(Luke 23:42) “Then he said, Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
When the Anointed Messiah our Lord Jesus was crucified to atone for the sins of the whole world on either side of Him were also crucified two criminals. On that day, at The Place of the Skull where the crucifixion was taking place, there were different kinds of people who were gathered there, all of them being confronted with the cross of the Lord Jesus.
There were the soldiers who divided up the clothes of the Lord Jesus and cast lots for them, being indifferent to His suffering and also mocking Him. Then there were those, who, as they passed by, sneered and mocked the Lord Jesus and taunted Him while others stood there observing the situation with indifference. The religious leaders were also at the scene mocking Him and taunting Him.
Then there was the centurion, who while standing in front of the Lord Jesus and seeing how He died said, “surely this man was the Son of God.” Then, standing near the cross, there were the women who loved the Lord Jesus. His mother Mary was there and her sister Mary the wife of Cleopas and Mary Magdalene. Also there was the disciple whom Jesus loved which Biblical scholars believe was the apostle John, who, after the crucifixion was over, took Mary the mother of the Lord Jesus to care for her in his home at this time of her bereavement.
One would ask the question “where were the other disciples?” Well we are told in the New Testament that after the Lord Jesus had been arrested they all fled leaving Him alone. (Mark 14:50) Possibly they stood at a distance watching the proceedings? That day we see people from all walks of life gathered there at the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus. Someone once said concerning people’s differing attitudes to the crucifixion; “Is it nothing to you who pass by?” The crucifixion, the burial and the physical resurrection of the Lord Jesus is a fact of history that cannot be denied.
The Bible tells us why the Lord Jesus died. As the apostle Paul writes; “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Jesus the Messiah died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4) As John the Baptist said of the Lord Jesus; “Behold the (sacrificial) Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” (John 1:29)
And again the apostle Paul writes; “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Jesus the Messiah died for the ungodly… But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Jesus the Messiah died for us.” (Romans 5:6, 8)
As Isaiah the prophet writes; “But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him.” (Isaiah 53:5-6)
We are also told in the Bible; “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:16-18)
No matter who we are we have all sinned against God. (Romans 3:23) By birth and by nature we are great sinners and rebels in His sight and children of wickedness destined for the wrath of God and the lake of fire. (Ephesians 2:3-4) (Psalm 51:5) (Revelation 20:14-15; 21:8) We have violated His laws and commandments and have wicked and unbelieving hearts. (Jeremiah 17:9)
We have no righteousness of our own. Without the standard of righteousness God requires we will never make it into the kingdom of God. (Romans 3:9-18) However in the Lord Jesus God has given us His standard of righteousness that we can have that will make us acceptable to God.
This righteousness from God is unattainable by good works, self-reformation, and personal merit or by religious observances and ceremonies. While God’s law is good and perfect no one can keep it. (Romans 3:19-20) The righteous life that comes from God and that pleases God is that which He imparts through faith in the Lord Jesus to save one from the power and penalty of sin. (Romans 3:21-23)
It is something that God offers us because of his unmerited favour towards us and not because of anything we have done or can do for that matter. (Ephesians 2:8-9) The price of our redemption was the shed blood of the Lord Jesus, which atones for our sin and enables God to forgive us for it according to the riches of His unmerited unearned favour towards us. (Ephesians 1:7) Of course repentance must come first for faith to work. (Mark 1:15)
We need to change from a Messiah hating, Messiah rejecting life to a Messiah loving and Messiah accepting way of life. If we are willing to be changed inwardly by the Holy Spirit then we must be willing to forsake all and every sin calling upon the Lord to pardon us, to save us and to deliver us from its power and penalty.
As Isaiah the prophet writes; “Seek the Lord while He may be found; Call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way And the unrighteous man his thoughts; And let him return to the Lord, And He will have compassion on him, And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon. (Isaiah 55:6-7)
It is only on the basis of the shed blood of the Messiah our Lord Jesus that we can be justified in God’s sight. It is only His blood that can cleanse us from all sin and unrighteousness and protect us in the day of God’s wrath upon all sin and wickedness. (1 John 1:7-9) (Romans 5:9)
This righteous life God offers us is the righteous nature of the Lord Jesus Himself, a righteousness not received by works or personal merit, but by trusting alone in the substitutionary sacrifice of the Lord Jesus on our behalf that makes salvation a reality for us personally. (Philippians 3:7-9)
Our eternal destiny, heaven or hell and ultimately the lake of fire, depends on what we do in this life with the salvation offered to us through the cross of the Messiah, our Lord Jesus.
May be you are like those soldiers gambling for Jesus’ clothing, indifferent to what He has suffered for you and only interested in what you can make for yourself and to serve your own interests only in this life?
