The Marvelous Message of Jesus
April 9th, 1982 @ 12:00 PM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-9-82 12:00 p.m.
It is entitled: The Marvelous Message of Jesus. It is one of salvation. And we turn to the twenty-third chapter of Luke; Luke chapter 23. And we are going to read verses 32 and 33, then 39 to 43. Luke 23, beginning at verse 32:
And there were also two others, malefactors, led with Him to be put to death.
And when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary –
That is Latin; in Hebrew, it is Golgotha. In our language, it is "the Place of the Skull" –
there they crucified Him, and the malefactors, one on the right hand, and the other on the left.
Now verse 39:
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,
The word in Hebrew and in Greek is the same: amen, translated "verily, amen, truly, surely, I say unto thee," semeron – and we’re going to speak on that later in the sermon. It is emphatic in the Greek: semeron, "this very day." Met’ emou, that is the second emphatic phrase: "This day, this very day, with Me," met’ emou, "with Me shall you be in Paradise" [Luke 23:43].
As all of you know and have been taught from childhood, there are seven sayings from the cross. And on Sunday night, our choir will sing a glorious oratorio: "The Seven Sayings."
The first one was: "Father, forgive them; they know not what they do" [Luke 23:34].
The second one: "Today thou shalt be with Me in Paradise" [Luke 23:43].
The third: "Woman, behold thy son! And son, behold thy mother!" [John 19:26-27].
The fourth: Eli – "My God," – sabachthani, "why hast Thou forsaken Me?" [Matthew 27:46].
The fifth one: "I thirst" [John 19:28].
The sixth one: "It is finished [John 19:30]. "The work God sent Me to do, have I done" [John 17:4].
And the seventh and last: "Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit" [Luke 23:46].
The time of the crucifixion of our Lord was at the Passover. The Passover, in the providence of God, occurred in the full of the moon. So the Passover season was always was in the full of the moon, the first full moon at the vernal equinox, when the day and the night are at length the same. That was in the goodness of God for the pilgrims, who came from the ends of the earth to celebrate the feast in Jerusalem. So our Easter is Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox. That’s the reason it changes each year, the time in the calendar.
The location of the crucifixion of our Lord was as public as God could make it. He was crucified by the side of the road, the main highway from Jerusalem to Damascus, just beyond the Damascus Gate [John 19:20; Hebrews 13:12]. It was the intention of God that the suffering death of our Lord be public. He was publicly exhibited. Paul preached about that before King Agrippa, avowing that this thing of the suffering death of our Lord "was not done in a corner" [Acts 26:26]. But the whole world knew about it. He was publicly exposed.
The crowd at the cross was as varied as imagination could make it. There were those who were just passing by. He was crucified on a main highway, on a main road, and some of them milled around. Some of them observed. Some of them spoke of it; passed by.
There were those who were more curious. The Scriptures say that sitting down
, they watched Him there, just to see what might happen [Matthew 27:36]. And especially when He called for Eli, they thought for Elijah, and they just wanted to see if Elijah would descend to help Him [Mark 15:35-36].
The soldiers were there, a quaternion of them, four of them presided over by the centurion, who had charge of the execution. Jesus had five garments. And each one of the soldiers took one: his headgear; His sandals; His outer robe; and the sash called the girdle. But, there was an inner garment. And rather than divide it, split it, cut it, it was woven without seam, they gambled for it at the foot of the cross [John 19:23-24].
Then of course there was the hostile crowd, these who had encompassed His execution. They wagged their heads, walking down, in front of Him [Mark 15:29]. And as they did so, they mocked Him and ridiculed Him and insulted Him. "He saved others; Himself He cannot save" [Mark 15:31]; Others said, "Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it again in three days. . .if Thou be the Christ, come down from the cross" [Mark 15:29-30]. "Let’s see You do it!"
When I read these, I have the same attitude in my heart as you do: "Lord Jesus, do it! Do it! Come down from the cross and strike terrified paralysis in their very souls! Do it, Lord!" No, it will not be a superhuman man tearing Himself from the wood. It will be a limp, lifeless, dead corpse taken down from the cross and buried in the tomb.
