The Lord's Day Evening
August 23, 2009
“Encounters with Jesus: A Dying Man”
Reverend William F. Joseph III
Turn with me to Luke chapter 23. Tonight we have the opportunity to finish up our series on Encounters with Jesus. As we come to read God's Word and to hear it proclaimed, let's pray.
To You, O God, be glory forever and ever, for You alone are God. And to You, Lord Jesus, we give praise and glory because You are the One who purchased our salvation. You purchased it by Your death on the cross of Calvary, and by Your resurrection proved that You are both God and man. To You, O Spirit, we give praise, because You are the One who works in our hearts to give us new hearts. And so as we come to Your Word, O Spirit, we ask that You would work in our midst this night. We ask because we need Your help, because we are sinners, and because apart from You, O Holy Spirit, these words would just be that. But Father, we would desire to know Your will and would desire for You to work in our midst through Your Spirit and the preaching of Your Word. So we ask in Jesus' name. Amen.
Beginning in verse 39 of Luke chapter 23:
“One of the criminals who were hanged railed at 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, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.’ And He said to him, ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in paradise.’”
Thus ends the reading of God's Word.
Encounter after encounter after encounter — each time Jesus doing this or doing that or saying this or saying that around different people. As we finish our Encounters with Jesus, we come to an encounter that is not specific, but is broad. What do I mean by that? What I mean by that is this isn't just an encounter with men dying on crosses; this is an encounter with mankind. It is a picture of three dying men, not “a” dying man, three dying men. Who are these three dying men? What is this situation we are looking at? If you’re familiar with the Scriptures, you know that the Scriptures have been leading up to this very focal point. Even in our Encounters with Jesus, we saw it as two of the men, two of the disciples, came to Him and asked Him the question about sitting on His right hand and His left hand, and how Jesus said to them, “To sit on My right hand or at My left is not mine to grant, but it is for those who have been prepared.” In Isaiah chapter 53 we read these words: “Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the many, and He shall divide the spoils with the strong because He poured out His soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors, yet He bore the sins of many and makes intercession for the transgressors.” Even just a few, one chapter before this, in chapter 22 of Luke, we read these words there where Jesus is replying: He says, “I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in Me, ‘He was numbered with the transgressors’, for what was written about Me has its fulfillment.” In other words, even these men on the cross accompanying Jesus, are a focus of history moving to this point. And what does it do? It divides all mankind, just as this aisle divides us left and right. It divides all of mankind into two groups of people.
Let's look at the context real quickly. The context, the immediate context, we look at it by looking at Matthew 27 and also in Mark. Both the Matthew and Mark passages that give you the same idea of what's going on here are almost identical in their report of this situation, even down to almost every word. And yet, Luke and John give us something different. It's very interesting the things that are said by the people involved in these passages. The main thing that we see is that there are two thieves that are crucified along with Jesus on each side of Him. That there are those who are there, both soldiers, bystanders, and Pharisees and scribes and rulers of the people, and nobody has anything good to say to Jesus.
Listen to what the people say. Listen to what just the people say - in Luke it says, “The people stood by, they scoffed at Him, and said this, ‘He saved others, let Him save Himself if He is the Christ of God, His Chosen One.’” In Mark — in Matthew they say, “Those who passed by derided Him.” What's interesting about that word “deride” there - it's actually they “blasphemed Him.” They derided Him and what did they say? “You who would destroy this temple and build it back in three days, save Yourself. If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” Even the scribes and the elders who should have known who He was, what did they say? They mocked Him: “He saved others, He cannot save Himself. He is the King of Israel — let Him come down now from the cross and we will believe in Him. He who trusts in God — let Him deliver Him now if He desires Him, for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.’”
Isn't it interesting? People all today tell us Jesus never said He was the Son of God, but His enemies said that He said He was the Son of God. And then there's even the soldiers, the Roman soldiers, professionals at crucifixion, those whose job it was to make sure that every single man crucified, person crucified, died a horrible death. Professional torturers. And what do they say? “The soldiers mocked Him, ‘If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself.’” And then Matthew tells us that the robbers also said something. It uses a very interesting word; it says “reviled.” The word actually means, “they cast the shame in His teeth.” Now, listen to what the robbers say, and what you’ll see is that these men, who are being crucified at the same time Jesus was, these men who were hanging in excruciating pain on their own crosses, these men who we don't know a lot about, listen to what others were saying and took up the chant, even from the cross. They reviled Him in the same way. They were saying the very same things that those around them were saying. You need to remember this is not an account of “a” dying man. This is an account of three dying men.
