Salvation at the 11th Hour
Reverend Geoffrey Thomas
Shout joyfully to the Lord All the earth, serve the Lord with gladness, come before him with joyful singing. Know that the Lord Himself is God. It is He who has made us and not we ourselves. We are His people and the sheep of His pasture. Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His ports with praise. Give thanks to Him. Bless His name. For the Lord is God and His lovingkindness is everlasting and His faithfulness to all generations. Let us worship Him.
This is the beginning of the Celtic invasion. I'm a Welsh-speaking Welshman on the shores of the Atlantic, And 500 miles north of me is a Gaelic-speaking Celt in on the shores of the Atlantic and he's speaking next week. We are taking over. I'm very delighted to be here and to see good friends in the congregation and to return again to this church. Now let me read to you from the word of God from the gospel of Luke 23:32. Hear the word of God:
“ Two others also who were criminals were being led away to be put to death with Him. And when they came to the place called the skull there they crucified Him and the criminals, one on the right and the other on the left. But Jesus was saying, Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing. And they cast lots, dividing up His garments among themselves. And the people stood by looking on and even the rulers were sneering at Him saying, He saved others, let Him save Himself, if this is the Christ of God, His chosen one. And the soldiers also mocked Him coming up to Him offering Him sour wine and saying, If you are the King of the Jews save Yourself. Now there was also an inscription above him, This is the King of the Jews. And one of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him saying, Are you not the Christ? Save Yourself and us. But the other answered and rebuking him said, Do you not even fear God? Since you are under the same sentence of condemnation and we indeed justly for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds, But this man has done nothing wrong. And he was saying, Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom. And He said to him, Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in paradise.”
Now everyone of us has heard the story of the thief who hung alongside the Lord Jesus Christ and at the last hour of his life put his faith in Christ and heard this grand assurance, this promise that Christ made to him, that he indeed would be with Him in paradise. It's always quoted as an example of salvation at the eleventh hour and indeed it is. And that's an enormously important concept.
There was once a farmer on the island of Lewis whose land went right up to the cliff top. And one day in his horse and cart he was venturing too near to the edge of the cliff, the cliff gave way, he, the horse and the cart all fell through the air, down and down, onto the rocks beneath. As he as falling all that he remembered, all he'd had from his parents and from his preachers flooded in his mind and he cried to God to save him. And was given an instant assurance that the God of grace had heard his prayers. He landed on a huge pile of seaweed and sand which cushioned his fall so that he escaped death. He lived for many years, adoring the gospel he had come to believe and confess until he ended his life.
His point was this. If He had hit the rocks and cracked his skull and die , his church-going friends would have said, “Alas, poor Jock, heard the gospel so often, always resisted it, died so suddenly, there's no hope for him.” They wouldn't have realized that as he was falling, while he was in flight, he was seeking and finding the mercy of God. We don't know what is happening in the lives, in the hearts, in the minds of our loved ones in those last days. When we're there at the bedside we have concern for them, affection for them, for so long. And we are there as they sleep or slip into unconsciousness or into a coma. And we speak or read a psalm, we read the promises of Christ, and we read John 14, and we pray. We don't know what is happening in their minds and in their hearts there at the end.
There is such a wonder as salvation at the eleventh hour. But that isn't the only lesson that this familiar passage of Scripture teaches us. And it's always dangerous to focus on one point and then to neglect all the other truths that God would speak to us. There are really four lessons I want us to look at this morning.
And the first is that God is sovereign in saving
The exercise of mercy is optional with God. “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, And on whom I will, I hardened.” There were two criminals who were crucified together, one on the right and one on the left, both equally near to Jesus, both observers, auditors to all that had happened that unforgettable day. Both were dying men, both in acute pain, alike convicted of heinous crimes, both needing forgiveness. One died in his sins, no sense of guilt, blind to the beauty and reality of He who hung alongside him. The other repented and believed and went to be with Jesus forever. Why? Why was this? Why one lost, not necessarily because he was worse then the other? Why one saved, not necessarily because he was a kinder or better man than the other? Yet their eternal destinies were as different as heaven and hell. It's a tremendous warning to all of us.
