizes that Jesus is the lamb without blemish, that He's the messiah. He say, "this man has done nothing wrong."

This criminal looks to Jesus; this man is deserving of being a Savior. He is innocent. Then, he doesn't leave it there. In verse 42, he asks Jesus to save him. He asks Him to save him.

He call on Jesus by name. He calls on Him by name. He says, in verse 42, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He calls on the name of Jesus.

What does Jesus mean in the Hebrew?  "Yeshua" means God's salvation. God's salvation. He calls on Jesus  and he recognizes that He's a king. He asks Jesus to remember him when He comes into His kingdom.

Here, the criminal is hanging on the cross. He's clear out about this thing. He looks over at Jesus and he says, 'We deserve this, but you don't. Would You remember me when You come into your kingdom?'  He already has a sense of faith about the eternal, doesn't he?

He already sees that there's more than meets the eye. What has happened to this man? He's been touched by the Savior. He's hanging on the cross. He's at death's door, but he's clear eyed about what he needs.

He asked Jesus to save  him. Jesus says to him, in verse 43, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Truly, I say to you today, not tomorrow, not next week. Today you will be with me in paradise. This is one of the most astounding statements that He says to this criminal on the cross.

'I tell you the truth. Today you will be with me in paradise.' The cross of Christ has turned tragedy into triumph for this man who called on the name of Jesus. He's canceled the record of this criminal's sin.

In Colossians, Paul writes this, Colossians 2:13-15 (ESV) 13 "And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him."

We all have a placard nailed over our heads, if you will, listing all of our sins. But, Paul says that all of our sins were canceled by Him dying on the cross in our place.

When you look at Jesus on the cross, what does it reveal in you? What does it reveal in you? When you look at the cross, you should recognize that it was His love that sent Him there, but it was your sins that nailed Him there. If you would be like the criminal and say, 'I deserve this, but You took it in my place. Would You remember me, Lord? Would You remember me, Jesus?'

When you look at the cross, do you see the triumph of the cross? In another gospel, we see these words from Jesus, "It is finished,"  which means paid in full. This is what leads us to the final view. We've talked about the tragedy and the triumph of the cross.

Here is the third view:

3. The TRUTH of the cross.

Jesus said to the criminal, "Truly, I say to you..."  I'm going to tell you the truth. "Truly, I say to you, today you'll be with me in paradise." The word translated, "truly," is of interest. It's the Greek word, "Amen," which is actually a Hebrew word originally. He says, "Amen," I say to you. He gives himself an amen with this one.

Jesus is going to "amen"  this up front. Amen; it's going to be so. It's going to happen today. You'll pass from this life into the next life, and you'll be with Me in paradise. You'll be with me in Heaven; that's where you will be. That's the truth of the cross.

We keep reading here; we see that Jesus finally gives His life. It says in verse 44, and following: 44 "It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, 45 while the sun's light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last."

So, in Hebrew time, that would be around noon. They numbered their hours from sunrise. The sun comes up in Jerusalem about 06:00 a.m. So, if you count six hours forward, that's noon.

At about noon, Jesus says this to the criminal, "Today you will be with me in paradise." Then, three hours pass  and darkness has covered the whole area for these three hours until the ninth hour, which puts it about 03:00 p.m. So, there's darkness. In another gospel, Matthew reports that there was an earthquake.

Luke reports that there was this darkness. Probably as a result of this earthquake, the temple curtain was torn in two. Luke reports that in verse 45, as we're reading right here. What was significant about that this? The temple  curtain was between the Holy of Holies and the rest of the temple. It was the place where the Ark of the Covenant was located. It was the place that only the high priest could go once a year.

On Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, the high priest  had to go in the Holy of Holies with the blood of the lamb. But now, the blood of the lamb has been poured out, and there's no need for a separation between us and God the Father. We can go boldly into the throne room because of Jesus. This is the truth of what's happening on the cross.

Then, Jesus gives His final words. He calls out with a loud voice. Another gospel writer reports that He did finally drink some of the wine. He asked for something to drink. One of his statements was, "I thirst." That's one of His seven last words.

They gave Him something to drink. I think the reason He asked for it is so that he could get His tongue uncleaved from His palate, so He could have one last lifting up on the cross to catch His breath, so He could cry out as He does here, in verse 46, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!”

As He told others, "No man take My life from Me. I lay My life down willingly." He laid down His life willingly. These are His last words.

Luke reports this and so does John, that a Roman centurion, an expert in executions, who had seen who knows how many hundreds of men and women executed, says this, in verse 47, “Certainly this man was innocent!” There was something about this man, Jesus, something about the way He faced death, something about His mercy and His forgiveness. Something about the way He talked. Something about the earthquake, the darkness and all that was happening combined together.

I think we'll see this centurion in heaven, by the way, someday. I think he believed at that very moment. Right after the criminal believed, I think he believed.  We read in another place in the book of Matthew, chapter 27, that when the centurion and those who were with him were keeping watch over Jesus, they saw the earthquake and what took place and were filled with awe. Matthew 27:54 (ESV), When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!”

That's the truth, isn't it? The innocent Son of God died in our place. That's the truth of the cross. That's the truth. The sinless Son of God reconciles us by His blood.

As Paul reports in Colossians 1:19-20 (ESV) "For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross." That is the truth of the cross. That it is the means of our salvation. Let's "walk" the truth out and apply it to ourselves for a second.

First of all, we're the two thieves in this story. Put yourself in the story. You're one of these two thieves. You're facing the same reality. The first reality you're facing is you are guilty of sin. That's the first reality.  We have come with those two thieves. We are guilty of sin.

