Today on the 23rd day of Luke's challenge the purpose for Christ coming was fulfilled. For on this day, in the 23rd chapter of Luke Christ was crucified! 1 John 3:8 tells us, "For this purpose was the son of God manifested, that He might destroy the work of the devil". In the next two days, we will be celebrating the manifestation of the savior - it will be Christmas! And let me use this opportunity to wish you a MERRY CHRISTMAS in advance!
Christmas was the beginning and the unfolding of God's plan for human salvation. For God so loved the world that on Christmas day he sent his only begotten son to us that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life! (John 3:16). At Christmas, the grand plan for humanity's salvation was unveiled and at Easter, that plan was consummated and finished. On this 23rd day, we are at Easter, God's plan for man's salvation was about to be finished!
THE TIMELINE OF EVENTS AT EASTER
There were many events on this day that Jesus died that it will take a lot of time and pages to comment on each! The chapter began with the trial and rejection of our savior! And what a trial Jesus had to face: he was tried and executed the same day! What a speedy trial and execution that was, must be one of the fastest in the history of mankind!
According to the account of Luke, Jesus was passed on back and forth between Pilate and Herod like a ping pong until Pilate had to be forced to make a decision he doesn't want to make! (Luke 23:1-26)
On the way to Calvary, we had that significant moment when certain women of Israel were weeping for Jesus only for Christ to tell these women that their tears should be reserved for an event in the future that will make this woman weep for their children.
But Jesus turning unto them said, Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children. For, behold, the days are coming, in the which they shall say, Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bare, and the paps which never gave suck. Then shall they begin to say to the mountains, Fall on us; and to the hills, Cover us. For if they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry? Luke 23:28-31 KJV
Ten years after this prophetic word was given Titus and his Roman soldiers besieged Jerusalem and laid her to waste.
Yet the most significant events on this day were the events that took place at Calvary. Many things happened at the cross, but one or two events did stand out, it is one of these events that will be the focus of our discourse today. But before then taking into accounts all the other accounts from the other gospels I tried to put together here what and how I believe all the events at Calvary took place.
The sequence of events is not always clear, and Luke leaves out a number of unusual and significant phenomena so that we cannot tell for certain the exact order of events that actually occurred. Generally speaking, however, the events appear to have happened something like this:
•The victims were nailed to their crosses, which were raised and fixed in position
•Either prior to this or shortly after drugged wine was given to deaden the pain
•The clothing of Jesus was divided among the four soldiers, by lot
•Railing accusations and mocking occurred throughout the ordeal—the crowd somehow seems to file or pass by the cross
•Jesus cried out, “Father, forgive them … ”
•The criminals joined in reviling Christ
•The thief on the cross came to faith in Jesus as his Messiah
•Darkness falls over the scene, from 6th hour (noon) till 9th hour (3:00).
•Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, why has thou forsaken Me?” (Matthew, Mark)
•Jesus said, “I thirst” (John), drank a sip of vinegar
•Jesus said, “It is finished” (John)
•Jesus bowed His head and said, “Father, into your hands, … ” and died
•Immediately, the curtain of temple torn in two, top to bottom (Luke)
•Earthquake and the raising of dead saints (Matthew)
•Legs of the other two were broken, but Jesus’ legs not broken, seeing He was already dead (John)
•A soldier pierced Jesus’ side with a spear—blood and water gushed out (John)
•Centurion (and the other soldiers) who witnessed it said, “Surely this was the son of God”
•The crowds left, beating their breasts, while the Galilean followers stay on, watching from a distance
THE CONVERSION OF THE THIEF
I am convinced that no one left the scene of the cross of Jesus the same that day, but no change was so dramatic or so exciting as that which happened to the thief who hung beside the Savior. I wish to focus, as Luke alone does, on his conversion. It is indeed a remarkable event. Let’s read the account again:
And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us. But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost, not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise. And it was about the sixth hour, and there was a darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. Luke 23:39-44 KJV
At a surface look, this appears to many Bible readers the cheapest salvation a man could ever have or ask for. This has always been my thought from the Sunday School, I mean this man has always been a sinner, a thief for that matter, and then with one day of repentance, he entered the kingdom of God! It's that simple. But if we considered the events surrounding this event we will see that there is no environment as toxic as this when it comes to having faith in the Lord Jesus.