There are many here this morning whose faith is truly in the Lord Jesus Christ. They make a credible, a genuine profession of faith in Him. But there are loads of you who haven't, young and old. You've come to this church many, many occasions. You've listened to this telecast on many, many occasions. You've heard the same gospel, the same entreaties, the same beseechings and exhortations. Mercy has been freely offered to all of you, yet your brother has and you haven't, your wife has and you haven't. And there is a greater separation today between you and he or she, as it were, between these two men on Golgotha. Think, of David and Saul, two kings, both kings, both reigned the same number of years. Both had the same preacher, Samuel, as the court pastor. One perished and the other lived to love and sing, “the Lord is my shepherd.” Two disciples, Judas and Peter. Both sat on the mount and His disciples came onto Him and He opened His mouth and He taught them saying, “Blessed are the poor in Spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Both heard, both saw Him speak to the winds and the waves and they obeyed Him. Both saw him raise Lazarus from the dead. One went to heaven and the other went to hell. You know two kids from a Christian home, The recipient of the same parental love, the same parental prayers, come under gospel influences in the same congregation. One trusts and follows, the other rejects. We can't explain why that is. We say, “Even so Father, for so it seemed good in Thy sight. Thou has hid these things from the wise and prudent, Thou has revealed it onto babes.”
How is it that two people can come to a morning service like this and one be spurred, their conscience alerted, convicted, having dealings with God in Christ, and the other as blasй as when they entered, more concerned about the presidential election than their never-dying souls. I'm saying to you, my friends, salvation is all of grace, don't abuse the mercy of God that brings you back, week after week, to hear of good news in Jesus Christ.
There is no need that anyone here should be lost. The gospel is sincerely offered in Christ to every one of us. It isn't His will that any one of you should harden your hearts and reject His Son but His sincere desire is that every one of you should see this One, the dying thief saw, and for you to know Him and confess Him as he did. “One thief was saved so none should despair, but one only, that none should presume.”
second thing that we see here in this incident are the marks of a saving
interest in Jesus Christ.
These things that are necessary if a person is to profess that Jesus is their Lord and Savior. We read in Isaiah's prophecy together of the people who worshiped God with their lips but their hearts were far from Him. And where are the indications that this man was not just in lip only but his heart had been renewed and changed by Jesus? Well there are a number of clues aren't there? His concern, for example, with his companion and his own wickedness, verse 40, “Don't you fear God?” He says. He hears the curses from this man's lips. Don't you so wretched, so soon to die? You on this stake, isn't there some fear? Some reverence? Some awe of the infinity, unchangeable God whom soon you are having an open-ended encounter with? It is appointed. And of two men, one stood up, after death, the judgment. He said to him, “Do you fear God?” He didn't say to him, “Do you fear men?” Well, He never feared anything that a man could do to him ever again, they'd done their worst. They'd crucified him! He was a dying man. There was nothing he feared in men but beyond the judgment of men, a great white throne.
This is a moral universe in which we live. And what we sow, that we must also reap. If only he had seen this earlier. This good thief, whose trust was in Christ, if he'd seen it earlier how different his life would have been. But now, he is concerned for his companion. “Fear God, he shouts to him.”
The second mark of grace in this man was the acknowledgment of his own sin. He never had been bought by a victim culture. Here was one who says, “We are indeed punished justly,” verse 41. There was no bluster. There was no cover-up, no protestations of innocence. He was open, he looked back through his life, he looked back through those criminal actions that had finally brought the death sentence upon him, “I sinned,” he said, “I'm guilty, “ he said, “I am justly condemned for what I have done. I'm getting what I deserve,” he says.
It's a great mark of grace when a person will bow their heads and acknowledge before God their own sin. The Lord Jesus spoke of two men going to the temple to pray, and one stood high so that the people could see him, as he stood to pray and he rehearsed to God his tithing and his giving and his praying, and that he was especially glad not to be like a wretch there who crouched and beat his bosom and said God, “be merciful to me, a sinner.” Jesus watched two people worship Him and the one who felt, “I'm giving God wonderful worship,” was deceived. And the one who beat his bosom and hung his head went out justified. Jesus said, “Have you seen you're a sinner?” The Lord Jesus came into this world to save sinners. The good only will be a help to anyone who acknowledges their own sin.
