Billy Graham - Deathbed Conversion
Tonight, I want you to turn with me to the 22nd chapter of the book of Luke. The 23rd chapter, pardon me. The 23rd chapter of the book of Luke, beginning at verse 39. "And one of the malefactors, which were hanged, railed on him saying, If thou be the Christ, save thyself and us. But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost thou not fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. And he said unto Jesus, 'Lord, remember me when thou comest into Thy kingdom.' And Jesus said unto him, 'Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.'"
Here is the story of a man that was converted at the very last moment. In this passage of Scripture that I've just read, we find a description of the cross of Jesus Christ. You know, almost every day I meet people who ask me the question, "Is there any hope for me"? Alcoholics, drug addicts, prostitutes. Well, I want to tell you the story I read out of the Bible of a man that deserved death, and judgement, and hell, and in that very last moment, repented of his sins, and he was saved. It's the only story of a deathbed repentance in the whole Bible. Now, that's very interesting to me. The only one in the whole Bible. This indicates that it's possible to be saved at the last moment, but it's not probable. You better come to Christ while you can, because you may never have many opportunities. This man had one opportunity, and he took advantage of that one moment.
Now here is the picture of the cross of Christ. I don't think anyone can read the story of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and know anything about crucifixion that it doesn't move your heart, because crucifixion was the most cruel and the most terrible form of execution. The Romans practiced capital punishment. Most of the world does practice capital punishment. The Romans practiced it and they would crucify people. And crucifixion was the most terrible, most agonizing form of death known to man. Sometimes a victim would hang on the cross for five and six days, in the hot sun, gradually dying, in the most terrible suffering, the most terrible agony. When Jesus was a little boy in Nazareth, the Romans crucified 3,000 people in one day, and Jesus must have seen it, because they'd had a rebellion, and the Romans had crucified them.
And so crucifixion was the Roman method of execution, not the Jewish method, the Roman method of execution. And it was the Romans that put the nails in the hands of Jesus Christ. And we get the picture. They take Jesus out of the dungeon, out of the jail. He's already been condemned to death. They couldn't find any charges that would stick. False witnesses had been brought and testified against Him. And now we find Jesus being dragged out of the jail, His clothes taken off of Him, a long leather whip with steel pellets on the end is wrapped around his body time after time after time until his back is bleeding. Then laughingly and jeeringly they put a crown of thorns on his brow and his head bleeds. They jerk at his beard until his face is bleeding. His visage is so marred that they cannot hardly recognize him. and two thieves, two robbers, two people that deserved to die are brought out with him. and on their backs are placed their own crosses, and they start that long march toward a hill called Calvary.
And on the way, Jesus tired, weakened from the loss of blood, and the beating, falls and stumbles. Finally, He lies on the ground and they compelled an African, a black man, to come, and pick up the cross, and carry it for Him. And don't ever forget, it was a black man that helped Jesus on the way to the cross, to carry His own cross. Christ belongs to the black man, as much as he does to the white, or to the red. He belongs to all the world. And He says to the black, and to the white, and to the red, and to the yellow, "I love you".
And every step that He took on the way to the cross, and every drop of blood that fell, God was saying, "I love you, I love you, I love you". And the Bible says that angels looked on in wonderment and amazement. They couldn't believe it. That the mighty God of the universe, who with the snap of his finger, could wipe a whole planet out of existence, would allow them to do that to His son. They go to the cross, to Calvary, and they put the nails in His hands and the spike in His feet, and they hang Him between heaven and earth, and there He's hanging. The soldiers, they're even making fun of Him. And a crowd is gathered and they're laughing. They're sneering, "You've saved others, why don't you save yourself"? And the two thieves that are being crucified with Him are also mocking and jeering.
Now that is why, ladies and gentlemen, that you cannot be saved apart from the cross. The greatest crisis in the history of the world was the crisis of the cross. As a matter of fact, all other crises are nothing compared to the one eternal crisis that took place on Calvary 2,000 years ago. You see, on one side of that cross was God, on the other side was the devil, and the human race chose to take sides with the devil. That made salvation by your works, by your goodness, by your pride, by your money, that made it impossible. If anyone is to ever be saved, they must come by the way of the cross. God has chosen to save us. That's the reason the Bible says, "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man boast". And it takes away all our pride when we look at the cross, because, you see, Paul said the proclamation of the cross is foolishness. It's ridiculous to those that are perishing. It's a rebuke to your own wisdom. It's a rebuke to your intellect. It's a rebuke to everything you try to offer God to please God.
You have to humble yourself, and bow yourself, and repent of your sins and, by faith say, "Lord, in the cross of Christ I glory. I cling only to the cross". These two thieves were there, and they were laughing and jeering, but one of them suddenly stops. A strange look comes on his face. He looks at Jesus. He sees Him dying as Lord of Lords, and King of Kings. And he sees something about the way He's dying. The fact that He's not answering back. and the fact that He's prayed, "Forgive them, they know not what they do". Think of a moment like that praying such a prayer. And this thief hears all of that and there's something about his previous life that comes back to his thoughts. And he rebukes the other thief, and he says, Don't you fear God? This man hasn't done anything. He doesn't deserve to die, but you and I deserve to die. We deserve to be executed for our crimes. And then he believed in a future life, because, you see, he turned to Jesus and he said, "Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom".
Remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom. But somewhere the thief had gotten on the wrong track. He might have had a godly mother. He might have had a father who believed in righteousness and in integrity and in God. But somewhere, maybe when he was 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, when he began to make his own choices, he chose the wrong direction, and it ended up where they all end up. "Be sure your sin will find you out," says the Bible. You can't continue sinning and get away with it. You can't continue hardening your heart and get away with it. It will catch up sometime, somewhere. If it doesn't catch up in this life, it will be, you'll be caught at the Judgement. You'll never escape.
Now, it had caught up with this man. All of his sins that had been accumulating over all of this time, and he himself admits that he deserves to be executed. And then, in that moment, he repents of his sin, because the Spirit of God is there convicting him. He turns to Jesus and says, "Lord, remember me". He acknowledged his guilt. He didn't try to hold it back. He didn't try to cover up. He just acknowledged that he was wrong. Look at his faith. If he had had this kind of faith at the tomb of Lazarus where he saw Jesus raise somebody from the dead, or when Jesus walked on the water, or maybe at the resurrection and stood at the open tomb, if he had said, "Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom".
But to see Jesus on the cross, dying and covered with blood, His hair matted with blood, and to see him dying in that condition, to have faith that this one in the center cross was coming into a kingdom and asking him to remember him, that took one of the greatest acts of faith in all the Bible. He believed at that moment. At that terrible and awful moment, he believed that Jesus Christ was headed toward a kingdom, and he wanted to be in that kingdom. He wanted to be saved. He wanted his sins forgiven. Look at his prayer. It was short, just a single sentence. It was humble. He didn't ask for much. He just said, "Remember me". He didn't say, "Lord, I want a big place in your kingdom. Lord, how about taking me with you"? He said, "Just remember me, Lord. Just remember my name. Remember that I'm here, that I believe. Remember me, Lord". And notice how earnest it was. "Lord, remember me". My Lord, that word means. My very Lord. "Remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom".
Do you know Jesus Christ personally? Have you ever said, "Lord, remember me. Lord, forgive me. Lord, I am such a sinner". You know Clifford Irving said that he knew Howard Hughes. He knew enough about him to write a book that fooled one of the greatest publishing firms in the United States. But he really didn't know him. There's some of you that know a lot about Jesus. There are many of you that know the Bible backwards and forwards. There are many of you that have a lot of religion, but do you really know Jesus Christ yourself personally? Do you know Him? If you don't, you can know Him tonight, and you can say, like the thief on the cross, "Lord, remember me". And what was Christ's answer? What an answer He gave. The Bible says He'd been silent for quite a long time, but now He heard the cry of the thief. And He said, "Today, thou shalt be with Me in paradise".
Now paradise is only used a few times in the Bible. We read about paradise where Adam and Eve were. We read about paradise at the end of the Bible in Revelation 22. But here it's used again. "Today, thou shalt be with Me in paradise". Now think of what a day that was for that thief. At nine o'clock in the morning he was being executed for murder and for robbery. At 12 o'clock he was a child of God, and by six o'clock he was already in heaven. What a day. The day that not only changed the world, it changed the universe, but certainly, the day that changed that man. "Today, thou shalt be with Me in paradise". Notice, Jesus said TODAY. Today is a big word in the Bible. Tomorrow is the devil's word. Today is God's word. God says, "Today, if you'll hear my voice".
Now is the accepted time. Right now. Today. At this minute. You could make your commitment, and your decision, and your sins could be forgiven. Because, you see, in that moment, while Christ was dying, something else was happening. The greatest thing that ever happened in the history of the world. And Jesus Christ, being identified with sinners, and numbered with the transgressors, and being made sin, became the wickedest man, in a sense, that ever lived. Because, you see, He took all of your sins, all of your sins, all the sins rolled into one. It doesn't say that God just laid them on Him. He became sin. The suffering of Jesus Christ was not physical. Oh, he suffered physically. That's a terrible death to die. But his real suffering was spiritual.
Can you imagine the holy, righteous Son of God that had never had an evil thought, that had never committed a sin, suddenly becoming sin itself, becoming guilty of murder, becoming guilty of immorality, becoming guilty of everything, becoming guilty of your sins? He became sin for us. Do you know what that means? To become sin. No wonder God says it's only by the cross. The angels wanted to come and rescue Him. And He said, "No, I'm going to stay here, because I love them". And He stayed there because of the joy that was set before Him. How could there be any joy at such a moment? He looked ahead by faith and saw that you would be in this stadium in Birmingham, and He would see you come to Himself, and He could change your life and forgive your sins.
