To the Dying Thief
September 7th, 1969 @ 7:30 PM
TO THE DYING THIEF
Dr. W. A. Criswell
09-07-69 7:30 p.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message. We have the Lord’s Supper tonight. And as I every night preach in the life of our Lord from the Gospels, just happen to be, so oft times is it congruent that the message is in the day of the cross. And I am preaching about this malefactor, this insurrectionist, who that day found forgiveness and salvation, and that day entered the gates of Paradise [Luke 23:42-43]. Let us read it together. On the radio, with the great throng here in this service tonight, turn to Luke chapter 23, the Third Gospel, Luke chapter 23, and we shall read together verses 33 through 43; Luke 23:33-43. Now sharing our Bibles, and all of us reading out loud together the twenty-third chapter of Luke, beginning in verse 33 and concluding with verse 43. Now together:
And when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the malefactors, one on the right hand, and the other on the left.
Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted His raiment, and cast lots.
And the people stood beholding. And the rulers also with them derided Him, saying, He saved others; let Him save Himself, if He be Christ, the chosen of God.
And the soldiers also mocked Him, coming to Him, and offering Him vinegar,
And saying, If Thou be the King of the Jews, save Thyself.
And a superscription also was written over Him in letters of Greek, and Latin, and Hebrew, THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.
And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on Him, saying, If Thou be Christ, save Thyself and us.
But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou 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.
There’s not anything that we could read or be introduced to that is more precious than this word of our Lord. When that insurrectionist and murderer and robber, this malefactor, turned to Jesus and said, “Lord, when You come into Your kingdom,” think of the faith expressed in that word. While the Man on that central cross was dying, executed criminal-wise, just as he was, yet somehow he had the faith to believe that the Man who was dying on that central cross was a King and someday would rightly come into His kingdom, and ask that he be remembered when that day came [Luke 23:42].
And the Lord replied in a heavenly, in a celestial, in an eternally soul-saving way, “Today, this day, shalt thou be with Me in Paradise” [Luke 23:43]. Think of it. When our Lord entered into the gates of glory, He entered not alone, but arm and arm with that insurrectionist who was crucified, executed by his side. “Today, this day, shalt thou be with Me in Paradise” [Luke 23:43]. This is the second saying.
Isn’t it unusual? These seven sayings of our Lord are not ad seriatum in any place in the Bible. The inspiration of the Holy Spirit, as the four evangelists told the story of the atoning death of Jesus; when you put all that they say together, there are seven of those sayings.
The first one: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” [Luke 23:34]; crucifying the Son of God and the Prince of glory. The second saying, this one: “Today shalt thou be with Me in Paradise” [Luke 23:43]. The third saying, beholding His mother: “Mother, look upon your son! And son, look upon your mother!” [John 19:26-27]. And John took her from that day to his own house and cared for her [John 19:27].
The fourth saying: Eli, “My God,” lama, “why, oh, why,” sabachthani, “hast Thou forsaken Me?” [Matthew 27:46]. The fifth saying: “I thirst” [John 19:28]. The sixth saying: “It is finished” [John 19:30]. The great work for which He came into the world; namely to die for our sins [Hebrews 10:4-14]. “It is finished”: the great plan of salvation, the atonement of God for the souls and the sin of the world, all of it [John 3:16; Hebrews 2:9; 1 John 2:2]; God’s plan is finished [John 18:28]. And the seventh: “Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit” [Luke 23:46]: and He bowed His head and gave up the ghost [John 19:30].
What a day, that day of the cross, for the Lord was executed openly, publicly, before the gazing eyes of the whole world [John 19:20; Hebrews 13:12]. It was the Passover season [John 18:28, 30, 19:14]; there was no country known to civilization that did not have its emissary there. From the ends of the earth, by the thousands and the thousands they were there, and He was crucified outside the city wall [Hebrews 13:12], on the public highway [John 19:19-20] to northern Judea and the road to Syria and Damascus, the great highway from the African continent to the Asian continent. The bridge was Palestine, and on that public road He was lifted between the earth and the sky [John 19:16-30].
And the throngs passing by saw Him die [Matthew 27:39], some of them indifferently, some of them sympathetically, like the centurion [Matthew 27:54], and some of them viciously and triumphantly [Matthew 27:39]. They had at last encompassed what they looked upon as their mortal enemy, the hypocrites, the Sadducees, the Pharisees. These rejoiced in His death [Matthew 27:41-43].
But there were three there especially that the Scriptures point out: one, His mother [John 19:25]. What an unusual thing: she had other sons, other children, but Jesus does not commend her to them. James did not believe; Joseph, Simon, Jude, His own brethren, did not believe on Him [John 7:5], so in the hour of agony and suffering, the Lord Jesus commended His mother to John, the sainted disciple, beloved disciple John [John 19:26].
