While suffering on the cross for our sins on Golgotha, our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ, spoke seven short, simple but significant sentences. These sayings reveal a great deal about the heart of the Lord Jesus. No one Gospel writer recorded them all. Certainly, the Holy Spirit was sovereign in this. He chose in His wisdom to give the four Gospel Writers the privilege of recording what He deemed best for their Gospel material. Mark and Matthew were given the privilege of recording only one of the seven sayings, while the remaining six sayings were shared equally between Dr. Luke and John, the disciple whom Jesus loved. Each records three sayings in their Gospel accounts.
These so-called seven sayings from the cross by our Savior, have been held dear by the Church primarily because they have opened to us a window into our Lord's heart and mind while suffering for our sins on the Roman cruel cross. The amazing thing about each saying is that they were spoken not in anger, resentment, bitterness, or with a complaining or vindictive spirit. In fact, each is a vivid expression either of His great care, concern, compassion and His sacrificial and selfless love for us, or of His dreadful but divine work of bearing our sin, or His final conquest and victory over sin and Satan.
The season of celebrating the death and resurrection of Christ is certainly an appropriate time to pause and ponder each of these sayings. I believe doing so will enhance and energize our spirits to worship Christ with a new sense of purpose and passion. Of course, meditating on these sayings should not be limited to Easter celebrations. It should be practiced all year long because Christ's sacrifice on the cross for our sins is key to our daily living and eternal future.
My purpose is to present each saying in an article in the order in which they were spoken by our Suffering Savior after He was nailed to the cross and before He died. I have entitled the second saying: "The Savior's Salvation of a Sinner."
Truly the love of Christ is selfless, sacrificial, and always seeks His very best for others, that is, sinners like you and me. Hanging on the cross between two criminals, our Lord did not focus on Himself. He had no thought for Himself. He displayed no sign of self-pity in His suffering.
Luke is the only Gospel writer who records our Savior's salvation of a repentant sinner. "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise" (Luke 23:43; NIV). This verse literally reads in the original: "Truly you I tell, today with Me you will be in the paradise." I would like to emphasis four essential truths in our Savior's second saying. First, is the sincerity of our Savior (Luke 23:43b). Second, is the speedy offer of His salvation (Luke 23:43c). Third, is the sure and sweet promise of our Savior to a repentant sinner (23:43d). And fourth, is the special place of residence specified by our Lord Himself (Luke 23:43e).
Sincerity of Our Savior: "I tell you the truth," (Luke 23:43b).
In Luke 19:10, our Lord Jesus said that He came to seek and save those who were lost. Now, at this crucial moment of His life, just a few moments away from death, He offers eternal salvation to the repentant robber hanging next to Him. And may I say to you, Jesus' offer of eternal salvation still stands today for all who repent and put their trust in Him for the forgiveness of their sins.
Please remember that at first, both criminals, crucified on either side of Jesus, joined in the chorus of hate and abuse to which Jesus was subjected. They were railing at Him. They were heaping insults on Him (Matthew 27:44). However, one of the robbers had a change of heart. Luke tells us, the other thief continued hurling abuse at Jesus and challenging Him to save Himself and them. You see, this robber desired salvation but he was misguided about how salvation is obtained. He thought Jesus would have to save Himself from the agony of the cross first, before He could save them. Unfortunately, today, many have misguided notions about salvation. Some think salvation can be obtained by being good. So they work hard at putting on a good behavior. Others think salvation can be earned by doing good works. They think they can "buy" salvation through their acts of charity. Still, others erroneously believe that salvation can be achieved by keeping the Ten Commandments or following certain rituals. My friend, let it be known to you that being good, or doing good, or following certain rituals does not lead anyone to salvation. Please, don't make the mistake of the unrepentant thief. He was so close to entering the sphere of salvation, but alas, he was so far removed from it, because of his misguided notion about salvation. He was rebuked by the repentant robber, who said to him: "Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong" (Luke 23:40-41). It appeared that the second thief didn't receive the gentle rebuke given to him. Sadly, today, many people reject loving rebuke given to them to reconsider their wayward ways.
