Luke 23: 39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
I have often contemplated the potential scene in my mind as one by one, the proponents of all religions were given the opportunity of talking to the thief on the cross, and what they would say to him. This was a man who was a criminal, a notorious sinner, and definitely, one whose so-called “bad deeds’ would outweigh the good ones. Being nailed to a cross negates any further opportunity for good works to be done. But it would be an interesting conversation, wouldn’t it, to hear what each religionist might say to him? In every case (apart from perhaps universalism which falsely teaches that all people will be saved regardless of their works) each religion would require the man to somehow come down from the cross to DO something.
What would a spokesman for Islam say? How about a Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness? What would a Buddhist say? or a New Age guru? How about a Roman Catholic? If each could speak to this man, what religious advice would or could they give to him for the purpose of being saved (however they even define what that means)? Some might say that all he could do would be to hope for mercy, but Christ, the biblical Christ gave him far more than just hope. In contrast to what all man-made religious systems could give the man, Christ gave him full assurance of salvation – and not just eventual salvation after countless years in the fires and torments of purgatory, but bliss and paradise that very day!
Certain religions would require baptism, others would require the man to go through religious instruction and devotion of some sort, while others would ask him to do more good works before his death hoping that they might outweigh the bad ones. But here’s my point, the man could never find salvation in those religious systems because he was stuck, pinned, nailed to a cross. His chance to help elderly people cross roads, or to give to charity or to live a life of service was gone. Nailed to a cross, works and service were no longer possible. His was a totally hopeless case.. except that crucified next to him was Someone who was able to save him by what He was doing, rather than what the man might do. Only the real biblical Jesus with the real biblical Gospel could announce to a criminal that before the day was over, he would be with Him in Paradise.
This thief’s salvation portrays the Gospel so clearly. Someone embracing anything other than the biblical gospel can only scratch their heads in wonder at the precious words given to this man, for in their system, such words would be impossible to say.
As far as I know, this man was the only person that Jesus gave instantaneous assurance of salvation to. Jesus’ words, “Today you will be with Me in Paradise” removes all doubt.
Can we know what was going on in the heart of this man? Well, we do not have a perfect understanding, but putting the pieces of the biblical text together, we can get quite a good picture. What is clear from the Gospels of Matthew and Mark is that this man had been amongst the many who had mocked Christ. Yet seemingly, out of nowhere, he turns to the other thief and says, “Don’t you fear God?” Obviously, this thief was now fearing God for him to be asking this question of the other one.
He also knew he was getting exactly what he deserved – “we indeed suffer justly” he said.
He also recognized the innocence of Christ when he said, “this man has done nothing wrong.”
When he turned to Jesus and requested, “Remember me when You come into Your kingdom” though knowing death was inevitable for all three of those crucified, he believed Jesus would triumph over death, and therefore, would be resurrected.
In affirming the fact that Jesus would come into His kingdom, he affirmed the Lordship or even the Deity of Christ. How much he knew of this we do not know, but obviously, he knew that Christ was indeed King.
So, he had an awareness of divine judgment, he knew the availability of forgiveness, he believed Christ was the true King and that in Christ there is hope even for him, he knew of the coming Kingdom and wanted to be a part of it.
As God opens our hearts and mind to the one true biblical Gospel, we will also find in Christ the full assurance of salvation. As we turn away from any attempt at self justification, knowing that it is by grace that we are saved, through faith and all of this is the gift of God, not as a result of works (Eph. 2:8,9), we too will enjoy the sweet saving mercy of God.
What a testimony to the Gospel this thief is. His testimony is exactly the same as mine. God saves sinners through the perfect work of the perfect Savior, plus nothing! Hallelujah!
Question 60. How are you righteous before God?
“Only by true faith in Jesus Christ; that is, although my conscience accuse me, that I have grievously sinned against all the commandments of God, and have never kept any of them, and am still prone always to all evil; yet God without any merit of mine, of mere grace, grants and imputes to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ, as if I had never committed nor had any sin, and had myself accomplished all the obedience which Christ has fulfilled for me; if only I accept such benefit with a believing heart.” – Heidelberg Catechism
THE CASE OF GOD THE FATHER AGAINST ______________________________ (FILL IN YOUR NAME)
PROSECUTING ATTORNEY: SATAN (THE ACCUSER OF THE BRETHREN – Zechariah 3:1)
DEFENSE ATTORNEY: THE LORD JESUS CHRIST (1 John 2:1)
JUDGE PRESIDING: GOD, THE RIGHTEOUS JUDGE (Psalm 7:11)
IN ATTENDANCE: A VAST COMPANY OF ELECT ANGELS (1 Timothy 5:21)
“It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” – Hebrews 9:27
You now stand before God, the Righteous Judge, faced with the charge of great and terrible acts of high treason in the courtroom of heaven.