Another at the cross signally singled out is the centurion [Matthew 27:54]. It’s a strange thing in the Bible: every time a centurion is mentioned, and there are many of them mentioned, it is always in a light of commendation and acceptance, and so here. That centurion had presided over the execution of the Lord only knows how many enemies and insurrectionists against the Roman Empire. But as he stood there that day and saw what had happened, watching Jesus die, he said, “Surely, surely this is the Son of God” [Matthew 27:54].
And the other pointed out particularly and especially that day of the cross is this dying malefactor [Luke 23:33], this insurrectionist and murderer [Luke 23:42-43]. For you see, this was no ordinary death and certainly no ordinary execution. For somehow combined here is the great redemptive purpose toward which all history had moved through the generations and through the ages [Romans 5:6; Galatians 4:4]. The Scriptures and prophecy were exceptionally emphatic to point out that Jesus would not die alone; He would be “numbered among the transgressors” [Isaiah 53:12]. And no less so are these Gospels careful to point out that Jesus died with a robber, an insurrectionist on one side [Matthew 27:38; Mark 15:27-28; Luke 23:32; John 19:16-18], and another one on the other side. He died not alone.
And it seemed as if that day, the Lord was just demonstrating before the gaze of all mankind—and we look upon it now–God was demonstrating the purpose of the coming of His Son into the world [Hebrews 10:4-14]. Through the ages, through the centuries, God was teaching His people the nomenclature, the language of heaven. All of those ritualistic services of the temple were to prepare us for the great day of the death of the Son of God for our sins [Matthew 27:32-50; 1 Corinthians 15:3; Ephesians 1:7], and that we might learn the language God uses when He speaks to us of His atoning grace [Romans 5:11; Ephesians 2:8].
For in the temple service was the altar, and I know what an altar is [Deuteronomy 12:27; 2 Chronicles 1:6]. It’s a place where the sacrificial offering dies. I know what an altar is. I know what propitiation is, the shedding of blood offered unto God that the judgment upon sin might be gutted and turned [Leviticus 17:11]. I know what a sacrifice is. That’s an innocent victim who bears in my stead my sins [Leviticus 1:4]. All of these words, an altar, an offering, a sacrificial victim, expiation, propitiation, all of it I’ve learned as God has taught me through the ages in that system of service and sacrifice in the temple.
So the victim is brought, the innocent animal is brought, a lamb, and tied to the horns of the altar, and there over the head of that victim—a bullock, a ram, a lamb—the offerer at the center folds his hand over the head of the victim and confesses he has sinned, identifying himself with that victim [Leviticus 4:29-30].
Then the priest slays the innocent animal [Leviticus 6:25-26]. No sin on its part, but the sin on the part of the offerer, the worshiper—he identifies himself with that innocent animal, and over the head of the victim confesses his sin. The animal is slain and his blood is poured out at the base of the altar [Leviticus 4:30], and on the day of atonement carried into the propitiatory and sprinkled there [Leviticus 16:14-15].
You see, all of that I have been taught. And now, when this great day toward which all time and eternity did move, when this great day came, there on the altar the Son of God, the victim, is nailed; tied, nailed, and there His blood encrimsons the earth, poured out at the base of the altar [Luke 23:26-46]. And then, as though God would show us what He meant in the death of the Son of God, one of those malefactors turns, and in confession, “We die according to our sins. It is a just condemnation for us” [Luke 23:40-41]. One of those malefactors, confessing his sins, said, “Lord, could it be in the kingdom that is to come there is place, there is room for a sinner like me? Could it be? Could it be?” [Luke 23:42].
Bless you, there is no one of us who reaches the age of accountability but that knows the burden of sin, wrongdoing, guilt, shortcoming: all of us feel that oppressive weight.
Tonight, before I came for the baptismal service there was a sweet, dear wife that came to my study and asked about the forgiveness of sins. “Show me in the Bible,” she says, “where God promises to forgive us our sins.”
I remember so well the wife of a very rich man who had preceded her, and the time had come for her to die, and she sent for me. And I walked into her beautiful home and upstairs to the room where she was dying and sat down by her side and asked, “Why have you sent for me and how can I help?” And she said to me, “The doctor has told me that I am dying, and I want you to tell me what to do with my sins.”
All of us feel that, Lord, the stain of the guilt. How do you rid yourself of it? It’s in my mind, it’s in my heart, it’s in my soul, it’s in my life: that lack, that shortcoming, that sin. It is not sins; it is sin, as such, that sense of lack and shortcoming that all of us feel.
And as though God were demonstrating what it is in the death of the Son for our sins [Luke 23:26-46], this man, this insurrectionist turns and says, “Lord, I’m dying justly, but in the kingdom that is to come, could there be a place and room for a sinner like me?” And the Lord replied in kind [Luke 23:42-43]. Room? Why, that’s why God sent the Son of God: to make room, to forgive our sins [2 Corinthians 5:21], to prepare a place for us in glory [John 14:1-3].