I mean here was the purported savior of the world helplessly hanging on the cross, beaten mocked and scorn, everyone was having a go at the master. They even dare him, 'you can save others why can't you save yourself', now really who wants to believe in that kind of savior? Yet in all of this toxicity, the thief found the faith to believe in Jesus and in his kingdom! It was genuine salvation and the characteristic of the thief's conversion says it all. Look at it here.
1)The thief was thoroughly and genuinely converted. Jesus assured him that on that very day he would be with Him in paradise. The others who witnessed the death of Christ were changed, never the same, but they only came to a point of fear at this point in time, not the faith of this thief.
(2) Initially, the thief joined in with the railing of the others against Jesus.
(3) The thief spoke to Jesus, requesting salvation, before any of the miraculous signs and wonders which were to follow.
(4) The thief believed in Jesus, in the midst of the rejection and railing of others, at a time when no one was showing faith in him. He was moving against the grain of the moment, out of step with the crowd.
(5) It was in response to the scoffing of the other thief that this man’s faith was evidenced. He spoke first to the thief, and then to Jesus.
(6) The second thief rebuked the first for not “fearing God.” This was at least a recognition of Jesus’ innocence but also appears to be a recognition of the deity of Jesus. He was speaking to God in such an irreverent manner.
(7) To the thief, Jesus was not merely innocent, He was who He claimed to be, the Messiah, and thus the key to entering into the kingdom of God. It is this kingdom into which the thief asked Jesus to enable him to enter into.
(8) The thief recognized, as Jesus had told Pilate, that His kingdom was not of this world. Thus, the thief and Jesus could both die and yet enter into it.
(9) The thief saw that his own salvation did not require Jesus coming down from the cross, saving Himself, or getting him off of the cross.
(10) This thief recognized his own sin, and that he was deserving of death.
(11) The thief requested Jesus’ mercy on the basis of His grace, offering nothing in return.
(12) This man had some kind of resurrection faith—believed in an afterlife, for he was about to die—a kind of resurrection faith.
The thief seems to have come to a point of seeing what he already believed in a different light, and of acting upon it. I do not think that the thief ever thought of Jesus as a guilty man. Even the reviling of the other thief is expressed in such a way that we are encouraged to think he believed Jesus might be the Messiah. His words, “Aren’t you the Christ?” imply (in the original text) that He was the Messiah. But now, suddenly, the thief looks at what he believed differently.
Let us not pass by this conversion without noting several essential ingredients. First, there is the recognition of one’s personal sin, and of his deserving of death, of divine wrath. Second, there is the recognition that Jesus is precisely who He claimed to be, the sinless Son of God, Israel’s Messiah, the only way by which men can enter into the kingdom of God. Third, a belief that Christ’s kingdom lies beyond the grave, and that resurrection will enable us to be entered into it. Fourth, a belief in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, which prompted Him to die in our place, to provide salvation for the worst of sinners, which is not merited or earned, but which is achieved in accordance with grace alone. A simple trust in Jesus for forgiveness and eternal life, by virtue of what He has done.
I believe the Holy Spirit worked his work in the life of the thief to bring him to this realization, for who would have told him, a hardened criminal, and he would have believed when every other person around the Saviour were despising him!
Though he hasn't died but was about to die, Christ couldn't wait to get into the work of saving people. And so on the cross, Christ revealed to us the power of the cross to save and to show us what his ministry from here on would be in our lives, and that is to save us! From here on the rugged cross God's love was poured out and from that day never cease to pour out for humanity as the Holy Spirit works in the heart of men to enable them to receive this love by faith. It is this outpouring of love that we celebrate every Christmas. Celebrate Christ love more than ever before. MERRY CHRISTMAS TO YOU!