May be you are like those people who laughed and mocked the Lord Jesus as you laugh and mock those who preach the gospel, poking fun at the idea of Jesus dying for your sin, and dismissing the cross and what it means with the wave of your hand as you pass by on your way to do your own thing in life?
May be you are a very religious person who attends Church, partakes of the sacraments or sings in the choir and sits on the Church board or be in the pulpit but in your heart you have never come to the foot of that old rugged cross in true repentance, seeking pardon and cleansing from your wickedness and rebellion, and with a willingness to surrender your whole life and its future course unreservedly into the hands of the Lord Jesus?
May be you are like that Centurion standing in front of the cross gazing up at the Lord Jesus, knowing Him to be the Son of God and yet unresponsive to His claim over your life and future destiny?
May be you are like the followers of the Lord Jesus who deserted Him when He was arrested in that you have also forsaken Him and have now gone back into the world but your conscience is not yet seared as with a hot iron, and repentance and restoration is still a possibility for you?
Now we know that the Lord Jesus was crucified between two criminals. We are told in the gospels that at first both of them hurled insults at Him but after sometime one of them had a change of heart. One criminal berated the Lord Jesus hurling insults at Him and only wanting to be saved physically that he might go on living a life of crime. He had no recognition of who the Lord Jesus was or why He, who was without sin, was dying for sinners, that they might be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:19)
That man died and went to Hades (Hell) without the salvation that can only be found in the Lord Jesus alone, and without which no one can enter into the presence of God in heaven. (John 3:16-18) (John 14:6) (Acts 4:12) (John 10:7-10)
The other criminal had a change of heart. The blessed Holy Spirit had been at work in down on the inside of him giving him the capacity to see who the Lord Jesus really was and the eternal life only He could impart to sinners for whom He was hanging on the cross. That man most likely knew nothing about religious observances and had been living a life as a criminal in such a way that he had been given the death penalty. Indeed at this scene we see one, who by the revelation of the Holy Spirit, clearly saw that “Jesus the Messiah came into the world to save sinners.” (1Timothy 1:15)
What was this man’s response to the saviour?
Firstly, he rebuked the other criminal for his attitude to the Lord Jesus saying to him “don’t you fear God?” knowing that he himself and the other criminal were about to die and to stand before God to give an account for how they had lived. The repentant thief recognised that he and his partner in crime deserved what they were getting. This was a man who understood a true and heartfelt repentance.
Secondly, he acknowledged that the Lord Jesus had done nothing to deserve death. Through the revelation of the blessed Holy Spirit, who points men and women to the Lord Jesus for salvation, this criminal was given spiritual sight that enabled him to seek his salvation found only in the Lord Jesus. (Luke 23:39-43) This is what the Bible calls the New Birth without which no one will be able to enter into or even perceive the things of the kingdom of God. (John 3:3)
The criminal saw himself in all of his unrighteous and wicked behaviour but when looking at the Lord Jesus on the cross saw in Him one who was completely and perfectly righteous and without sin yet dying as a sinner. That dying criminal most likely new little or nothing about religion as he had lived his life of crime but one thing He knew was that the Lord Jesus could give him eternal life that would bring him to heaven.
Knowing full well that death was about to claim his life that criminal had nothing to offer the Lord Jesus except himself. He said to the Lord Jesus “remember me when you come into your kingdom.” The Lord Jesus in the midst of His intense agony said to this man; “I tell you the truth, today you will be with Me in paradise.” (Luke 23:40-43) In his death at the last hours of his life that criminal with a repentant believing heart went to be with the Lord Jesus forever.
It may be you have never before realised the great sacrifice the Son of God has made for you when He died on the cross? It was His love that held Him there for you. He was dying in your place because of your sin and rebellion against God’s laws and commandments which are good and perfect. (Psalm 19:7)
Up until now you may have been living for yourself and your own interests and have spurned the cross of the Messiah and what it means for you personally in relation to this life, but more so for the life to come in eternity. You may not know much about religion and yet deep down on the inside feel the weight of your sin and know that the wages of sin is death and feel within yourself even the sentence of death and coming hell but there seems to be no way out but there is “a fire escape” that God has provided.
The dying criminal knew nothing about religion and yet by faith looking to the Lord Jesus alone for salvation asked Him to remember him when He came into His kingdom. Immediately he was assured there and then that he would be forever with the Lord Jesus. Your eternal destiny, being heaven or hell, is the crucial fact that transcends this temporary life with its fleeting pleasures, its ambitions, its pursuits and pastimes.
You can be like the criminal who insulted the Lord Jesus despising the cross and what it meant and go straight into Hades (Hell) when you die, or be like the other criminal, who acknowledging his sin, knowing he was to die and enter eternity said to the Lord Jesus, “remember me” and was assured of his place in God’s eternal kingdom. In light of this awesome act of salvation God is asks you the question concerning the sacrifice of His Son; “Is it nothing to you who pass by?”