That’s what it’s all about. That’s the gospel. That’s the good news, that Jesus died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, and He was raised the third day for our justification, to declare us righteous [1 Corinthians 15:1-4; Romans 4:25]. And Paul says when a man preaches the gospel, that’s what he preaches. That’s the good news. Our sins are forgiven in Jesus [1 Corinthians 15:3], and we have a home in glory that He is preparing for us who love His blessed name [John 14:1-3].
Where is that place? In just a minute, could I say where is that place? “I go to prepare a place for you” [John 14:3]. “Today, this day shalt thou be with Me in Paradise” [Luke 23:43]. Where do we go when we die? Ah, bless you! How many winds of doctrines do we hear?
But God says here’s where we go when we die. We go to Paradise [Luke 23:43]. And where is Paradise? “Absent from the body, present with the Lord” [2 Corinthians 5:8]. We go to Paradise when we die. And where is Paradise?
Listen: in the second chapter of the Book of the Revelation, the Lord said to the church of Ephesus, “He that overcometh will I grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the Paradise of God” [Revelation 2:7]. So if I know where that tree of life is, I know where Paradise is. And in the last chapter of the Apocalypse, the twenty-second chapter and the [second] verse, it says this: “In the midst of the street of it,” that beautiful city whose streets are solid gold [Revelation 21:21], “in the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, whose leaves are for the healing of the people” [Revelation 22:2].
And if that tree of life is in Paradise, that tree of life, the Bible says, is in that beautiful city, the New Jerusalem, and that’s where we go when we die [Revelation 21:1-3]. “Today shalt thou be with Me in Paradise” [Luke 23:43], in the beautiful city of gold [Revelation 21:21], that someday at the consummation of the age is coming down from God out of heaven to this earth [Revelation 21:1-2]; and we’ll be in it [Revelation 21:3-5].
On some street named Hallelujah or Glory to God, by some glorious square dedicated to the honor and glory of Jesus, you have a mansion; Jesus is preparing it for you [John 14:1-3]. “Today shalt thou be with Me in Paradise” [Luke 23:43].
Oh, they tell me of a land, far beyond the skies,
Oh, they tell me of a land far away;
Oh, they tell me of a land where no storm clouds rise,
Oh, they tell me of an unclouded day.
[“The Unclouded Day,” Josiah K. Allwood, 1880]
I will sing you a song of that beautiful land,
The far away home of the soul
Where no storms ever beat on the glittering strand
While the years of eternity roll.
There’s a land that is fairer than day.
By faith we can see it afar,
For the Father waits over the way
To prepare us a dwelling place there.
[“In the Sweet By and By,” S. Fillmore Bennet, 1868]
“Today shalt thou be with Me in Paradise” [Luke 23:43]. O blessed Lord, precious hope, wonderful Savior;
Oh, precious cross! Oh, glorious crown!
Oh, resurrection day! The angels from the
stars come down and bear my soul away.
The good news in Jesus.
[from “Must Jesus Bear the Cross Alone,” Thomas Shepher, 1693, Henry W. Belcher, 1855]
We’re going to stand and sing our hymn of appeal, and while we sing it, you, you, would you come and stand by me? I’ll be on this side of our table of the Lord’s Supper. “Pastor, the whole family of us are coming tonight, and here I am; all of us are coming.” A couple you to come, or just one somebody you, “Pastor, tonight, I want to take the Lord Jesus as my Savior. I ask Him to forgive me my sins [1 John 1:7], to write my name in the Lamb’s Book of Life [Revelation 20:12, 15, 21:27], and I am coming tonight. Here I am.” Make the decision now, and in a moment when we stand up to sing, you stand up coming. Into the aisle and down here to the pastor, “I give you my hand, pastor, my heart I give to God. Here I am, here I come.” Do it now. Make it now. God bless you in the way as you come, while we stand and while we sing.
I. The seven sayings of the Lord
A. This is the second
of the seven (Luke 23:43)
ad seriatum, but together out of four gospels (Luke 23:34, 43, John 19:26-27, Matthew 27:46, John 19:28, 30, Luke
II. The day of the cross
A. Time – the Passover
B. Place – outside city
wall, on the main road, called Golgotha
C. The crowd at the
especially pointed out
a. His mother (John 19:25)
b. The centurion (Luke 23:47, Matthew 27:64)
c. This thief (Luke 23:42)
III. The three crosses
A. Prophecy and history
meet on Calvary (Isaiah 53:12)
B. No ordinary execution
1. Type through
the centuries – sacrifice upon the altar
C. God shows what He
meant in the death of Christ
A. Theme of the Word of
1. Illustrated in
this man who turned in repentance and faith
B. He found salvation
found a home in heaven (John 14:3, Luke 23:43, 2
Corinthians 5:8, Revelation 2:7, 22:2)