But let's look at a dying man who is dying. Let's look and see what he says and what this passage tells us about it. In verse 39 of our passage it says, “One of the criminals who were hanged, railed at Him saying, ‘Are you not the Christ? Save Yourself and us.’” Here is a man who is dying. Here is a man who is suffering. Here is a man who has been nailed to a cross. The nails going through his wrist, right about here, cause an excruciating pain, going through his feet as they’re folding together and bent slightly at the knees so that he hangs and as the blood fills the cavities of his heart, he has to stand on his legs and then when he gets the pain from standing on those nails becomes so excruciating, he then slumps and hangs back down and the fluid begins to fill his lungs again. Slowly, up and down, up and down. This man is suffering that kind of death. And yet this man sees and hears Jesus being crucified. He sees Jesus being nailed to a cross and saying these words, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” He sees Jesus as Jesus struggles to not sin on that cross.
You know if somebody nailed nails into my arm I wouldn't be going, “Well you know…” I'd be angry. I'd be upset, particularly if I were innocent. Probably I wouldn't have been, but anyway. In your innocence you’re being crucified, you’re being tortured, you’re being put to death? The natural tendency of any man would be to at least wish ill on those who did it. And these men, this man in particular sees that, but he hears what the rest of the world says. Surely his words, “Are you not the Christ? Save Yourself” ring with the same tone as these words — do you remember these words in the Scriptures? “You surly shall not die.” Satan said that to Eve. Or what about these words: “If You’re the Son of God, turn these rocks into bread.” Or what about this famous temptation line: “Far be it from You, Lord, this shall never happen to You.” Surely these words, “Are You not the Christ? Save yourself and us,” surely they fit with these other temptation passages.
There is a man whose whole world revolves around his God. Save yourself…and us. He's heard what the Pharisees and the scribes and the rulers have been saying. He's heard them deride and mock and he takes up their chant and he throws it in the face of Jesus. Well, why not? Think about it for a moment — just in case this man really is the Son of God and decides to save Himself, of course I want Him to save me, of course, because look, I'm not really guilty of anything. The Romans have called me a criminal. The man I stole from has called me a criminal, but I've been doing what I wanted to — I really shouldn't be here. I'm not a bad person. I'm not a sinner.
You see, this man does not understand sin. This man does not understand that those who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, that those who exchange the truth of God for a lie, that those who worship and serve themselves, the creature rather than the Creator, that those who do not see God, who do not want God, who have turned aside altogether, have become totally worthless, that do no good, not one person, that have no fear of God before their eyes — this man is dying. This man is dead in his trespasses and sin. He is alienated toward God. He is hostile toward God. You can see it. You can hear it in his words. He could care less about who this man is unless it relates to him and his salvation the way he wants to be saved. He is this man's enemy because this man won't take care of him, and yet the Scriptures say very clearly, “The soul that sins shall die.”
There is someone in this congregation who is just like this man. There is someone sitting in this building tonight who is just like this man. You hear the things Jesus says. You know the things Jesus does. You know He is innocent. You know that you’re god and you’re going to rule your own life. Even approaching death did not change this man. This is a famous passage for people who say, “I'm going to wait until right before I die — and then right before I die, then I’ll come and see God; then I’ll turn to God.” Well guys, this man got right to it and he still didn't come. But this man is not a picture of one man. Everything that I have said about this man — this man who is dying, this thief who is railing against Jesus, can also be said of the second man.
The second man did these very things as well. Matthew tells us that the robbers — plural — said these very same things. This isn't a description that divides us. This isn't the thing that divides us, that divides all humanity — what this does; it lumps all humanity into the same category. Everyone of us in here has made ourselves to be god, have shaken our fist in God's face — everyone of us are just like the dying man who is dead.
But what about the second man? A dying man who is living. Now remember, he is no different than the first man. You don't know much about these two men, did you notice? You ought to read the different names given to these men by church historians. Nobody gives the same name to all three of them — nobody. So apparently, nobody knew who they were. But Matthew and Mark report about him, and John, with obviously Matthew and Mark and Luke in front of him, just gives a one line description of him. Luke, the one who investigated everything carefully from the beginning, so that Theophilus would know the exact truth of the things he had been taught, Luke comes along and gives us greater insight into the things that we had not seen before. If it were not for Luke, when you looked at the thieves, you would have just lumped them all together. And you should — they are all sinners, all dead, all deserving God's wrath and curse. But in God's grace, He gives us Luke's account. You might wait until the last minute to come to Christ. I don't think this man waited until the last minute — did you get that impression? I think the last minute came upon him like a roaring train. He got caught. He got convicted. And now, all of a sudden, he is in the entourage of this man, the King of the Jews, and he didn't know the Jews had a king. He gets caught by surprise. I don't think this man had any chance, any time, or any ability to prepare for this. We’re not told. What we are told is that he was crucified.