That was the joy that was set before Him. The joy that out of all the peoples in the world there would be gathered a people unto His name and that they would be in paradise with Him forever. And what a glorious thing it was that the first person to enter paradise. I imagine the angels were looking. Who's He going to bring with Him? Who will be the first human being to come into paradise with the Lord Jesus? I bet it will be Abraham. Probably be Daniel. I wonder if it will be Elijah. Will it be Moses? You know who it was? The thief on the cross. "Today, thou shalt be with Me in paradise". And that day he entered paradise with the King of kings and Lord of lords, and what a welcome they must have gotten as they went down through the streets of that city paved with gold. And all the universe bowing before Him. The stars stopping in their courses. The music that rang from planet to planet and star to star when Jesus entered paradise and at His side was a thief that deserved hell.
Well, I want to tell you If Jesus Christ would answer the prayer of that thief at that moment, He'll answer your prayer tonight. You don't have to pray a long prayer. One sentence. You don't have to go home and rearrange everything and get good, and try to rearrange your business, or try to rearrange your studies, or try to rearrange your married life. You come just like you are. You don't wait and go home and get some better clothes on so you can be more presentable. Come as you are. This thief on the cross was hanging there naked, and bleeding, and deserving death. And you know it is an interesting thing, because, you see, he didn't have time to join a church. He didn't have time to run and get baptized. We don't know whether he was sprinkled or poured on, or how he was baptized. He wasn't baptized.
You see, he was saved by sheer grace. And that word grace is a marvelous word in the Bible. It means unmerited favor. Something I don't deserve. Something that God just hands me, He gives it to me, I can't buy it; I can't work for it. He gives it. And He offers it to you tonight. God is saying to all of you, "I love you; I will forgive you, It won't cost you anything, you don't have to work for it. It's yours, it's free, but you must leave your pride and you must leave your sins behind". And the thing that keeps most people from coming to Jesus Christ is just one thing. Pride. Because, you see, the cross demands that you give up your pride.
You have to come and say, "Lord, I don't have anything to bring". You may be a rich man. You may be a powerful man. You may be a great student. You may be a beautiful girl. "But Lord, when it comes to salvation, I've got nothing to offer except my sins, but I come just as I am, O Lamb of God, I come". That's all it takes. A sincere prayer. Lord have mercy upon me, a sinner. And, if He heard the prayer of that thief, He'll hear your prayer tonight. Salvation is all of grace. You say, "Well, Billy, do you mean that a person can find Christ that quick and be transformed from a sinner to a saint that quick"? Yes. You go all the way through the New Testament. The woman of Samaria, just like that. At noon, she was a sinner talking to Jesus, filled with immorality. Before evening came, she was an evangelist winning other people to Christ.
The three thousand people at Pentecost were converted at one moment. The Apostle Paul who was on the road to Damascus was converted that day when he met Jesus on road. The jailer in Philippi was converted to Christ that quick, when he thought the prisoners were going to escape. The Ethiopian nobleman converted to Christ that quick. The thief on the cross converted to Christ that quick, transformed and changed. Now it doesn't mean you become immediately perfect. You're still the same. You're going back to the same family, the same address, the same crowd; but it means that your heart is changed. Your inside has been changed. You're starting in a new direction in your life. It's called in the Bible conversion. And you start by repentance, and repentance means that you acknowledge that you've sinned.
You say, "Lord, I'm a sinner. I've broken your law. I know I am and I'm willing to change my whole direction of life. I want you to come in as my Lord and my Master and my Savior". Jesus offers salvation free, and it's offered to you tonight. To every one of you. That's my job as a preacher. I'm only a messenger. I'm a messenger from God tonight to you, saying, "God forgives you, He loves you. It can happen right now to you, if you will put your faith and your confidence in Him".
And, as I said a moment ago, It's the only story in the Bible of a deathbed conversion, so don't put it off. Only one man in the whole Bible, and it was given, I think, that we might never despair, but we should never presume. Come to Christ now. This is the hour; this is the moment. You didn't come to this stadium by accident. You came because, in God's providence, He brought you. He allowed you to come. He's prepared your heart, and I am bringing this message tonight for you. Don't you miss it. Don't you put it off. I'm going to ask hundreds of you to get up out of your seats, as we've seen over a thousand people each night come to Christ since we've been here in Birmingham. I'm going to ask you to get up out of your seat and come and join them.
Come and stand right here in the front, and say, by coming, "I receive Christ. I want forgiveness. I want a new life. I want to be changed. I want a new purpose and a new meaning in my life". And after you've all come, I'm going to say a word to you, and have a prayer with you and give you some literature. Why do I ask you to come? Every person Jesus called in the New Testament He called publicly. There's something about coming forward publicly and standing here that settles it in your life. I'm going to ask you to get up and come right now. Quickly, hundreds of you. You may be in the choir. If you come from the top balcony, it will take a moment or two, but come right now and stand here quietly and reverently with many people.
As you can see here in Birmingham, Alabama, hundreds of people are coming to make this great commitment to Jesus Christ. All kinds of people, all stratas of society are coming and saying, "Lord, remember me. I need you in my life. I want you to forgive my sin and change my life". He'll come into your life, where you are watching by television, if you'll let Him. God help you to make that commitment, and to go to church next Sunday.