But oh, my brother and my sister, this is our triumph! He was raised from the dead, a lifeless corpse [Matthew 28:1-7]. He was raised from the dead, the firstfruits of them who sleep [1 Corinthians 15:23]. And He brought to us an incomparable victory [1 Corinthians 15:55-57]. And since that day, the aegis, the sign, the symbol of the Christian faith has been an empty cross; not a crucifix, with a Christ nailed to it, but a cross. He has been raised. He is no longer nailed to the tree. He is alive. And wherever the Christian faith is presented, there will you see the sign of the cross:
If in Flanders fields the poppies grow,
It will be between the crosses, row on row.
["In Flanders Fields," John McCrae]
In the heart of time and the center of the earth, God has planted the cross.
There in that crowd was also His mother, and the women who stood by her [John 19:25]. It was out of compassion for His mother, lest His suffering death be too much for her poor heart to bear, that He turned to John and said, "John, behold your mother"; and John says from that moment on, he took her to his own home and cared for her [John 19:27]. In that crowd the cross, as I mentioned, was the centurion, who presided over the execution. This man must have had a sensibility toward Jehovah God unusual for a Roman soldier. As he saw Jesus die, He glorified the Lord, saying, "Surely this Man was the Son of God" [Matthew 27:54; Mark 15:39].
And then of course at the cross were the two felons, the two malefactors, the two insurrectionists, the two murderers, the two terrorists who were crucified with Him [Matthew 27:38]. On that day, in those insurrectionists and with the Lord, history and prophecy met together; Calvary brought them into one, the prophecies such as Isaiah 53:12: the prophecy said, "He shall be numbered among the transgressors." And all four Gospels are careful to relate that Jesus was not crucified alone, but He was crucified between two murderers, two insurrectionists, two terrorists, we would call them today. These men had been found guilty of rebellion against the Roman government. And as such, as a terrorist does today, they murdered. They were strong, and vicious, and vile, and murderous men.
It’s all right to call them "robbers." That’s a nomenclature that seemingly has fastened itself in our minds. But they were not robbers like you think of a robber. These men were political insurrectionists. They were political terrorists. They were violent. They were vile. They were vicious. They were evil men.
Now, crucifixion was an invention of the Roman government. And it is the most terrible, agonizing way to die that the cruel human heart has ever invented. No Roman citizen could be crucified, by law. It was interdicted. That’s why Simon Peter was crucified, but Paul, being a Roman citizen, was beheaded. It was reserved for slaves and for criminals, for malefactors, for felons. And Jesus was numbered among them, according to the prophecy of the Word of God [Isaiah 53:12].
That execution of our Lord was no ordinary death. It was no ordinary execution. All of the typology of the ages looked forward to that moment on Calvary. When the Lord God in the garden of Eden shed the blood of innocent animals and made skins, coats for our first parents in their fallen shame, the blood of those innocent creatures stained the ground [Genesis 3:21]. Why did God do that? Why were not fig leaves sufficient to cover the nakedness of our first parents? [Genesis 3:7]. Why shed blood? Or, again, why was God so pleased with the offering of a lamb by Abel? [Genesis 4:4]. Abel offered unto God the sacrifice of a lamb, and it pleased the Lord and his offering was accepted. Why?
In the Passover, when God said the death angel will pass over the land of Egypt, and it shall be that every home that sacrifices a lamb and sprinkles the blood in the form of a cross, on the lintel and on the doorpost on either side [Exodus 12:3-7], the death angel will pass over [Exodus 12:23]. Why a lamb? And why the sprinkling of the blood?
Or in the Day of Atonement, why enter in the sanctuary with the blood of the sacrificial animal, there to make propitiation, to make God favorable toward a sinning people? [Leviticus 16:11-17]. Why? Why, the sacrifice taught all the people, come to the temple and tie the sacrifice to the horn of the altar [Psalm 118:27], the brazen burnt altar, and put his hands on the head of the sacrificial animal and confess there his sins and that of his family [Leviticus 4:33, 5:5]. Then the sacrificial animal is slain and his blood poured out. Why that? [Leviticus 5:9].
Why Moses lift up the serpent in the wilderness, that those who were dying might look and live? [Numbers 21:8-9]. Why all of those endless types in the Old Testament? They were figures; they were dramatic portrayals; they were adumbrations [Hebrews 10:1]. They were types of this great heavenly historical fulfillment on a hill called Calvary, where Jesus was crucified for our sins and, as Paul says, "according to the Scriptures" [1 Corinthians 15:3].