Now the very things that everybody said to Jesus when He was crucified implied something. When you are crucified, you can't do anything but hang there. These two thieves could do nothing but hang there. “What ya doing? Just hanging around!” No, these men are watching, they are suffering, they are in pain. Their whole worlds are falling apart and yet something happens to this man. This man doesn't do anything differently than the other man. This man doesn't start attending church. He doesn't repent, I mean, he doesn't walk an aisle, he doesn't go through the ordinances and the sacraments, he doesn't do anything. He doesn't have the ability to do anything. If he did, he would have gotten off the cross, don't you think? But he couldn't - total, complete, absolute inability. Both of these men were in that condition because they were dead men, unable to save themselves, but look what happens. “But the other rebuked him saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?” Here it is, the last minute. Here it is; this man is showing that God has changed him, and yet what is his first concern? His first concern is for his friend. He doesn't have time to do a whole lot. He doesn't have time to prove that he has genuine faith, but in the very first thing he says that's not repeating what all the mockers, all the revilers have been saying, when he says something, the very first thing that he says is concern for his fellow robber. Isn't that interesting? - Concern for his companion. “Don't you fear God, since we are under the same sentence of condemnation?” And then notice what he says: “And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward for our deed.”
This man in this short, twinkling of an eye conversion, repents of his sin. His sin bothers him even at this point. His sin, he knows, is not just arbitrary, it's not just happenstance — it's against God and he knows it. His sin is against the God who created him and made him and he knows it. He has sinned against a just God — “we justly deserve this.” Where did that come from? “We indeed justly because we are receiving the due reward for our deeds.” He knows that sin is against God and he says it. But notice what else: “But this man has done nothing wrong.” He doesn't recognize that Jesus is God-Man, that Jesus is God, but he does know that Jesus is innocent — that Jesus doesn't deserve to be there. He does know that he deserves to be there. He does know that he should be dying, that he is in the right place, but he knows that Jesus shouldn't be there.
He confesses Jesus. He confesses that Jesus is God, that He is innocent in this case. He confesses the truth about who Jesus is. And then notice what he said — you have to remember, he is here, Jesus is here, and the other thief is over here — so he's talking to the thief and now he turns to Jesus. Now it would look so much better if you really wanted to illustrate it — repentance is he would turn from talking to the thief to talking to Jesus, but it doesn't quite work that way here — but he does turn to Jesus. He looks to Jesus. He looks to the only name, above all names whereby we have salvation. He turns to Jesus and what does he say? He doesn't say, “Oh Lord, remember!” He humbly says, “Remember me.” He's not even saying, “Give me a place to sit.” He's not saying, “Do this; do that.” He's just saying, “Remember me. Remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” This man shows every sign that those of us who have life still and are not facing immediate death and who say we know Jesus, the very things that we sometimes don't show - he shows true repentance, true hated of his sin, true understanding that only Christ is innocent. And he turns to Jesus and he calls out to Jesus for help. There is more proof that this man is a believer than there is that I am a believer, or that you are a believer if you've not done these very same things.
Let's look at the dying man in the middle. Between two thieves, and what does this dying man say? He says to him, “Truly I say to you, today, you will be with Me in Paradise.” Here's the one who fits right in between two thieves, doesn't He? He didn't come to save the righteous, but sinners. He fits so perfectly between two thieves. As a matter of fact, it's with thieves and liars and murderers that He builds His Church. It's with those who have been changed by His Word that He builds His Church. And what does He say to him? “Today, you will be with Me.” Not tomorrow, but today. He gives to him that promise. You will be with Me in Paradise — now He uses this word “Paradise” probably because this man didn't understand all the words for heaven that could be used, but he did understand the general word for paradise — a great garden. Isn't that interesting? That when Christ was undoing the curse that came in the Garden, He promises a man a garden. But why this man? Why did He change this man? This man didn't change because he had the ability. He changed because Christ changed him. Christ knew that He would die for the transgressors. Christ willingly went to the cross. Why did He do it? He came to His own, but His own didn't receive Him, but as many as received Him, He gave the right to become children of God. Not children who were born not of blood, nor the will of the flesh, nor of man, but of God. This is a picture of God's sovereign grace operating, not because of anything in and of us that is worthy, these men have nothing to offer. So what changes this man? The dying God who was dying for him. The dying God who was dying in this man's eternal place, taking the eternal punishment upon Himself, that this dying man who was living should have received.
Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. That's why He was dying and that's also why He would be raised again. So what do we draw from this? Isn't it amazing how easy it is to remember that it was a dying thief — especially since I have never been arrested for thieving. Confession time — my first object that I stole — not this one, but a pen. Boy, did I get a whipping. I should have been on that cross. Why did Christ save this man? According to the Scriptures — because He wanted to; because He wanted to; because of His great love with which He loved us, according to the kind intention of His will. But the question you and I have to ask is: Of the two dying men who are not Jesus, which one are you? Are you a dying man or woman or child who God gives repentance to, a new heart to? That you long for your Savior, that you long to be with Him? This about it — if you die, you too will be with Christ today. To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. What comfort that should be that our Savior, in His weakest moments, by His power to give life to a dying man. And to those of us who trust in Him, He's given us that life, so that though we die, yet shall we live. But there is also the dead man who was dying, who refused to turn, who did not come, who heard, who saw, who was even approaching the most humongous thing, humanly speaking, would convert anybody. Yet stares death in the face in his own power and with his own goodness and his own righteousness, which was nothing but filthy rags. A dying man, dead? Or a dying man, living? Which are you?
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