We've broken God's law over and over again. If we haven't broken God's law in terms of action, we've broken it in terms of attitude, because sin begins with an attitude of rebellion in the heart, that says, "I'll do it myself. I'll do it my way."  We're all guilty of sin.

Romans 3:23 (NLT),  "For all have sinned; all fall short of God's glorious standard." That's everyone in this room. That includes me. That includes you. We're just like the two thieves. We've all sinned.

The second reality that makes us like them is that we are also under a death sentence. We're under a death sentence apart from Jesus. It says in Romans 6:23 (NLT) "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord." We're born under a death sentence because we're born into sin.This is the reality that gives us this commonality with the two thieves.

Then, finally,  we have this reality that we share with them: we must individually decide about Jesus. No one else can decide for us. We must individually decide.

Which side of the cross will you choose? Your mom and dad can't choose for you. Your brother and sister can't choose for you. You have to choose for yourself. What have you chosen?

Which side of the cross are you on? Are you on the side of tragedy,  where you are embittered and you think that  God has made your life horrible? Do you reject Him or, are you on the side of the one that says, 'I'm a sinner and I need a Savior; would You remember me, Jesus?' Which side of the cross are you on?

It's a decision. It says in Acts 4:12 (NLT) "There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.” Who did the thief call on? He called on Jesus.

"Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom." Listen, it's not about a magic formula.

It's about aheart that says, "I believe; I believe that You are the Son of God. I ask You to come into my life and forgive me." It's more about the attitude of faith that says, "I want what You offer, Jesus. Would You remember me?" Jesus  calls on him by name.

Pastor Allistair Begg tells this story. I mentioned this story a couple of weeks ago, but I want to try to say it a little better, absent the Scottish accent, which I love about  Pastor Begg. Here's how he talks about this thief on the cross. He says, "Think about the thief on the cross.I can't wait to get with that fella one day to ask  him."

“How did that shake out for you? Because you were cussing the guy out with your friend. You’d never been in a Bible study. You’d never got baptized. You didn’t know a thing about church membership. And yet—and yet, you made it! You made it! How did you make it?”

That’s what the angel must have said—you know, like, “What are you doing here?” “Well, I don’t know.” “What do you mean, you don’t know?” “Well, ’cause I don’t know.” “Well, you know… Excuse me. Let me get my supervisor.” They go get the supervisor angel: “So, we’ve just a few questions for you. First of all, are you clear on the doctrine of justification by faith?” The guy says, “I’ve never heard of it in my life.” “And what about the doctrine of Scripture?”

This guy’s just staring. And eventually, in frustration, he says, “On what basis are you here?” And he said, “The man on the middle cross said I can come.”

Everybody thinks they're going to heaven, don't they? Everybody in our culture today think everybody's going to heaven. It's not so. Only those who have heard the Man on the middle cross say, 'You can come,' will enter heaven.

This criminal was the only one that was going to be with Him in paradise on that day. The message of the cross is divisive. You have to choose which side you're on. Will you admit that you're a sinner, confess your sin and ask Him to save you or will you stay in your bitterness and stay in your sin and say, 'I'm good enough,' when you know you're not?

This is the only basis by which we can enter. If you're here this morning and you're a seeker, you're here because someone invited you and you've heard the story. Now, maybe you've heard it many times before, but you've been putting it off and saying, "I'm not ready to choose sides yet."  Well, today's the day of salvation. Today is the day to decide, because there comes an hour when it'll be too late to decide. Decide today to say, "Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom."

Have you ever said that? Have you ever asked Him to save you, repenting of your sins and believing? Then, for the believer, don't think you can tag out at this point and think, I know we have to talk about this. I know it's this weekend of Jewish Passover, it's the Passion week and it's the time of the palm branches. I know. I like these parts of our tradition.

No, this is not a "one and done" thing in terms of just looking  at the cross one time and then moving  on. No, we must continue to meditate on it, contemplate the meaning of it, and continually preach it afresh to ourselves. Do you know why?

Here's a couple of reasons why, believer. I'm talking to you, believer. You believe in the cross. You've admitted that you're a sinner. I'm talking to you. You still need to hear this.

Here's why. First of all, we're forgetful people. That's why Jesus gave us the Lord's Supper. It's so that we would do it in remembrance of Him. We forget. We forget that the only reason we have heaven as our future is because Jesus took our death. We need to be reminded of the payment He paid.

Here's another reason:  We're a forgetful people, but  we're also a people that tend to default to earning. We know that He saved us by grace, but we somehow think we have to keep ourselves busy by earning. Then,  when we sin again or we have a repetitive sin area, like an addiction or something like that, where it just keeps beating us up, then we fall into shame. We feel ourselves getting distance from the Lord, feeling like, 'I know that You saved me, Lord, but I'm not a good Christian."  Just think about that thief on the cross again and put yourself there.

Put yourself there on the hill called Golgotha again and hear what he says. He says to the criminal on the cross, "Truly, I say to you. Today you will be with me in paradise." It's not based on what you did. It's based on what He has done, so,  reapply the Gospel to yourself and say, "Lord, I forgot that I'm forgiven. I am forgiven, not just of my past sins, not just of my present sins, but I'm forgiven of my sins in the future. The slate is cancelled. The record of my sin is cancelled. I'm free in Jesus' Name."

Apply the message of the cross to yourself daily. Continue to take up your cross daily and follow Him, recognizing that we need to be reminded because we default into earning and judging rather than depending on grace. Paul says to us in Ephesians2:8-9 (ESV) 8 "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast." The man on the middle cross said you could come. That's why we have salvation. It's because of Jesus.

