Jack Graham - Paradise
Let me ask you a question: Do you know for certain that if you were to die today that you would go to heaven? Maybe you wonder: Can you know? Is it possible to know? The answer? Absolutely yes, you can know. In fact God's Word is written: "These things are written that you may know that you have eternal life". Eternal life begins the moment you respond in repentant faith to the Lord Jesus Christ and His grace; receive Him as your Lord and Savior. At that moment when you know Jesus, you know eternal life and that life lasts forever. And that's the story of the cross.
Take your Bibles and turn with me to the Gospel of Luke, chapter 23. This is the second message in our series on the statements of Jesus from the cross. Jesus is crucified between two thieves, to thugs. They they are described in the Scriptures as evil-doers. Remember, President Bush described those terrorists that blew up the buildings in New York City and in Washington D.C, those terrorists he called them evil-doers. These men dying next to Jesus were more than just common criminals or petty thieves. They were most likely insurrectionists along with Barabbas, who escaped the death penalty because Jesus took his place. But these two men are dying for their crimes. They are thugs, evil-doers; each one dying on either side of Jesus who took the middle cross.
Have you ever wondered why there were three crosses? It wasn't an accident. There were three crosses, Jesus in the middle, and these two thieves on either side because the cross divides all humanity, between those who are saved and those who are lost. On one side there is an unrepentant thief, transgressor, who mocked Christ and went to his death belligerent and condemned. He's been in hell for over 2000 years, even though he had the remarkable privilege of being crucified next to Jesus and hearing the same words, seeing the same thing that the man, perhaps his own buddy, partner in crime on the other side, who believed and received the Lord Jesus. And so I'm saying the cross divides all people. When you get right down to it, there's only two categories in life. Not the rich, the poor; the educated, the uneducated; not nationalities or ethnicities, but saved or lost as we come to the cross.
So at the cross it is determined where we will spend eternity. On the middle cross-the Redeemer, on one cross-a rejecter, but on the other cross there is a repenter and a receiver. Let's read the story, beginning in Luke chapter 23, verse 39: "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 (Jesus) said to him, 'Truly, I say to you, (second statement Jesus made, dying on the cross) today (I say to you) you will be with me in Paradise.'"
Today! What a remarkable conversion! A deathbed story. A man in his final hours, and yet, he was not too long-gone, not too lost, nor was he too late, for at the cross he received salvation. This man was certainly a blessed man, the one who received Christ. Talk about being at the right place at the right time. Somebody said that's the luckiest man ever born right there, because he managed to get himself crucified next to Jesus. And because of the promise of Jesus he is in heaven today. The prophet Isaiah as we noted last week in our message said that Jesus would be numbered among the transgressors when He died. And here you have it. It's extreme example of the Just dying for the unjust. One man, the unrepentant thief died in his sin; the repentant thief, the one who received Jesus, he died to his sin and was saved. And Jesus was there dying for sin.
Romans 5:8, "That God demonstrated His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us". Second Corinthians 5:21 says that "He who knew no sin was made sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God". The thief was smart enough to know this man,the man dying between us, He is innocent! He's committed no crime! We deserve to be here; He doesn't. Pilate said, "I find no fault in this man, Jesus". The Scripture says though He was tempted "Though He was tempted in all points as we are tempted, yet He was without sin". First Peter 2 and verse 22 says that He is without sin. "He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in His mouth". I don't know about you, but a lot of my sin comes out of my mouth. Can I get a witness on that? Because what comes out of my mouth is what comes out of my heart. That's what Jesus said. "Out of the heart comes lies and anger and all the rest". "Out of the heart".
So, yet Jesus, because His heart was pure, not one word that was vile or foul or sinful ever came out of His mouth! What convinced this dying thief who eventually believed, what convinced him that Jesus could save him? Certainly, the Holy Spirit was moving in his life. We know that this was a sovereign move of God. That God set this up from eternity past that Jesus would die between these two men, I believe, to give us the very example of eternal life that I'm giving you hear today. So the Holy Spirit is working in his life. He's convicted of his sin. The Holy Spirit, Jesus said, is come to convict the world of sin and righteousness and judgment. So when we are convicted of our sin, when we realize that we've broken God's commandments in spirit and in substance, we realize we need a Savior.
