Encounters with Jesus: Encounters with Jesus: A Dying Man

Sermon by Billy Joseph on August 23, 2009

Luke 23:39-43

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The Lord’s
Day Evening

August 23,
2009

Luke 23:39-43

“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?

Let’s
pray.

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