Do you remember the great hymn written by Robert Lowryin 1876? It goes like this. See if you recognize it:    What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus. What can make me whole again? Nothing but the blood of Jesus. O precious is the flow that makes me white as snow. No other fount I know; nothing but the blood of Jesus.

There's no other way of salvation except for the cross. For some, it's a tragedy. It's a "double tragedy," because you've heard it, yet, you have rejected it. It's a double tragedy. But for those of us who are being saved, it's the power of God. It's the triumph of the cross.

Where do you stand? Which side of the cross are you on?

Let's pray. Lord, I pray, first, for that person that would say, "I was on that hill.I'm a sinner. It was my sin that crucified Him. I confess it."

Would that be you today? You can pray, "Lord Jesus, I'm a sinner. Would You remember me? I believe You died on the cross for me, that You were raised from the grave and that You live today. Would You come and live in me, forgive me of my sin and make me the kind of person You want me to be.I want to be a child of God. I want to follow You as my Lord and Savior."

If you'll call on the name of Jesus, He will speak to you. He will save you. He will make you born again. He will adopt you into His family.

Oh, would you do it today by faith? "Jesus, remember me. I confess my sins and I believe in You." If you're praying that prayer or faith, believing, He will save you.

Others are here, and you are a believer. You're a follower of Jesus, but you've been struggling with a repetitive sin area, maybe an addiction, maybe some unreconciled relationship that's got your heart broken. Would you hear the Gospel afresh? Would you apply the message of the cross? Holy Spirit, apply it to us afresh. Forgive us that we fall into forgetfulness.

We forget what You did, Lord. We forget the price that You paid. Sometimes, we fall into judgmental behavior or we fall into trying to earn, like keeping a list. This is not why You came. You came to pay in full for us.

Lord, forgive us as believers for forgetting to apply this message to our hearts afresh. Lord, we do it now. Oh, Lord, thank You that You saved us by Your grace.  We thank You now. In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Audio

Transcript

Good morning, church. It's really great to see you. I'm so thankful you're here. Today. We're in part three this morning of meditations on the cross.

We've been going through the stories around the cross and really considering what Jesus has done for us in that powerful moment, that moment in time that really separated time, if you will. That moment that is the climax of the biblical story, the. Well, just before the climax, you could argue Easter is probably the ultimate climax, the resurrection, which we will celebrate together next week. But we're looking at this from a lot of different angles. And today we're asking a question about that, and that is, which side of the cross are you on?

Which side of the cross? We're going to be looking at that famous story of the two criminals beside him on the cross. And this is not your typical kind of story because normally when you welcome a king into town, you don't immediately in the same week try to kill him. This is a very unusual story. We just celebrated Palm Sunday with the children, where they came in waving palm branches to kind of model what it would have looked like that day, where hundreds of people were throwing branches at his feet as he rode into town like a king on the back of a donkey, on the back of a colt.

And this was a triumphant moment. We call that the triumphal entry. And the people are shouting, what? Hosanna. Glory in the highest.

This is the king. And they're coming in like that, and they didn't even get it to the next Sunday. By Friday, they're shouting, crucify him. This is an unusual story. And the people, the criminals on the cross really modeled the people themselves, that they took sides and they didn't know which side to be on.

And a lot of people were tempted and were later found to be shouting, crucify him, rather than he is our king. Now we live in a divided country, really. And I would argue that humanity has really always been this way. Maybe we're just a lot more aware of it right now. It seems like if you watch any kind of news, you're going to see very polarizing stories where it seems like we're nowhere in the middle.

This idea of middle ground has seemed to really go away. And I think there's been some truth to that throughout human history. There's nothing particularly new now, but when it comes to the cross of Christ, this, I would say, has always been true, that the gray area is not very gray. You're either black and white on the topic, and you're divided perhaps even in your family, you may be divided. Which side do you choose now it's the 24 march, and so this is a good time of year to be talking about some division.

There might be some division in your very household right now as you watch march madness together and pick sides. Some of you had heartbreaking days this week. Ricky. I've been praying for you, brother. What a week for Kentucky and a lot of people.

You weren't alone. Hard week for so many. And a lot of people coming out of the woodwork. It seems like when your team loses and anybody else knows about it, they just want to get in your feed and tell you all about it. You feel that love.

And this is the kind of thing we're used to. I went to East Carolina University for school, and it didn't take me long to figure out. There's some things you need to know in order to rightly celebrate your team. And I'll know who in the room is truly a pirate fan by simply this phrase. And that's a first down.

Come on, man. I know you're a pirate. You're leaving me hanging over here. Pirates are. That's our first.

And I remember as a freshman hearing that going, and people are chanting stuff. I'm like, I'm out of place. I'm in big trouble. I'm wearing the purple, guys. Don't hurt me.

I got the golden purple on. But we learn these things. It's important to know whose side you're on. We learn how to rightly cheer. And I can remember growing up, we had cheers in my very home.

Like, we would watch Sunday football with my dad, and he had these little balls that these little bitty, tiny, squishy footballs. And anytime our team scored a touchdown, we got the opportunity to do a running catch into the couch. It's like we're praying for our team to score so we could do this. Like, he would throw them as high as he could to see if we could really hang out. We learned how to celebrate our side.

We learned how to pick it. Now, interestingly enough, I think many of us are living more like another story. In the Lord of the Rings, there's these hobbits that encounter these talking trees. And some of you are like, I'm checking out already. That's why I've never watched that.

But these trees are called ints, and one of them is named Treebeard. And I'm a nerd, of course. I love this story. And the Hobit later asks Hobbit Pippen is his name? He asks, whose side are you on?

And Treebeard replies, side? I'm on nobody's side because nobody's on my side. And I think that's a lot of humanity. That's, I think, how a lot of people feel. He thought he could avoid taking aside later on.