After his gentle rebuke to the unrepentant and unresponsive fellow criminal, the criminal who had a change of heart, turned to Jesus and pleaded, "Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!" (Luke 23:42). Notice the repentant robber directed his request specifically to Jesus. He called Jesus by the name that was given to Him before He was born of virgin Mary. The angel said to Joseph in his dream, "You shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21). The name "Jesus" means "Yahweh saves" or "the Lord saves." It is as if the repentant robber was saying to our Lord, "I am a sinner. Jesus, I recognize that You alone can save me from my sins. I know that Your work is seeking and saving sinners like myself. I have confessed that I am justly being punished for my wicked and wayward ways. Therefore, save me, O Savior of sinners, I pray!" This was the bottom line of his plea and prayer. "I need salvation. I can only receive it from You. I come to You, just as I am. Please save me!"
Notice in his humble plea to be saved, the repentant robber also spoke of Jesus' kingdom-"Your kingdom." This is remarkable indeed! But you ask: what's remarkable about that? Probably, he had read the inscription over Jesus' head: "This is Jesus the King of the Jews" (Matthew 27:37). No doubt the repentant robber had heard the religious leaders' mocking of Jesus' claim to be the King of Israel (Matthew 27:42). He had also seen Jesus' quiet confidence and regal dignity. While the religious leaders did not believe that Jesus is indeed the King of Israel, and the King of kings, he did. He saw beyond His bruised and broken body and recognized that Jesus is indeed the great King. Certainly, he had also heard our Lord's prayer for the forgiveness of those who crucified Him. And since forgiveness is what he knew he desperately needed at this late hour of his life, he asked to be remembered. To his earnest cry to be remembered, Jesus spontaneously and sincerely replied, "I tell you the truth" (Luke 23:43b).
The original simply reads: "Truly you I tell." The Greek word translated "truly" or "the truth" is a Hebrew word which has been transliterated into Greek. This Hebrew word is "amen." It is as if our Savior is saying to the penitent criminal: "I, the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness (Revelation 3:14), I say "Amen" to your prayer to Me. So be it. In fact, I will give you more than you have asked or imagined. You can count on My word to you. What I am about to say to you is no sham. I know you've been with people who didn't tell you the truth most of the time. And I know very well that you yourself have told many lies. But today, what I am saying to you is true. It's sincere. It's neither shallow nor superficial. You can count on it. My words to you are eternally true and reliable."
The question to you is: Do you believe that what Jesus says is eternally true and reliable? Do you believe that what Jesus says is no sham? Oh yes, I know, many religious leaders have deceived and manipulated their followers. They've duped the naive and simple-minded. They've tricked their followers with their smooth words and sweet talk. They've made people believe in lies. But Jesus is always truthful. He is always sincere. He is the "Truth" (John 14:6). He doesn't deceive. He doesn't lie. He doesn't manipulate. He only speaks the truth. I am certain the repentant robber believed that Jesus was speaking the truth to him. What about you? Do you believe that Jesus is speaking the truth to you right now through this message? Do you believe Jesus is telling you the truth when you read the Bible? Please, believe in Jesus' words to you. Why? They are always true and are intended to free you from the bondage of deception. Only Jesus' truth can set you free from the stranglehold of the deceiver, the devil, and deceitful people.
Speedy Offer of His Salvation: "today" (Luke 23:43c).
The second essential truth in our Savior's second saying is the speedy offer of our Savior's salvation of a repentant sinner. Early in His ministry, the Lord Jesus made it clear to His disciples what His mission on earth was all about. He declared to them: "The Son of Man had come to seek and to save that which was lost" (Luke 19:10). He came to save sinners. This was not only His mission, it was His passion. As result, the Lord Jesus proclaimed the Good News of the kingdom. "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 3:2). The repentant robber had just repented. Immediately, Jesus offered him eternal salvation. Jesus said to him, "today." Not, tomorrow. Not, a year from now. Not, 20 years from now. But "today." Oh how precious is our Savior! What a speedy salvation of a genuinely repentant sinner!
Actually, before this offer of speedy salvation to the repentant robber, Jesus had already done it for a repentant rich tax collector. While traveling for the last time from Galilee to Jerusalem, our Lord had an encouraging encounter with Zaccheus, a Jewish chief tax collector. Tax collectors were hated by the Jews because they collected taxes for the occupying Roman government. They were dishonest. They were deceitful. They were dubious. Being a chief tax collector, Zaccheus, probably had other tax collectors working for him in exploiting his fellow Jews. As a result, they were despised. But when the Lord Jesus saw that Zaccheus had genuinely repented of his sins, He confidently announced: "Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham" (Luke 19:9). Notice the emphasis is placed on "today." Why is the Lord Jesus stressing "today?" It's because when a sinner humbly and honestly turns from his sins to the Savior, salvation is experienced at once. At the moment of genuine repentance, there is no delay in entering the sphere of salvation.
