Welcome to Christ’s Community Church. This morning’s message is the conclusion, week number five, of our series entitled OUTCASTS. We’ve been looking at different passages that highlight Jesus pursuit of those many would label outcasts, but today he goes a little over the top. Each week we’ve seen Jesus go out of his way to reach the outcasts of society, but this week we find Jesus actually becoming an outcast, literally risking his neck, shedding his blood, and dying. This week is so amazing, because we find Jesus not only reaching out to an outcast, but as Jesus came into the world, becoming one of us, today we see Jesus becomes an outcast.
As a matter of fact, the Bible says in John chapter 1, that “Jesus was in the world and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him” (John 1:10-11). Isaiah said it this way, “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised…” (Isaiah 53:3). Jesus was an outcast, rejected by men, and yet John chapter 1 tells us, “To all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).
Today I pray that the words of Jesus on the cross would touch you profoundly, but even more so, I pray that the dying of Jesus on the cross would minister to you in a life-changing way. This morning as we look at Luke’s Gospel, in chapter 23, what I want to do, is to look at what it takes for us to get to Heaven. We’re going to revisit Jerusalem on that Passover Friday around A.D. 30 when Jesus was crucified. And just to give you a little bit of background, the Jewish leaders had apprehended Jesus and agreed to take him to Pilate, governor of Judea, accusing him falsely of being opposed to paying taxes and claiming to be a king. Let’s begin reading in verse 13 for greater understanding:
“Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers and the people, 14 and said to them, "You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him. 15 Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death. 16 Therefore, I will punish him and then release him."
18 With one voice they cried out, "Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us!" 19 (Barabbas had been thrown into prison for an insurrection in the city, and for murder.)
20 Wanting to release Jesus, Pilate appealed to them again. 21 But they kept shouting, "Crucify him! Crucify him!"
22 For the third time he spoke to them: "Why? What crime has this man committed? I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty. Therefore I will have him punished and then release him."
23 But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified, and their shouts prevailed. 24 So Pilate decided to grant their demand. 25 He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, the one they asked for, and surrendered Jesus to their will.
26 As they led him away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. 27 A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. 28 Jesus turned and said to them, "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For the time will come when you will say, 'Blessed are the barren women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!' 30 Then "'they will say to the mountains, "Fall on us!" and to the hills, "Cover us!" '
31 For if men do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?"
32 Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. 33 When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals — one on his right, the other on his left. 34 Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.
35 The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, "He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One."
36 The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar 37 and said, "If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself."
38 There was a written notice above him, which read: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.
39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: "Aren't you the Christ? Save yourself and us!"
40 But the other criminal rebuked him. "Don't you fear God," he said, "since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong."
42 Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."
43 Jesus answered him, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise."
(Luke 23:13-43, NIV)
What we find is a story, that’s really the irony of all ironies, because Jesus is framed, the innocent One is held captive and crucified while the guilty one is set free. Jesus is accused of claiming to be a king, of being a threat to Roman authority, and yet justice is turned upside down as he’s mocked, scorned, and ridiculed by the very same people who claimed that he was a threat. It’s really ironic that he, the holy One, the most innocent of the righteous, is executed by the guilty, and yet he gives his life so that the guilty might receive life. Though he had done no violence nor was any deceit in his mouth, he poured out his life unto death and was numbered with the transgressors (Isaiah 53:12). The Jewish leaders rejected Jesus, crucified him unknowingly sacrificing the true Passover Lamb, and by his dying Jesus was able to save many others; making the whole scene at the cross a twisted satirical comedy. It’s just as Jesus prayed in verse 34,
"Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
The religious leaders didn’t, the people didn’t, the Romans didn’t, nobody understood. Everybody had a twisted and perverted understanding of what was happening and yet in the midst of all this, there was this one man, a criminal, an outcast, who suddenly gets incredible clarity. In spite of everything that is going on around him, of which he has a participant, his mind is illuminated, life comes out of death, knowledge out of ignorance, and the light of the gospel dispels the darkness from his heart.