You'll see in the story, he discovered that death and devastation was coming his way and he had no choice but to choose aside. You might be here today thinking, I've heard this palm Sunday story before. I've heard a little bit about the cross of Christ. I don't know if it's important. I don't know if I should be moved by this story.

Even Christians in the room sometimes, we're like, we do this every year. Like, why are we doing this year in and year out? Whose side are you on? Are you saying I'm on nobody's side because nobody's on my side? Maybe you're looking at your life and going, I can't tell that anybody's with me.

The Bible says for those who love him, he is working things, all things out for the good of those who love him. And you might be thinking, I haven't observed that. I don't know who's on my side. The truth is, the question is, whose side are you on? His name is Jesus.

He died in our place. And that's the question we're going to wrestle with today. None of us were in Jerusalem on this day that Jesus makes his triumphant entry and none of us were there as he hangs on the cross some 2000 years ago between those two criminals. But let me tell you this, we're just like the people of that day. We're just like the criminals on the left and the right.

And the question is, what will you do? Which side of the cross are you on? In the gospel according to Luke, where we're going to spend time today, Luke chapter 23, we see the apostle recording that Jesus was crucified between these two criminals, one on the right, one on the left. You've seen the famous image. Both of these criminals were facing death, and rightly so, both seeing and hearing how Jesus faced death.

Yet you will see, as we read the text that they had very different opinions of the man in the middle. Very different opinions. They chose very different sides. I wonder, which side are you on? Let's read the text and see how this decision affected them criminals and how it now affects us.

Luke, chapter 23, verse 32. And on two others who were criminals were led away to be put to death with him and when they came to the place that is called the skull, there they were crucified with him and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. And they cast lots to divide his garments. And the people stood by watching.

And the rulers, they scoffed at him, saying, he saved others. Let him save himself, if he is indeed the Christ of God, his chosen one. The soldiers, they also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine. Save yourself, they said, if you are the king of the Jews, save yourself. There was also an inscription over him.

This is the king of the Jews. Now, one of the criminals who were hanged railed against him, saying, are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us. But the other rebuked him, saying, do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed, justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.

And he said, jesus, Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. And he said to him, Jesus said, truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise. It was now about the 6th hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the 9th hour, while the sun's light failed and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus calling out with a loud voice, said, father, into your hands I commit my spirit. And having said this, he breathed his last.

Now, when the centurion saw that, taking what had taken place, he praised God, saying, certainly this man was innocent. God bless the reading of his word. Amen. There's really three ways to look at this cross, three views to look at the cross of Christ.

1. The tragedy of the cross.

Now, we spoke a couple of weeks ago about just the awful nature of the cross upon Jesus himself. But that's not what I'm speaking to today. Here. We're looking at two different sides of one story, and one of them is a terribly tragic story. The tragedy of the cross is that there are two men who really represent me and you.

And these two men had very opposing views. Both of them looked at the same Jesus, were on the same hill, had committed similar crimes, and had completely different outlooks about forgiveness and about who this man in the middle was. The Bible tells us here in Luke that they're criminals. The greek word there is kakorgas, which is one of those words. You may know it means evil, though, in the Greek, but it's evildoer.

It's criminal. Matthew and Mark also tell us that they were robbers. They give us a little bit more detail into the story that they were thieves. And not just any kind of thieves. It could have chose a word there in Matthew and Mark to describe.

Just know Eclepto, as we call it. No, it's a different greek word there to describe. These are probably like highway robbers. They're in some sort of probably gang of guys that keep robbing people. And so they're rightly being crucified for their deeds.

That's who's on the left and the right. And one of them just completely rails Jesus here. He joins in to the temptation of the moment, that the soldiers are doing it, the people are doing it. They've been hearing all day, crucify him. Crucify him.

The soldiers are taking his garments. Now, we don't know for certain, but there's likely three men up there hanging without clothing. It is extremely, not just painful, but shameful, and I don't like to think of that. But it is probably true that they've divided all of his clothing. He is up there exposed and beaten and dying.

This is awful. Awful what's occurring here. And in the midst of that tragedy, it's already a tragedy. One of them chooses worse tragedy. Do you see it?

He refuses to believe that Jesus was lord here. He rails him. It says the word there, for rail is a word we know. It's blasphemo. Blaspheme.

And that's where we get blasphemy. Of course, he reviles him. He speaks evil of him. That's there in verse 39. In verse 35, we see the people standing by these jewish leaders who didn't believe they're railing, and they're scoffing at him.

It says, the rulers there scoffed at him, saying, he saved others. Let him save himself. If he's the Christ of God, he's the chosen one. So you've got the criminal choosing that side. You've got the jewish leaders choosing it.

You've got the Romans here, the soldiers on site, dividing his clothing, mocking him. It says, if you are indeed the king of the Jews, save yourselves. You can post a couple of images for me real quick. This obviously is a scene you've seen many times, but sometimes you don't consider the fact that above every criminal hung was going to be something posted above them. We don't often see the other criminals, and I don't have a picture of this, but the other criminals would have had something posted, too.

Hey, here lies Jonathan, the dirtbag thief that would have been on one of those guys, possibly above Jesus, though, strangely enough, is this written. And that may be difficult unless you know either Hebrew, Greek or Latin, but that's what was written on his post. And it says simply, jesus of Nazareth, king of the Jews. The middle line might be the easiest for you there. In Latin, you'll see Jesus Nazareth.

Rex, where's king? And anyway, you jewish? Jewish? I don't do Latin. I do Greek and Hebrew.