"Today," the Scripture says, "if you hear His voice do not harden your hearts" (Hebrews 3:8) Scripture also says, "Behold, now is the acceptable time, behold, now is the day of salvation" (2 Corinthians 6:2). The day of salvation had come for the repentant robber. His salvation was therefore immediate. The very moment he expressed true saving faith in Christ, he was saved. This very day, today, before tomorrow. He didn't have to wait to go through a two year Detox program before being granted salvation. He didn't have to do time at a rehab center for a full year before receiving the gift of salvation. He didn't have to wait till he took a seven month special catechism class. He didn't have to wait for a week for approval from the elders of the synagogue. He was saved immediately, instantly, the very moment he expressed genuine saving faith in the Savior of sinners, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Are you one who hasn't trusted Jesus for salvation? Do you know that what Jesus did for the repentant robber, He is willing and ready to do for you? His offer of eternal salvation still stands for you today. All He requires of you is to agree with Him that you are a sinner. And that you cannot save yourself. Then come to Jesus just as you are. Call on His name with a sincere and broken heart. Confess your need for Him. Completely put your trust in Him to save you. I guarantee you, salvation will be yours instantaneously! The very moment you express genuine saving faith in Jesus, He will bestow His gift of salvation on you. Would you trust Jesus today? When you do, you will be saved today. It's His promise to you. Take Jesus at His word. He will not put you to shame for trusting in His word.
Sure and Sweet Promise of our Savior: "you will be with me" (Luke 23:43d).
The third essential truth we see in the Savior's salvation of the repentant robber is His sure and sweet promise to him. You see, our Lord never doubted the repentance of the repentant robber. If anybody could see the heart of man and discern its sincerity, it was our Suffering Savior. Having seen and discerned that the confession and repentance of the criminal were genuine, our Lord told him the sweetest and most reassuring words he had ever heard in his life. "You will be with Me." Notice how sure this promise is. "You will be." Not "you may be." Our Lord used the language of certainty in His short message to the penitent thief. It is as if He was saying to the repentant robber, "What I am saying to you now is sure and steadfast. It's settled. It's secure. It's solid as a rock which cannot be moved. You, who have put your trust in Me. You, have sincerely repented. You, have confessed your need of Me, will be blessed beyond belief."
Please, notice also how sweet this promise is. "You will be with Me." Indeed, God's ultimate goal for the repentant, redeemed, and reconciled sinner is to be with the Person of Christ Himself. It is to be in His eternal presence. In His High-priestly prayer in the upper room, our Lord specifically requested His Father: "Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, in order that they may behold My glory; which You have given Me before the foundation of the world" (John 17:24). The first person to experience the fullness and fulfillment of this blessed prayer was the saved robber. He was soon to be with none other than the Lord Jesus Christ Himself in His glory. What a special company! The thief who used to hang out with gangs, robbers, criminals, rascals, and rebels of society is now being promised the special company of the Christ and the Creator Himself. Please understand that this special company is not just for a day but for all eternity. How sweet is that! How wonderful is that! How lovely is that! And the amazing thing is that all these benefits and blessings were poured out on the repentant robber without him being baptized. Without him being confirmed or taking catechism classes! Without him going to chapel or church! Without attending a Bible Study! Without him participating in communion or ceremonial works! How amazing is that! This teaches us that true salvation is not dependent on religious rituals, rules, or regulations. Indeed, the joy of heaven is to see Christ, spend time with Him, sit with Him, serve Him, and share in His glory as He Himself had prayed in John 17:24.
Our Lord is making His will very clear. He says, "I want all repentant believers to know that when you die believing in Me as your one and only Savior, you will be with Me." O blessed thought! O words with comfort fraught! In other words, what Jesus did for the repentant robber, He wants to do for you. When you believe in Him, you will also be with Jesus. You will also spend time with Jesus in His glorious presence for all eternity. You will serve Him and share in His glory for eternity. To use the language of teenagers: "You will get to hang out with Jesus for all eternity."
Special Place of Residence: "in paradise" (Luke 23:43e).