Gabriel, the high-ranking angel addresses the court saying, “All rise! The Righteous Judge is coming into His chamber!”
The Judge declares His court to now be in session and asks for all to be seated.
Without any delay, Satan stands up and addresses the court. He states that the record will show that you have broken all ten of the Ten Commandments. On countless occasions you’ve lied, you’ve stolen, you’ve used God’s name in vain, you’ve hated (which Jesus said was murder of the heart) and you haven’t put God first, before anything else in your life, just to name a few. Satan will prove your guilt on all counts.
Also, there is indisputable video evidence as well as reliable witnesses to attest to the facts in this case. Even your thought life stands as a testimony against you, for the Scripture says, “And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” (Hebrews 4:13)
After the case is made against you, there is a hush in the court. The prosecuting attorney has shown that you have indeed committed acts of high treason against God. It seems inevitable that you will be found guilty.
Satan then addresses the Judge and says, “A good God must be a good Judge. The facts are clear. You must find this one guilty. Your own record in Proverbs 17:15 states, ‘He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the LORD.’ For you to acquit this one would mean that You are not righteous Yourself. You must find this one guilty as charged. I rest my case.”
The Judge then calls upon your Defense Attorney to address the court.
The Lord Jesus Christ: “Righteous Father, the case made by the prosecution is indeed true. I will not dispute the charges made. However, I will submit to this court two pieces of evidence in the defense of my client:
Exhibit A: THE PASSIVE OBEDIENCE OF CHRIST – Let the record show that on Calvary’s cross, the sins of this one were transferred to me and I bore the full punishment demanded by Your high and holy Justice. I was wounded for his transgressions, bruised for his iniquities, the chastisement that brought him peace was upon Me and by My stripes, he was healed. (Isaiah 53:4-6)
Exhibit B: THE ACTIVE OBEDIENCE OF CHRIST – Let the record show that I, the second Person of the adorable Trinity, became a man, was born of a virgin and lived a righteous life on earth always pleasing You, righteous Father. I lived the life You demanded in Your high and holy law.
Just as this one’s sins were transferred to Me on the cross and I suffered the penalty due to him (in his place), so also all the acts of My righteous life were transferred to his account.
“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” – 2 Corinthians 5:21
Righteous Father, if You will check the record, You will see that this man’s sins have been paid in full and in fact, the only record concerning this man now is that he lived My life, for My life was imputed to His account, legally and at Your good pleasure. For it was decreed this should happen in the eternal counsel of the Divine Trinity, before the foundation of the world.”
GOD THE JUDGE: “Having checked the eternal records and the validity of exhibits A and B, the case made by the defense is both true and satisfactory in this court for the purpose of dismissing all charges made against this man.
Would the accused please stand…
In that My Son has borne your punishment in full and has imputed His righteous life to your account, I declare you ‘NOT GUILTY,’ but more than that, ‘RIGHTEOUS,’ in the splendid righteousness of My Son. I can do this because My wrath, due to you, was borne by My Son. He has paid for your sins in full.
You are ‘JUSTIFIED’ in my sight. Forever I am at peace with you. Your sins I will remember no more, by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.”
Romans 5:1 – “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
If salvation depends on the believer’s deeds, our salvation is only as secure as our faithfulness.
Justification is a legal word from the courtroom and for the believer in Christ, it is a past tense event, through the person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ ALONE! Justified means not merely “just as if I’d never sinned,” but “just as if I’d always obeyed.”
This peace with God is not some temporary cease-fire (in hostilities) but is the eternal, immutable, and irrevocable standing of the believer with his God.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16
While this entire courtroom scenario is the certain expectation for those who repent and trust in Christ, it must be said that rejecting God’s free gift of salvation will result in something entirely different, horribly different in fact; one that provides no defense attorney in the court whatsoever, but instead, the full bearing of the punishment of your crimes against God in hell forever.
John 3:36 says, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.”
You are a precious soul, made in the image of God. O may you make haste in coming to Christ! The Scripture says, “Now is the day of salvation.” (2 Corinthians 6:2) Tomorrow is never promised to anyone. The risen Lord Jesus Christ, summons you, even now, to repent of your sins and to trust fully and only in Him. Come to Him then, turning away from all you know to be wrong and trusting only in the finished work of the perfect Savior.