But anyway, this is what's written above him. And all three of those things are written. In fact, it says in John, chapter 19, verse 20, that many of the Jews read this title, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and it was written in Hebrew, Greek and Latin. He wanted to make it clear when Pontius Pilate had this put above Jesus's head, I don't care who shows up, you're going to know who this guy was. I think perhaps because Pilate felt.

He felt dirty by the whole moment, because he's really given them an opportunity to choose someone else. They had a habit of, you can choose another criminal and maybe set this man free. And so I believe they beat him and they flogged him and all this stuff so that maybe when they presented him to the people, the people would go, okay, that's enough. That's enough what you've done to Jesus, because you and I both know the people knew. Pilate knew, this man's not done anything.

He's innocent of all crimes. So he presents them, and they still shout, give us Barabbas. Give us this terrible criminal who was guilty, just so you know, of murder and of inciting riots, too. Very, very high on the list of why Romans might crucify a person. No, give us Barabbas.

Get rid of Jesus. That's what they cried on Good Friday. Isn't that amazing? And so Pilate says, I washed my hands of this. That's why he posts this.

In fact, in another scripture, it says, Pilate said, I wrote what I wrote because the Jews were like, he's not the king. He's not our king. You can put on there that he said he was the king. But Pilate said, I wrote what I wrote, and it's staying. So I think he's upset by the whole event, the injustice of the whole event.

I don't know that there was any heart change in Pilate. I have no idea. But what he knew and what the people knew was, here's an innocent man crucified and now hanging there, Jesus, king of the Jews. Getting mocked by all of these people, including, and I think the saddest, the tragedy of them all is the man hanging next to him. Now, this is just one to one with a lot of our stories.

All right? Some of you are in a real mess right now. You were in a real bind. And what's sad about that is we have a tendency to compound that with worse. You tell one lie, and you get kind of caught in that lie.

So then you tell some more lies, and you just compound the tragedy over and over and over. And that's what this man, this poor, poor criminal has done here. And what is Jesus's response? This is a really sad response. He gets none.

No response. Isaiah 59 says, but your iniquities have separated you from your God. Your sins have hidden his face from you so that he will not hear.

This all looked real foolish to this man. He thought, this is silly. This poor guy, he's getting the same torment as us and has no power to do anything about it. To him, it was all foolishness. Paul writes to the Corinthians, in fact, this very thing, one Corinthians, chapter one, it says, I know very well how foolish the message of the cross sounds to those who are on the road to destruction.

But we who are being saved recognize this message as the very power of God. Two different men, a whole lot of different people in the audience, and they saw this as what a fool, that he would do all of this and get himself killed. But one person there, and there was a few others. Mary was there, the apostle John, the disciple was there. Now, I think in that moment, they didn't really know what any of this meant, but one man.

One man got it, and it's this criminal, amazing, actually, the grace God shows him in this moment. In literature, we call what's happened in this event. We call this a double tragedy. A double tragedy where one tragedy leads to a far worse one. Shakespeare does this a lot.

If you study any of his plays. If you read stories like Romeo and Juliet, for instance, it portrays one of the most famous double tragedies there is, and that is Romeo comes seeing Juliet, thinking her dead, and kills himself. That's tragic. The double tragedy is that now she sees him dead and kills herself. That this story is compounding the awful things over and over, and this is common in a lot of literature.

I thought of a story that, again, let's just go ahead and put the check in the bank for my nerd dumb today. But I thought of this story, of the Star wars story, and that is the idea that Anakin goes on to be Darth Vader. I'd ruin that for y'all. I know these movies have been out forever, so get with it. But he goes on to be Vader.

And the way in which this happens is he starts having these dreams that his wife is going to die, and he starts having these terrible nightmares. And the Sith lord, the dark God, the bad guy, goes on to be darth sidious. You're learning so much now. The emperor, he begins to feed him lies and saying, hey, if you'll come over to the dark side, you can save her. We have the power over here to raise the dead.

We have the power over here to prevent death. And this is very appetizing to him. So he goes evil, and then the very decision to go dark is the very decision that leads him to kill his own wife by. He does, like a force choke kind of thing. You all have to watch the movie anyway, but it's devastating, actually.

It's really sad if you just think about the premise underneath it, that the very thing he was trying to avoid, he makes happen. This is really the Oedipus Rex story told all over again. If you know that story, that this double tragedy and that's what's happening in our lives, that's what's happening in this criminal's life. We are guilty of the crime. We deserve the death.

And in that very moment, we make fun of the savior.

That's a far worse tragedy. Hey, look, I'm guilty. You know what? I'm fine with this, too, church. I'm able to come before you and say, I am not okay.

I am not perfect. I think and say and do things I wish I wouldn't. And I have done those things for many years now. I bet if I was to ask my parents, they would say, hey, you've been doing that since we remember you talking. You've been doing some bad stuff.

And some of you are like, well, I've done some even worse stuff. Well, none of us have done anything worse than what might hang a man on a cross. We're all right there, guilty as he is. The question is, what do you think about the guy in the middle? Imagine a moment.

Imagine you're given the moment, church, to say, I am guilty of the crime, yet I know the guy in the middle, and he says, today you'll be with me in paradise. We don't have to live the double tragedy. It will be your story if you choose the second worst evil. That's the question. How do you view it?

Which side are you on? Do you see the cross like this first criminal? It's foolishness. It's bloody, it's offensive. I don't know how it means anything to me.

What is the cross to you? Do you want to compound your guilt by rejecting the savior? We've been given a way out. This is the glory of the gospel, is that humanity no longer has to live out this double tragedy. He's done something about this.

Here's the second picture, the second moment here that happens at the cross, and that is

2. The triumph of the cross.

Looking at two different criminals, one, there's terrible tragedy. The other is an amazing triumph, almost senseless one for those of you in the room who think logically and reasonably. And maybe I've noticed a lot of kids come out of the womb with this fairness thing in mind.