This is the day that God had planned from the beginning of the human race: the atonement, the propitiation, the expiation, the forgiveness, the washing away of our sins. And isn’t it a marvelous story? A wonderful, wonderful thing, that God brought to pass on that day, in that atoning grace in the suffering of our Lord: one of those malefactors, one those insurrectionists was saved [Luke 23:43]. One of them cursed the Lord, reviled Him [Luke 23:39]. But the one on the other side turned to him and said, "You do not justly. We ought to die. Blood-guilt is on our hands, and for our violent deeds, we ought to be crucified. But this Man" – and in faith beyond what I can enter into, somehow the Holy Spirit of God revealed to him who that Man was who was being crucified on that center cross. And accepting and believing and repenting in faith, he turned to Jesus and said, "Lord, when You come into Your kingdom, remember me" [Luke 23:40-42].
And the Lord answered that second saying of the cross: semeron," This day thou shall be with Me in Paradise" [Luke 23:43]. All he could do, did he do; he was nailed to the tree. All he could do was turn his head. But turn he did, and in faith ask Jesus to save him. And Jesus did it.
In these years gone by, over in West Dallas, there was a vicious and violent gang. There was Clyde Barrow. There was his moll, mistress, Bonnie Parker. And there were the two brothers, Raymond and Floyd Hamilton. In a violent spree that went from town to town, killing, robbing banks, that gang brought terror to the Southwest. As you know, all the lawmen in our part of the world were raised against them. They captured Raymond [Hamilton], and he was electrocuted in Huntsville. In an ambush in Louisiana, they shot down Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker.
In our church was a godly woman named Hattie Rankin Moore. And when Raymond [Hamilton] was electrocuted, she spent that night with his mother, comforting her. And in every way that she could, she gave her life in loving ministry to the families of those terrible people. That’s why she came to me and said, "Would you go to Alcatraz, and would you seek out Floyd Hamilton? And would you tell him about the grace of our Lord and pray with him and invite him to the faith that can save?"
I said, "Yes."
Last Sunday night, with our teenagers, I saw Floyd Hamilton talking to them. And he reminded me and I relived again that visit to Alcatraz. Floyd Hamilton said to me last Sunday night, he said, "No one in Alcatraz ever is allowed to be with a prisoner, no one."
He said, "When a guest comes, when a family member comes to see a prisoner condemned in Alcatraz, there is a steel wall and heavy plate glass. And the visitor talks to the prisoner on a telephone. He talks into a microphone here and there’s a response from a microphone there. But they are never allowed together."
He said, "You cannot know the amazement that came to me when the warden brought you inside those steel cells and locked the door and left me with you."
Well, I’ll never forget those steel doors, one after another after another after another, clanking behind me – I don’t know how many. And then inside those steel walls, I was locked in an iron cell with that man, Floyd Hamilton.
I talked to him over an hour and asked him to kneel down by my side, on that cold concrete floor; prayed for him and extended my hand, "If in repentance and faith, you receive the Lord Jesus as your Savior, will you take my hand?" And he did, down on his knees. Then I said, "Floyd, if you ever get out of prison, will you make this confession known and follow the Lord in baptism, in obedience to His Word?" [Matthew 28:19].
He said, "Pastor, if I ever live to get out, first thing that I’ll do, I’ll come down that aisle at the church. And I’ll make my confession of faith in the Lord Jesus, and I’ll be baptized." And in the passing of the years and in the gracious providences of God, he finally was liberated from federal prison. And down the aisle he came. And I baptized him into the fellowship of this dear church.
And from that day until this, he has been going everywhere, speaking to young people about the terrors of a life of crime. That’s God. That’s God’s grace. None so departed, so depraved, that His hands cannot lift up into the light and glory of the Lord.
One other thing; I want you to look at this word that Jesus says to him amen, "Truly, verily," as though He seeks to emphasize it. "Truly, verily, I say unto thee," semeron, emphatic, "this very day," met’ emou, "with Me shalt thou be in Paradise" [Luke 23:43].
Well, evidently, the Bible does not teach the doctrine of soul sleep, or that we are buried in the grave. This body may be laid in the dust of the ground, but not me. Evidently, God teaches us that when we close our eyes to this world, we open our eyes in heaven. Semeron, not some other day, not at a resurrection day, not at the consummation of the age, but "this very day with Me shalt thou be in Paradise" [Luke 23:43].