This story contains much more than meets the eye, because it’s a personal story, it’s really your story and my story if you’re a believer, because it’s how all sinners come to God. It’s my prayer that as we look at the word of God, if you had doubts as to what would happen to you if this were your last moment on earth that you would have clarity. That you would be able to say beyond a shadow of doubt that you’re right with God. And that’s my prayer that you would know, that you would be confident, and that you would be sure of your positioning before Almighty God.
That’s what we’re going to look at today as we view this scene on the cross. Are you right with God? How do you know, how do you get to that place of confidence in knowing? Well, the first step is by acknowledging your need of a Savior.
As we look at the crucifixion account there were two criminals, one on each side of Jesus, and it tells us in verse 39 that one of them was verbally abusing Jesus. Now if we look at the parallel accounts in Matthew and Mark’s gospels they tell us that both criminals were doing that, both criminals had joined in the mockery of the crowd. And even though they’re enduring the same physical suffering that Jesus himself was, even though they’re enduring the same excruciating agony, with all the hatred and blasphemy of this scene, they’re still mustering up enough energy to hurl insults at Jesus.
But Luke tells us, according to eyewitness reports from Jesus’ own mother and his disciples, that suddenly one of them grows silent. As the hours passed on the cross, one man, an outcast, a criminal, suddenly experiences revelation by the Spirit of God. While his body is in the worst imaginable kind of agony, his mind suddenly becomes crystal clear with a perception of truth that he’d never perceived before in his life. At that moment, he turns to his accomplice, and rebukes him for doing the exact same thing that he’d just been doing. He says in verse 41,
“We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong” (Luke 23:41).
In other words, he suddenly becomes very aware of God and says, ”Look we’re getting exactly what we deserve. Don't you fear God?” (Luke 23:40). And so, he experiences the fear of God by the convicting power of the Holy Spirit, just as Jesus warned in Luke chapter 12, “Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell” (Luke 12:5).
And what’s interesting here is that there are two criminals hanging next to Jesus, both of them are guilty, just like you and I are guilty, both of them heard and saw the same thing, both of them were suffering severely on their way to imminent death, both of them needed a Savior, but one recognized his need, while the other one didn’t. And it’s the same way today, a lot of people simply don’t see their need of a Savior. What’s amazing is that there are people out there, week after week, people who hear the same things as the person next to them, and yet their eyes are as glazed over as a fresh Krispy Kreme doughnut. Romans chapter 3 says it this way,
"There is no fear of God before their eyes." (Romans 3:18).
And so, they’re indifferent, they’re putting in their time, they’re watching their watch, they’re yawning, and one person sees their need, they get it, and one person doesn’t. The question, then, we need to be asking ourselves is, “Do you see your need? Do you acknowledge your need? The Bible tells us,
“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
All of us have sinned, none of us are exempt, all of us a fallen pathetically short of the glory of God. So first, do you acknowledge your need? And then number two, the second step to getting right with God, is to ask yourself, “Do I really recognize who Jesus is?”
This criminal, in his mind, shifts from an assessment of his own miserable condition, his own sinfulness, to an assessment of Jesus Christ. Now we don’t know how much he knows about Jesus, but we know that Jesus had been in public ministry for three years, he’d been raising the dead, healing the sick, casting out demons, and opening blind eyes and deaf ears. And so, suddenly this criminal is given clarity by the Spirit of God to understand that he’s hanging on a cross as a sinner who’s getting what he deserves, next to someone who is righteous, and is getting what he doesn’t deserve. And so, this now repentant criminal, speaking of Jesus, said in verse 41,
“This man has done nothing wrong” (Luke 23:41).
And today, every reputable historian regardless of faith will admit that Jesus Christ was a real person who lived on earth. We have to acknowledge that fact… but the real question is, “Who do you say that he is?” Not who your mother or father, your friends, or your Sunday school teacher said he was, but who do you say that Jesus Christ is?
It’s a question that has been answered many times in the Bible. One day Jesus asked his disciples, in Matthew chapter 16,
“Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets." "But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?" (Matthew 16:13-15).
Peter responded, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16)
When Jesus went to the Jordan to be baptized by John, as he came up out of the water eyewitnesses testified in Matthew chapter 3,
“A voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased’” (Matthew 3:17).