The third mark of grace this man confessed the impeccability, the blamelessness, the perfection of the Lord Jesus Christ.
This man, he says, verse 41, has done nothing wrong. Holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, higher than the heavens, a lamb without spot, without blemish. When he said to the Pharisees that they were white-washed tombs, He said nothing wrong. When He called Herod a fox, He said nothing wrong. When He spoke of a place of darkness where there was wailing and gnashing of teeth, He said nothing wrong. When He said that one day He would be the great shepherd and all the world would be gathered before Him, and He would divide them as a shepherd divides his sheep from his goats, and that all men would receive their eternal destinies from His lips, He wasn't a mega-maniac when He said words like that. He said nothing wrong. This man has seen it. This one on that central cross was discontinuous with all mankind. You couldn't fit him in to any category whatsoever. He has done nothing wrong.
Again, you would see how he believed in Christ's power to save sinners. “Jesus,” he says, he uses that great name that means salvation is the Lord's, Jehovah saves, “Remember me,” he says. Here's a man who thinks that after this one dies on the cross He won't be snuffed out. That corpse that they take down and will deal with, that won't be the full explanation of this extraordinary life. He will live on and He will be conscious of what was done to Him and with Him while He was in this world. He will remember those that whipped Him and those who tried to throw Him off a precipice. And He will remember His mother holding Him in her arms and teaching him the Bible. “And I don't want Him to forget me. Remember me,” he says, “when You come into Your kingdom.”
This man, so racked in pain, looking almost sub-human as He, with His tormented body, nails through hands and feet, hung there, He was a king. He had real rule and authority. He was coming into a reign of surpassing glory. “Remember me,” he says, “in Your kingdom. He prayed so to Jesus.”
We're only to pray to God. When an apostle once prayed to an angel, the angel said, “Worship God only,” he said. And yet this man, his heart goes out so humbly to the one alongside him. He doesn't say, “I want to sit at Your right hand.” He says, “When You are dealing with the affairs of the Milky Way and the distant stars in space, and upholding all things by the word of Your power, and hearing the prayers of the multitude of people, every moment of the day, and because you are God dealing so graciously and lovingly with them, in the midst of all that, remember me,” he said.
I'm saying to you where grace is present it shows itself. There can't be such a thing as secret holiness, secret discipleship, secret grace. The secrecy is going to destroy the grace or the grace is going to destroy the secrecy. And so it is in this man, it bleaches out of him that pomposity and the pride and all the filth that had ruined this man's life. And grace begins verily to manifest itself in his life.
Thousands die every week without any awareness of that. They feel that they've been saved because of some little experience many, many years ago that they passed through. They said their prayer, they raised the hand and all is well because of that. My friends, all is not well because of that. Yesterday's grace is a day late. For today they must be marks, there must be changes. And the nearer death you come, the clearer your hope, the more focused your longings must be.
How did this man, how did this thief come to believe like this? What do you think of that day, and all he'd seen, that we know he'd seen. He was carrying a cross following Jesus, and suddenly the procession comes to an end and Jesus is speaking to the professional women mourners of Jerusalem who come out every time a young man has gone to the gallows, and they come out and they put on their mourning gear and they all gather together and they all holler and wail professionally, because that's the thing you do. And Jesus had stopped and quickly silenced them and said, “I don't want your pity. Don't weep for me, weep for yourselves, weep for those who have children, for there is a fearful day of judgment before you.”
What authority, what dignity He had. And when they kneeled on His arm and stretched our His fingers and one held a great nail in the palm of His hand and another lifted up a sledge hammer and nailed that hand to a cross. And then repeated the process with the other arm and hand. He didn't swear and spit at them, “I'll tell my Father about you.” He said, “Father, forgive them, they don't know what they're doing.” He loved His torturing neighbors as His tortured self. He'd seen it. What sort of man does this?