It's like immediately they know this is fair and this isn't fair. And I don't think we really grow out of that. When we see anything happen in our world around us, we go, well, that's not fair. And yet in this moment, God does something ridiculous. He says, I'm going to go ahead and save this guy over here.

I'm going to go ahead and set this guy free. This other criminal hearing what's going on, decides to rebuke the other criminal. Now, what's happened here? I want to give you a little bit of details here, because this might not even have been a question you asked, but I love you, and so I want you to know the details. And Matthew and Mark, it tells us that both criminals reviled him.

And some people look at these two testaments and go, well, there's a contradiction in the Bible. Well, there's a lot of these, actually, there's a lot of places you can go and go. And I'm not saying that those opinions are just totally illogical. They're actually logical arguments. But there's a lot of ways to look at it and go, okay, but there's a way to resolve this issue.

Matthew and Mark tell this story about how they've been hung there together and that everybody is picking on Jesus, and both the criminals are doing it, too. And I think they're telling you the truth. Why? Because I believe the Bible is the inerrant word of God. What Luke is telling us is there's more to the story that it began with everybody picking on Jesus.

But something begins to affect one of these criminals. A lot of stuff is said on the cross. A lot of stuff begins to happen. And it seems to have changed one of their hearts. Just before.

Luke is careful to tell us that Jesus has just said to people who have robbed him of his clothing, have beaten him mercilessly, and have now hung him here in this place called Golgotha, in this very place. Jesus says, Father, forgive them. They don't know what they're doing. They don't realize what they've done here. And you and I might be sitting on each side of the cross and going, well, that'silly.

Or maybe we're thinking, wow, how could you have that level of compassion for a people who are literally killing you? Maybe this is all just inferring from the story, but Jesus, he's gained quite a reputation in the area. Maybe this one criminal who was clearly a thief, clearly was working for ill gain. Maybe he heard some stories about a man who was multiplying bread and fish somewhere. Hey, I'd like to get in on that.

This guy, he don't even have to steal. He just creates. This is amazing. I've heard the tale. I bet many people had heard it.

And now he's watching him intently. Wow, I can't believe that he would forgive them. I can't believe that he would humbly take all of this and not rebuke anyone, but instead say, I forgive you. I don't know what all was going through this criminal's mind, but I think the gospels have told us there was a change of heart. And that's not that unusual, is it?

That's not that strange that you might immediately judge a person one way and then having been with them for a little while and seeing the way they work and seeing the way they speak, to go, I was definitely wrong about this person. Perhaps he really is indeed the son of God. There's a change of heart and three things have occurred. He comes right out and does very important things because some people would argue, hey, you've got to go through a lot of different things in order to rightly be saved. But I think the criminal on the cross tells us the very important, the nugget of the gospel.

We have to understand. Here's one. He admits that he's a sinner. He knows his problem. Look, look there at verse 40.

We are punished justly. We are getting what our deeds deserve. He knows who he is. He knows his problem. I'm going to die and I deserve it.

Here's the second. He acknowledged that Jesus was in fact sinless, a sinless savior. He says, there, look, this man has done nothing wrong. And then he asks, and this is really where it's at.

We make much of a lot of things, and justly so that we should spend time in the word, learning doctrines of justification and of righteousness and of eschatology and all of these things. I'm not belittling them at all. In fact, I think as believers, we should spend a great deal of time in prayer and in his word. But when it comes to salvation, it is simple. He asks Jesus, remember me.

When you come into your kingdom. Remember me.

We overcomplicate that process. It's really a simpler thing than this. Now, step one, we have to admit, is the hard one, I think, where we come to Jesus and say, I'm guilty and I deserve the penalty of the crime, but you're not. Remember me. That's all it takes.

Some of you have decided to go about your life living in the crime, knowing you've committed it, but unwilling to say, okay, fine. I can't do anything about this. It's yours. What are you waiting on? Why are you hanging on to this?

Jesus responded to him. Truly, I say to you, today, you'll be with me in paradise. Today. Boy, I gotta tell you, I don't want to endure the cross. But I would love to hear that today you're going to be with me in paradise.

For this man, the cross of Christ turned his tragedy into triumph. Jesus canceled the record of the criminal's sin debt. Just like that. Colossians, chapter two. We read this recently, and you who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive.

Together with him having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with all of its legal demands. This he set aside. What did he do with it? He nailed it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and the authorities and put them to open shame by triumphing over them.

And him, him being Jesus, when you look at the cross, what does it reveal in you? What does it tell you about yourself? Does it tell you and remind you, I am in need of a savior. This is for all of us. This isn't something we get over.

This isn't like, okay, I once was lost, but now I'm found. That's true. But however, when I look at the cross, it's a reminder that I have an ongoing need for Jesus Christ. I have an ongoing need for a savior. Do you see what your sin has done?

It has nailed him there, but it is finished. The second criminal began to understand just enough and received jesus'forgiveness. Do you see the triumph? I pray you do. And then the third, the truth.

3. The truth of the cross.

Oh, it's tragic for one, it's triumph for another, but it's truth for all of us. It's truth. In fact, Jesus says, truly, I say to you, today you'll be with me in paradise. This verse goes on to give us some details that I would like to share for you.

In verse 44, it says, it was the 6th hour. And if you're reading that, you're thinking, man, they got up early to crucify him. You're thinking, wow, they're working in the night. No, the jewish time is working very differently. The way in which they monitored time is different than you're familiar with.