When Pilate was hearing the charges against Jesus by the religious leaders, his wife told him in Matthew chapter 27: "Don't have anything to do with that innocent man” (Matthew 27:19).
When Pilate handed Jesus over to the Jews, washing his hands of the case, and thereby condemning Jesus to death on the cross, he said in Luke chapter 23, “I find no basis for a charge against this man" (Luke 23:4).
Even Judas who betrayed Jesus, when he saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and said in Matthew chapter 27, "I have betrayed innocent blood." (Matthew 27:4).
The Scriptures have much to say about the identity of Jesus, but the apostle Paul summarized it well in Philippians chapter 2,
Jesus “Who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8).
To this the Word of God testifies: The King of Kings and Lord of lords, was nailed to a cruel cross, wearing a crown of thorns, having been numbered with the transgressors, and yet as his enemies hurled insults at him, Jesus looked up to heaven and prayed, “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing” (Luke 23:33).
Fulfilling Scripture, in John chapter 19, Jesus said, “I thirst”. Soldiers dipped a sponge in sour wine, put it on a branch, and held it up to his mouth. “When Jesus had received the sour wine he said, “It is finished” he bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (John 19:30)
The work had been done, it was accomplished, Hebrews chapter 10 tells us, “We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10). His works are perfect, by his one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy (Hebrews 10:14). Jesus gave his life and three days later, God proved that the work was perfect, that death, hell, and the grave had been defeated by rolling the stone away and showing us that Jesus had risen.
Question number one, “Will you acknowledge your need for a Savior?” Number two, “Do you recognize who Jesus is? And then number three, when it comes to getting right with God, “Have you received his grace?”
Have you received the grace that this criminal on the cross experienced? In the space of a few hours, he has come to an understanding of his sinfulness, of his own unworthiness, as well as understanding who Christ is; that he’s our merciful Savior, the Messiah, God’s anointed. And so, he called out to Jesus in verse 42, because he understands that Jesus is going to die and rise again, he’s going to come in his Kingdom, and he’s going to bring his followers with him, and this man wants to be one of them.
“Remember me when You come into Your kingdom” (Luke 23:42).
He knows that he’s not worthy, he knows that it would be nothing but grace, but he asked for mercy. And Jesus replied with the most grace-filled words ever spoken to a man who couldn’t do anything right, who couldn’t be baptized, who couldn’t join a church, all he could do was believe that Jesus was who the Scriptures said he was. And Jesus replied in verse 43,
“I tell you the truth, today you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).
This is just amazing. This is like the father running and kissing the prodigal son, welcoming him, putting on the robe, the ring and sandals, and having a big celebration. This is an illustration of Luke chapter 15, “This brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found” (Luke 15:32). This is beautiful, this is grace, and it’s instantaneous. Jesus said, “Today you will be with me”. There’s no waiting place, there is no transitional place, to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. And that’s why Paul said, “I desire to depart and be with Christ” (Philippians 1:23). Jesus told the criminal “You’ll be there with me”, because Heaven’s not a place where you go to see Jesus, Heaven’s a place where you’ll be with him and he’ll be with you forever.
So, what does it take to get to Heaven? Three questions: “Do you acknowledge your need of a Savior?” That your sin has separated you from God? Second question: “Do you recognize who Jesus is? And the third question: Have you received his grace?
You see, you and I are one of those two criminals on the cross. Will you throw yourself at Jesus? Will you rely on the grace of God?
The Bible says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
No one has ever been saved by works, the Bible says, it’s only by grace. You and I are one of those two criminals hanging on two crosses. Which one are you? One rejected Christ. The other one threw himself upon His mercy and simply said, “Jesus, remember me.” And Jesus says to all those who say yes to those three questions, to those who trust Him,
“Today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).
Pastor John Talcott
Christ's Community Church
303 West Lincoln Avenue
Emmitsburg, MD 21727
April 09, 2017
Graphics, notes, and commentary from LifeChurch, Preaching Library, and PC Study Bible.
Scripture from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.