And then there was the sign, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” And there were the taunts, “If thou be the Son of God, He saved others, He trusted in God, Chose one who saved, One who trusted.” And there was the presence of this man. Like a lamb without spot and without blemish but dignified in His silence and His suffering. And those broken fragments are enough. When He gathers them together on Golgotha and the Holy Spirit's light comes upon them and He concludes, this is the promised One, this is the one who would bruise the serpent's head, This is the Messiah, indeed, and He cries to Him.
Now, how much of the Bible have you heard? How many sermons have you heard? How many prayers at the table? How many graces? How many Sunday School classes have you heard? How many camps have you gone to? What knowledge, what Catechism answers and definitions you've memorized far, far more than this poor man. And yet, he improved the knowledge he had, he took it to King Jesus and cried that He would have mercy on him and save him. Have you done that with the knowledge that you have from God? “To whom much is given much will be required.”
The third thing that we see here is the amazing power and willingness of Christ
to save sinners.
The Bible says, "He is able to save to the utmost those that come to God through Him. For He ever lives to make intercession for us.” And you would see that in this instance more than anywhere else from Genesis to Revelation. You think of Jesus at His weakest, so easy for Him to be drawn in on Himself and unheeding of those in need around Him. The heavens were black, He was the object of the wrath of God and yet He had time for this man.
If then He had time, how much more this morning does He know you and is involved in you and interested in you and your condition?
Think again of the utter unworthiness, the lack of promise, the total lack of potential in the life of this man. The world looked upon him and said, “He is trash, he's getting what he deserves, he's a nobody, he's at the point of death, He's not going to be tithing to the Lord's work for the rest of his life, he's not going to work or even draw of water. He's simply going to die. He's never coming down alive from that instrument of torture.” Yet He was saved. He received mercy from God.
Surely if salvation is of grace and not of works, you see it here most clearly in all of Scripture. He was never baptized, he never took the bread and drunk the cup, and yet his heart and life moved out to Jesus and Jesus heard him and saved him. And thankfully the way of salvation never changes. He who saved the dying thief lives in our midst this morning. “The dying lamb, Thy precious blood will never lose its power, till all the ransomed church of God be saved to sin no more. The dying thief rejoiced to see that fountain in his day, and there have I as blind as he washed all my sins away.”
Lastly, how nearer a dying man is, how nearer a believer is the moment his trust is in the Lord Jesus. How near he is to have it. “Today thou shall be with Me in paradise. “There's a body of divinity in that word, today. We are ready. Let me put it that way. We are ready when we die. As ready as if we had served as Paul served 30 years. He was no more ready for the entrance into heaven than anyone whose faith is in Christ. If it's as thin as a spider's thread. If it is lodged in Christ it is not great faith that makes us ready for heaven. It's a great Savior who by faith in Himself saves us. Our salvation depends not on us but on God's delight with the Lord Jesus and for Jesus' sake He washes and cleanses. All joy to Him and opens heaven for them all. Today it means after death there is no more purging to be done. Today with me, not today purgatory for a millennium. Today with me. The only purgatory that heaven and earth knows is that place called Golgotha where He by Himself purged us from our sins. “Today you will be with me in paradise.” “Remember me,” he says. Jesus says, “With Me.”
That's the salvation that the Bible speaks of. What a wonderful day it was in the life of this man. That morning he breakfasted with the devil on earth, that night he supped with Christ in glory. That morning he was a culprit standing before the bar of earthly justice and found condemned, that night he stood before the bar of divine glory and was justified. That morning he went out of the gates of Jerusalem hooted and jeered and pelted, but evening the gates of the heavenly city opened wide and an innumerable company of angels rejoiced at his entrance and Jesus who died before him was there to welcome him and introduce him to His Father. That day, it all happened that wonderful day, that marvelous day.
Oh that it might be such a day for you! The sad day, the promised day when you have dealings with God in Christ, when you came acknowledging your own sin and need and seeing in Him an all sufficient welcoming Savior. May God bless His word to us this morning. Amen.
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