The 6th hour had to do with the hour in which, from the point of waking up till now, and so the first hour would be like 06:00 a.m. When the sun rises. That's how they counted their time. So the 6th hour is around noon, and it says here that the 6th hour, there was darkness over the land. And then it tells us the 9th hour he commended.

He gave up his spirit. And that's 03:00 p.m. So he's gone through a terrible night of beating. He's gone through some terrible events. He's carried the cross.

And now here from noon to three, some wild stuff happens. Now to build a little bit on what maybe this one criminal had seen. We don't know exactly when it is they had this conversation. Luke puts it in a particular chronology, but perhaps he's already seen the sky darken. There's some wild events that start happening between noon and three on this day.

Maybe he's starting to see some of this and going, this guy's different. There's something different about him. It says in Matthew 27 that when the centurion and those who were with him keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake that had taken place, they were filled with awe and said, truly this was the son of God. Do you realize in these hours some amazing things take place? Some other historians outside of the biblical context talk about this.

Eusebius and Josephus. They write about earthquakes and darkness and the temple veil is torn. These are miraculous events that happen in this moment. And the centurions and some of the soldiers look on and go, whoa, we messed up. Look what we've done here.

The veil is torn between what? Between the court of the Jews and the holy of Holies. Now suddenly there behind you can see behind into the holy of holies. This is a place no one was allowed to go. Now there's good reason for that.

Stick around. For the rest of the year we're going to be digging in on Hebrews and all up in that, talking about what has happened in that moment. But Jesus is now our mediator, the one who allows us to go before the throne of God into the holy of holies. This is all meant to be a clear picture of what the cross has accomplished. All these events occur.

Jesus, the sinless son of God, has now reconciled people unto the father by the blood here on the cross. Colossians chapter one says, for in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. Here's the truth. Jesus reconciled us. Here's another truth.

We are the criminals. We are guilty. We are. We come out that way. Any parent in the room, can you testify to such things?

Did you have to teach them to sin? Did you have to teach them how to do it? Okay, now when daddy tells you to do something every once in a while, you just need to say, no. I didn't have to teach none of my kids to do that. They come out that way.

If you have several, they all come out differently broken. You'll see various aspects of sin and go, wow. And a lot of them are little mirrors too. You'll go, well, that one didn't show me all of the desperate sins, but that one's showing me some stuff. I'm tired of you right now because I already don't want to look there.

All right.

I know some people might look at this and go, I can't believe that I've come to church today and that pastor said, I'm guilty. Well, I know that might be hard news, but I am too. And the Bible doesn't leave us there. Thank God we born in this day. I praise him for this, that I'm on this side of the cross in time that I can look at it and go, I understand what God has done and I'm not left wondering now the only thing I'm left with here is a decision.

Do I agree? Do I agree with the Holy Father that I'm guilty? And then do I agree that he has paid the price? All I'm asking, Lord Jesus, will you remember me? Will you remember me?

We are under a death sentence. We're guilty of the sin. Romans three says we've all sinned we've all fall short of the glory, God's glorious standard. We're under a death sentence. Romans six says, the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.

And we have to individually decide what we're going to do about this. My parents couldn't make this decision for me. They could tell me all the true things, but at some point I've got to decide. Acts chapter four says, there's salvation in no one else. God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.

Now, I thought about playing a little clip for you, but I'll do my best with it. Some of you might be familiar with this pastor named Alastair Beck. He's one of my favorite preachers for a lot of reasons. He does a great job with the word, but also he speaks with a Scottish accent, which I can't get enough of. I don't know why I love it, but there's this reel that I've been seeing going around of him talking about this event, and I want to share some of it with you.

I'll do my best with it. He says, think about the thief on the cross. I can't wait to find that fellow one day and ask him, how did that all shake out for you? Because you were cussing the guy out with your friend. He says, you'd never been to a Bible study.

You'd never gotten baptized. You didn't know a thing about church membership, and yet you made it. You made it. How did you make it? How did you make it?

And that's what the angel must have asked you when you came to the gate. What are you doing here? I don't know. I don't know what I'm doing here. What do you mean you don't know?

Well, because I don't know. Excuse me. Let me go get a supervisor. Let me go get my supervisor angel real quick. Goes to the supervisor angel and says, hey, we just got a couple of questions for you.

First of all, are you clear on the doctrine of justification by faith? Are you clear on your ecclesiology? Have you studied the doctrine of scripture? And the guy's just staring at him. Eventually, in frustration, he says, well, then, on what basis are you here?

And the man said, the man on the middle cross said I could come.

It's as simple as that. Love that story. It's even better in a Scottish accent. Y'all should check that out, really should. The man on the middle cross said I could come.

There we are there. We're in that story. This is the only answer that works. Any other answer. If we were to go there and start any other answer in the first person, we've immediately started wrong.

I. Nope. But I did. But look at my works. But I.

Any answer there isn't good enough. No. The better answer is the man in the middle. Cross said I could come. This Jesus, I didn't deserve him, but he said I could be here.

That helps us both. I don't know how you've come in here today. Maybe you're not a part of this story yet. You've been thinking, I'm not on anybody's side because no one's on my side. Maybe you've been thinking that, but we don't have that option in eternity.

You're going to go before the Lord at some point, and the question is going to be, for what reason should I let you into this place? This is an old saying. I don't know if it's an old baptistic saying or what, but we used to ask, know if the father came to you today and asked, why should I allow you into my heaven? Any other answer other than Jesus said I could come isn't going to work. Any other answer other than the guy in the middle cross said I could be here.

And you'll ask people. I would encourage you. Try this this week. Ask some friends and family and coworkers. Hey, if God said you, why should I let you into my heaven?

What would you say? Boy, you'll get some wild answers. You'll get various things. You might even get some right here in the church. Oh, I was baptized.