The fourth and final essential truth in the second saying of our Lord on the cross has to do with specifying the special place of residence. Notice very carefully that our Lord specifies the special place of residence He intends for the repentant robber to spend eternity with Him. He doesn't leave it to chance. He doesn't leave it to the imagination of the repentant robber. He is very clear about where they will be together immediately after death. And what is that place? Our Lord simply says, "in paradise" (Luke 23:43e). The Greek word for "paradise" is "paradeiso." The word "paradise" occurs only three times in the Bible, namely in Luke 23:43; 2 Corinthians 12:4; and Revelation 2:7. According to 2 Corinthians 12:2, 4, "paradise" is the same as "the third heaven" since they are used interchangeably.
Actually, this is the first and only time the Lord Jesus used the word "paradise" in His ministry on earth. He would not use it again until the time of giving His revelation in glory to apostle John in Revelation 2:7, where He referred to it as "the Paradise of God." For the repentant robber "paradise" would be one of the last words he heard before the pangs of death came upon him. How special is that! According to the biblical record, the penitent criminal became the first and only person to whom our Lord mentioned "Paradise" to in His earthly ministry. No one, not even His beloved apostles heard of it from His mouth. Not even His beloved Mother heard of "paradise" from His blessed lips. How significant is that! How wonderful! How privileged! How honored, the saved thief was! This teaches us an important spiritual principle: God, in His grace, gives His very best to the truly repentant. Although the repentant robber didn't deserve to be received into Paradise, yet Jesus in His grace and mercy bestowed it on him. Oh, the amazing grace of God! Oh the abounding love of Christ! The words of the first stanza of the hymn "The Love of God" written by the hymn writer Frederick M. Lehman are appropriate here:
Amazingly, Christ's love reached the lowest hell, saving a repentant sinner. But that was not all. This love lifted the saved sinner to heights of glory to a place called "Paradise"- a place of blessedness and bliss, delight and devotion! Truly, Christ has opened Paradise indeed! Alleluia!
Notice the Lord Jesus first told the penitent thief that he would be with Him before mentioning to him paradise-the place he was headed. This is an important observation. But you ask what is important about this observation? Well, I'm glad you've asked. Please watch this now! You see, the Lord Jesus understood that it is the person that makes the place special.
Please, notice very carefully that the Lord Jesus did not say to the repentant robber that He would be headed to "purgatory" to do pennants for his sins. If there was such a place as "purgatory," the thief, the robber, the criminal, who had just repented and was about to die would have been a perfect candidate to send there. But the truth is, there is no such place. Jesus put the repentant robber's heart at rest. He said to him, "Today you will be with Me in paradise." In other words, Jesus is assuring him that the greatest aspect of heaven will be spending eternity with Him. Perhaps, during the hours of darkness that came over Christ and the criminals while they were hanging on their crosses, the penitent thief pondered and cherished those words in his heart. Perhaps, he said to himself, "Today, I will be with Jesus in Paradise. Is this not His grace to me? Is this not His blessing to me? Is this not His kindness to me? Jesus, how can I thank You for bestowing such honor on an undeserving wretched, wayward, wicked, and woeful sinner like me? I'm lost for words to express my deep appreciation to You. I am eternally grateful to You for pouring out such special love on me. Thank You Jesus! Amazing grace! how sweet the sound-that saved a wretch like me! I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see. Oh how can it be that I should gain an interest in the Savior's blood? Died You for me, who caused Your pain? For me, who You to death pursued? Amazing love! How can it be that Thou, my God shouldst die for me?"
John Stott eloquently writes on the Savior's salvation of a repentant sinner:
Charles R. Erdman also writes with great insight:
What we see in this story is that from Jesus' side one person may go to heaven and another to hell. Let me ask you: Which side of the cross are you on? Are you on the side of the repentant robber? Or are you on the side of the unrepentant thief?
Our Lord's second saying on the cross: "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise," reveals His love for sinners as well as His willingness to save those who repent and turn to Him. It also reveals His willingness to forgive our sins even at the last moment of our lives. He will not cast away sinners who turn to Him at the moment of death. How wonderful is Jesus my Savior! While in excruciating and indescribable pain, He had no thought for Himself. He had no bitterness in His heart against those who mocked and mistreated Him. He had no resentment toward them. He only had thoughts for others and sought His very best for them. In fact, His thoughts for others were vividly demonstrated in His speedy salvation of a repentant sinner, who rejoiced in the salvation of Jesus and entered Paradise with Christ that very day. The inspired words of David are appropriate here: "I have trusted in Your lovingkindness; my heart will rejoice in Your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, because He has dealt bountifully with me" (Psalm 13:5-6).
The Savior's Salvation of a Sinner!
By Joseph Ametepe
We Proclaim Jesus.