But, of course, that's the problem with so many people. They think they don't need a Savior because they think they're good enough, or haven't sinned enough. But "All have sinned and come short of the glory of God". Romans 3:10, "There is none righteous, no, not one". So perhaps this man, made fully aware of his own sin, he looks, he sees the innocence of Jesus and comparatively he knew that somehow Jesus could save him. Perhaps it was the words he heard Jesus speak. Originally this man, the believing thief, the repentant thief was mocking Jesus, just like his buddy on the other side. They were both joining in the mockery. Especially say, "If you're the Son of God, come down off of the cross"! That unbelieving, evil-doer on the other side, he said, "Save us, if you can save us, if you're the Savior, save us right now"!
Well now, of course, Jesus could have delivered Himself and the others from the cross in just a moment. There's a part of me always, when I read the story of the cross and I hear these self-righteous people hurling insults at Jesus, when I see Romans cruelly beating Him, and so on, I just want to say, "Get 'em, Jesus! Stop it! All you have to do is speak and thunderbolts and fire and brimstone would engulf them out of hell! Jesus, call for the angels"! You know, at the end of time we're told when the devil who's called so much disaster in the world. He's strong and powerful, awesome, terrible fierce force. But when it comes to the end when God speaks and He's going to put the devil in his place in the pit forever and ever. He sends one holy angel with a lock and key to lock the devil up. Just one angel. All it takes is one angel in the power of God to lock the devil up forever!
Now Jesus could have called ten thousand angels. There are billions of angels who would have come to His rescue, but Jesus was fastened to the cross, not by nails, not by man, but by His love for all mankind. He stayed there and died there because He loves you. He died for you. Maybe there's another reason this man turned to Jesus for salvation and asked this question. "Lord, will you remember me when You come into Your kingdom"? Maybe Pilate even helped a little bit. Remember Pontius Pilate put a sign on Jesus' cross which said, "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews". Somebody called this the first Gospel track. There was a message on the cross. "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews"! "Jesus, the King". And you know there is power in the name of Jesus! Amen? And when you say Jesus, when you speak the name of Jesus, when you see the name of Jesus, there is power in His name!
So perhaps this man looked and when he saw Jesus, the King, he turned to Him and with reverent fear he said, "Lord, remember me". I say reverent fear because as this other thief was railing against Jesus, this repentant thief said, "Do you not fear God? Do you not fear God, man? We're dying! We're stepping out into eternity! We're not prepared to meet God! Do you not fear God"? Now the fear of God is real. And one of the problems of our own culture and our own society is that we have lost the fear of Almighty God. God is an awesome God! God is high above the heavens! I said awesome; I didn't say austere. He is loving and kind and generous and gracious. But He is an awesome God. And God will judge the world. God will judge mankind.
And there ought to be something, Jesus said, "Don't fear those who can kill the body, fear the one that can destroy the soul in hell". And any nation that does not fear God is on death row! One of the major problems of this country is that we have lost the fear of Almighty God! There was a time when it was a compliment to say that man-that woman is a God fearing person. We don't hear that much today. You say, "Are you trying to frighten me"? If I could, I would because sometimes it takes a crisis and the fear of stepping out into eternity to bring a man or a woman to Jesus. That's why there's an urgency in this message today. Today's the day of salvation. You're not promised another day, another time, another hour, a better time.
Hebrews 9:27, "It is appointed unto man once to die, and then the judgment". This man had a reverent fear of God. When I say "fear of God" I don't mean that you run from Him, but you run to Him! A. W. Tozer said that "reverence or the fear of God is love on its knees". So he said with reverent fear, "This Man had done nothing wrong". He knew he was guilty and needed a Savior. There's no self-justification here, no excuses. He's down to the wire. He's at the end and he's got nothing but sin and judgment. And he feared God; he feared going into eternity without God. He had no works to bring. There was nothing he could do to earn or deserve salvation, and did you know there's nothing you can do to earn or deserve salvation. Because God doesn't grade on the curve, comparing your paper with somebody else's.