Why did you say I? Oh, I came to church on the right days. What right days? I don't know those. No, it doesn't begin with I.

It begins with he. He did this. That's a glorious thing for the non believer. If you've come in here today and you've not put your faith in this, it's very simple. You are guilty.

Yes, indeed. But he has taken the penalty. And for us in the room, those believers in the room, boy, this is something we should never tire of. This is why we continually need to apply the message of the cross to ourselves. Because if we don't, if we don't come back to this place, the reason church, I've had people ask me, why Easter?

Why do we celebrate this stuff? Because to be honest, there's nothing in the Bible that says you ought to have this holiday. You ought to have this Easter thing. In fact, people will argue, hey, Easter is based off of these roman calendar things, and there's like, some secular stuff in there. And to that I go, but I never tire of the resurrection.

I never tire of the cross. And it's important for us, if we must, to mark a date in our calendar, that we will look at it again, even as believers, and go, I can't get over this, because the moment I start saying, I don't need to go back there is the moment I start saying, I a whole lot. I'll look at my good deeds. I'll look at what I can be. And I have found that in my life, the more I try to do things by willpower and by my own skill and my own gifting, they begin to just fall apart.

Before long, I'm at his feet again, saying, just remember me, and we don't have to do that. And we certainly don't need Easter to do it. Let me just argue for this. Resurrection Sunday is every Sunday. I don't care if we're in Habakkuk or judges or in Hebrews, no matter where we are, every Sunday is resurrection day.

And every Sunday I'm going to look for a reason to talk about the cross of Christ every Sunday, because it's a reminder to you and I that we are desperate for him, as the apostle Paul reminds us. Ephesians, chapter two. For by grace, you've been saved through faith. This is not your own doing. It is a gift of God, not a result of works.

So that no. 1 may boast, you and I, we weren't in Jerusalem that day that Jesus was nailed to the cross, but it was his love for us that sent him there. He already had you and I in mind. And our sin, our sin, our past, present and future sin is nailed. There.

It is finished. Which side of the cross are you on? Is it a tragedy to you? Or is it a triumph and a truth for your life? Let's pray now together.

Church heavenly Father, we thank you so much for this glorious story today, this opportunity to look with fresh eyes at what is a familiar story to some. In fact, you could argue this is something most people know, that there are three crosses. They've seen them all over. They've seen them in movies. They've seen them in town.

They've seen him on postcards. We're all somewhat aware that there were three there. But looking again at this story and reminding myself, Lord Jesus, I'm one of those criminals, and that doesn't dishearten me today. And I pray for the encouragement of your people that they don't look at that story and go, hey, I'm one of those guys on the left and the right. But the man in the middle said I could come.

Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Lord Jesus. That's why we shout Hosanna today. We shout Hosanna because you took our penalty. You took our death and took care of that sin debt.

For us. It is done. It is finished, and you are raised, you are risen and alive. Today. We don't serve a God who is dead, but alive and conquered death for us.

What an amazing story. Hosanna. Hallelujah, Lord Jesus, for what you've done for us, I pray now for your people and for myself that we would live as if this were true, because it is. We would live lives that show off that God's mercy and grace has been poured out for us, that we are indeed guilty, but no longer. Because when God sees us, he sees Jesus and he declares innocent, blameless.

Thank you. Help us to live according to that, that we are new creations, as your word says all things new in us, that we would live according to that and according to your purpose, which you've designed for us. Now, dear friend, I recognize maybe one or two of you, maybe more, have come in here today and you've heard these stories. Maybe you've even been saying to yourself, I don't really want to choose a side. No one's really on my side.

Maybe you've said that, or maybe you've said, I don't get it. I pray today that God has done a work in your heart. And I would ask you, my friend, there's no reason to wait any longer. That God has designed you for himself, that your greatest life's joy and peace and purpose is in him, and to delay that is illogical. It makes no sense.

If that's you today, you've come in here and you're realizing, wait a minute. I know I'm guilty. I don't want to talk about it, but I know it's true. But you're telling me God's done it, that Jesus Christ has paid and I can be free. Yes, my friend.

And if that's you today, pray simply with me. According to Romans chapter ten, where it says, 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. If that's you today, my friend, pray with me. Jesus, I believe today that you are Lord. You're in charge.

I recognize Jesus. I'm like one of those criminals on your left and right. But I'm seeing you different today. I know that you took my death on the cross. The reason you did that was for me.

And that you paid for my sin that day. Thank you, Lord Jesus. And God, I believe that you raised Jesus from the dead. And because of that, when I look at the cross and the resurrection, it gives me so much hope that I am indeed free from sin's penalty and I don't have to fear what's coming next. God, I only ask now, would you remember me when you come into your kingdom?

Dear friend, welcome to the family of God. I pray the words of God are washing over you right now that you would hear from Jesus. Truly, I say to you, you will see me in paradise.

I pray that is the kind of comfort and assurance you feel now. God, I pray that over your people, that we are all experiencing that today. That truly, truly, I say unto you, we will be with the Lord Jesus in paradise. And so let's start living that way. God, give us boldness and courage as we face this week.

Coming up, it may be busy, but here we come, approaching resurrection Sunday, when some of our friends and coworkers and neighbors and family may just come to church. I pray you give us boldness and courage, that we would be examples of what salvation looks like. We pray all of these things in Jesus name. Amen.


What to watch next...

Why the Empty Cross?

March 31, 2024 ·
Romans 6:4-11

Now, What Do I Do With the Cross?

April 7, 2024 ·
Luke 9:21-25

Why Focus on Heaven?

April 15, 2024 ·
Colossians 3:1-4