And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with Me in paradise.

Luke 23:43

As Christians we all want to hear this same promise about our lives before leaving this earth. Because we all want to go to heaven. And we all want our eternal future to be secure with Jesus in heaven. We cannot talk about Jesus and His second word on the cross without talking about the two criminals that were crucified on either side of Jesus that day. The three crosses are the cross of rebellion (the first thief), the cross of repentance (the second thief), and the cross of Redemption (Jesus) in the middle.

The First Thief : In Luke 23:39: And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him saying, If Thou be Christ, save Thyself and us. We can learn so much about this thief from just that one sentence. Here we see that this criminal was mocking Jesus…. Why? He did not believe that Jesus had come to save him from sin and to give him eternal life. If he had believed this, he too would have given his life to Jesus like the second criminal. Also, he did not believe that Jesus could help him in these last hours so he joined the others in mocking Jesus. So, we see here that he did not believe…. let’s see what happens to those that are in unbelief.

I said therefore unto you that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am He, ye shall die in your sins.

John8: 24

Here we see that there are consequences for unbelief.Because of unbelief, his sinful nature continued until his death and he would die in sin without redemption.

He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life but he that believeth not the Son shall not see life: but the wrath of God abideth on him.

John 3:36

Due to unbelief, not only will he die in his sins but also this thief will not have everlasting life but only see the wrath of God. Now we also see here that this first thief was only focused on his life here on earth. In verse 39 he says, save Thyself and us…he was looking for relief from his earthly pain; worried about the flesh, and his temporary pain and was only concerned about his life here on earth but not about life after death.

  • I John 2:15 – Love not the world neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world the love of the Father is not in him.
  • Romans 8:8 – So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.
  • Romans 8:13 – For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die…

Here we see that those whose focus is on the things of the earth are still in sin, and like this thief cannot please God because he loved the world, and he will die in the flesh. I Cor15: 50 – Now this I say brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. We know that flesh and blood are things of the temporary and whoever focuses on the things of the flesh cannot inherit the things of the Spirit, just like this thief who did not inherit the kingdom of God.

Lets do a quick recap of the first criminal: Because of unbelief: 1. Dies in sin 2. No eternal life 3. Only see wrath of God
4. Focused on physical self 5.Therefore he cannot inherit kingdom of God.

The Second Criminal:
Had a change of heart in his last few hours. In the next few verses we see how this sinner comes to Christ through various steps of faith.

First step:
In verse 40: He rebuked the first criminal for mocking Jesus. Proverbs 24:25 – But to them that rebuke him (the wicked) shall be delight, and a good blessing shall come upon him. We see here that God delighted in this thief because he rebuked evil or wickedness, which was his very first step in coming to Christ.
Second step:
In verse 40: He said, “Dost not thou fear God?” Here we see that this second criminal himself feared God. Matthew 10:28 – And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear Him which is able to destroy both body and soul in hell He was being tortured by all these people yet in all this he knew that he had to only fear Jesus who is in control of both his body and soul and was able to destroy both in hell, while man could only harm his temporary physical body.

Third step:
In verse 41: He said, And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds. Here this criminal accepted that he was a sinner and confessed of his sins. I John 1:9 – if we confess of our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us of our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Isaiah 55:7 – He will abundantly pardon. We know that God forgave him of all his sins even in these last hours because he believed.
Fourth step:
In verse 41-He continued to say, But this Man hath done nothing amiss. II Corinthians 5:21 -For He hath made Him to be sin, who knew no sin. He believed because he knew that Christ was sinless and that is what makes Jesus different from other men.
Fifth step:
In verse 42: He begins by calling Jesus “LORD” Here we can see that his fifth step was making Jesus Lord over his life that very same moment.
Sixth step:
In verse 42:He continued to ask Jesus saying, “remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom” Here, unlike the fist criminal, this repentant criminal’s focus was on the things of the eternal. He knew that he would die in the next few hours and his life was almost over on this earth for which he had no regard, but he was only concerned about his eternal life after death. John 6:47: Verily. Verily, I say unto you, he that believeth on Me hath everlasting life. Because he believed, he was rewarded with everlasting life that very same day.
Lets do a quick recap of the second thief:
He followed various steps in his transformation from a sinner to a believer:
1. Rebuked evil
2. Feared God
3. Confessed his sins
4. Believed Christ is sinless
5. Made Jesus Lord over his life
6. Focused on the things of the Spirit
And therefore Jesus gave him the reward of everlasting life.
With the first thief we talked about unbelief: Hebrews 3:12 – Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. Here Paul is warning Christians, telling us to be careful, not to have unbelief in our hearts…which if we do, then we too are like the first criminal who had an evil heart of unbelief and one that was far from the living God. So, we as Christians also have to be careful of unbelief because it leads to death
With the second thief we learned about being focused on the things of the SpiritRomans 8:5 – For they that are after the things of the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. Just like this second criminal, we too have to put our focus and concentrate on the things of the Spirit…and only by doing so can we receive the things of the Spirit and that of the eternal. When our minds are on spiritual things and we focus on our lives after death…then we too will be rewarded with the promise to join Jesus in paradise just like this second thief. And our focus on the things of the Spirit will lead us to eternal life.

Event: Good Friday Service 2004