You say, "well I'm not as bad". One of the problems in a message for some people like this is you hear about this thief dying and you say, "Yeah, yeah the cross is for all those bad people. Cross is for all those thieves, all those hypocrites, all those murderers". Salvation is for everyone, including you and me. For we've all sinned, we've all broken God's commandments. We all need a Savior! We're all sick and dying! In fact, we're already dead in our spirits. We're all on death row! Fear God! And that God who should be feared loves you and wants to bring you into His family. And so we see repentant faith.
Repentance-that's another lost word and idea in our culture. Repentance. But Jesus said, Luke 13:5, "Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish". Repentance means that we are going away from God but we turn around at the cross and turn to Him, we run to Him. That's repentance. Faith and repentance are two sides of the same coin. You cannot repent without believing; you cannot believe without repenting. It's repentance and faith. So this man, he had a repentant faith. He said, "Lord, remember me". And he puts his future in the bleeding hands of Jesus. Amazing! What faith! What faith this man had! Because Jesus didn't look like much of a Savior! Certainly not a king! Jesus is weak, He's dying, yet this thief dared to believe and confess Christ.
"Lord, remember me". It was a very simple faith but it was a very personal faith! It was trusting in Christ and Christ only. It was hard for Him to believe. All of his friends were mocking Jesus. The disciples were doubting their faith; they were running. The disciples were nowhere to be found except John at the foot of the cross, and he's not saying much apparently. Nobody's witnessing. Nobody's telling this man who Jesus is and how he can be saved. But he dared to believe in his dying breath, and said, "Lord, remember me". Oh, what a remarkable salvation! What a remarkable conversion! And as a result the promise came and Jesus gave that second statement on the cross when He said, "Truly I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise". "You're going to join Me in heaven".
Charles Spurgeon said that "this dying thief was Jesus' last companion on earth and His first companion in heaven". Don't you love that? Jesus dies and this man goes to heaven, not because of what he did or how he felt, but because of the grace of God. Only Jesus can save. This man had no other place to go but Jesus. And neither do you, because only Jesus can save from sin. Only Jesus can give eternal life.
There's a hymn that we love to sing: "There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel's veins. And sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains. And sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains". Those great words were written by a man by the name of William Cowper who lived a long time ago. And what you may not know about the author of this hymn, Cowper suffered nearly his entire life with mental illness and mental anguish. Emotional disturbances in his life; depression, anxiety; he battled it.
And it seemed just about the time that he would get through it, something else would happen. He was engaged to be married. He was committed to this woman for a long time to be married. She broke it off and tried to commit suicide, slit his wrists. And as a result he was saved from the suicide. He was put, therefore, in a mental institution. But it was in the mental institution that he began to read the book of Romans, and he discovered in the book of Romans the grace of God and the power of Jesus to save and the eternal security, "That nothing shall separate us from the love of God which is in Jesus Christ". And so he was gloriously converted in the insane asylum. Eight years later he wrote those words, "There is a fountain filled with blood, drawn from Emmanuel's veins". He wrote that great song! He was so full of faith.
What you may not know about William is that he continued to suffer from emotional mental illness. Mental illness is a very real problem for people. Some of you battle and struggle with emotional and mental illness; depression, anxiety. Don't condemn people that battle depression. William Cowper went on to struggle the rest of his life. He was up and down, and up and down. And because of his fears he never was content in his salvation. He always feared that he wasn't saved; he always struggled with the idea that a man like him could be saved by the power of Jesus! He doubted his salvation! But I expect to see William in heaven because he confessed a Savior and wrote the second verse to this hymn which says, "The dying thief rejoice to see that fountain in his day".
And may I, though vile as he, wash all my sins away. How can you know you're saved? Not because you always feel it, not because you don't struggle, but because we have a great Savior who promised that if you would believe and trust in Him that when it comes time to die, when your time draws near, that you will be with Him in Paradise. Do you know that you have eternal life? Some of you, you don't know for sure. But you can know and you can know today. You don't have to go out of here wondering and worrying about this. The blood of Jesus, God's Son cleanses us from sin. He died for you. And the cross means hope and heaven for all who will believe.