When I came to this dear church, in the Reminder they had a little caption of some kind, like "Obituaries" or "Our Dead." And I said to the editor of our paper, "Don’t say that. Let’s take 2 Corinthians 5:8. Let’s say ‘Absent from the body, present with the Lord.’" And we’ve been doing that for thirty-eight years now: "Absent from the body, present with the Lord." We leave this house of pain and age and suffering and death, and that day when we are translated we are with God, our Lord, in heaven. Semeron: "This very day shalt thou be with Me in glory."
And one last thing: do you notice semeron met’ emou, "This day with Me shalt thou be in Paradise" [Luke 23:43]. Do we know each other in heaven? You tell me. When they walked through those pearly gates, down those golden streets – and I have often thought, what an amazing picture: when the Lord went back to Paradise, He didn’t go alone. He entered glory in the presence of the angels, arm in arm with a criminal; a criminal in heaven. Anyway, you tell me, do you think they knew each other? When our Lord went back to Paradise, and carried with Him this terrorist, this insurrectionist, this murderer; do you think they knew each other?
To me it would be unthinkable, that knowing each other in this world, dying together, that in Paradise they didn’t recognize each other, they didn’t know each other. It is unthinkable to me. And so many things that I have haven’t time to present affirm and confirm that revelation that we shall know each other in heaven.
The disciples Peter, James, and John knew Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration [Matthew 17:1-4]. My brother, Moses had been dead a thousand four hundred years. Elijah had been dead nine hundred years. They had never seen Moses or Elijah, but they recognized them. Spiritual intuition; it’s a kind of knowledge God gives us.
Our Lord was recognized by little old personal mannerisms and idiosyncrasies. John says he knew He was raised from the dead by the way Jesus folded a napkin [John 20:7-8]. Jesus had a certain way of folding a napkin. And when John saw that napkin at the empty tomb folded in a certain way, it says that he believed that He was alive. Jesus had done that.
The two on the way to Emmaus knew Him, recognized Him by the way that He said a blessing [Luke 24:30-31, 35]. Jesus had a certain way of saying grace, and they recognized Him by the way He said grace. Thomas, the doubting apostle, recognized Him by the scars in His hands and in His side [John 20:27-28]. It’s the same Lord Jesus. His recognitions are personal. They are the same. And we are going to know each other because you are going to be you, and I shall be I, and we shall be we. It’s not going to be somebody else raised from the dead. It will be we; you and I. We will be ourselves, only glorified, immortalized, perfect, washed in the blood of the Lamb [Revelation 1:5].
May I close with a reminder? Most of our women read the life of Lottie Moon. When she died, in Chinese fashion she clasped and unclasped her hands in Chinese recognition, and called the names of Pinghu Christians that had been dead years and years and years. What was she doing? As she entered the beautiful world beyond, she was greeting those whom she had known and loved in those days of her long witnessing ministry in Pinghu. That’s the way it’s going to be in heaven.
There will be our Lord. There will be the Old Testament saints. There will be the New Testament saints. There will be these whom we’ve known in our pilgrimage in this weary world. And there will be you and there will be I. And we will rejoice in one another and in the grace of God that brought us to that beautiful home called heaven.
And our Lord, in the perfect, precious persuasion that God is able to do above all that we ask or think, forgive our sins and the sufferings of the cross, raise us from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit [Romans 8:11; Ephesians 1:13-14], and present us faultless before the throne of His grace in glory [Jude 24]. O Lord, we rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory [1 Peter 1:8], in Thy dear name, amen.
THE MARVELOUS MESSAGE OF JESUS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Luke 23:32-33, 39-43
I. The seven sayings of the Lord
A. This is the second of the seven (Luke 23:43)
B. Not ad seriatum, but together out of four gospels (Luke 23:34, 43, John 19:26-27, Matthew 27:46, John 19:28, 30, Luke 23:46)
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 cross
1. Some curious, some hostile (Matthew 27:40-42)
2. Three 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
IV. A day of salvation
A. This man found salvation and forgiveness
1. Floyd Hamilton
B. He found a home in heaven (John 14:3, Luke 23:43, 2 Corinthians 5:8, Revelation 2:7, 22:2)
1. We will know each other in heaven