Fri, Apr 02, 1999
Good Friday 1999 - Which Side of the Cross?
Luke 23:33-43 by Joe Guglielmo
Ministry of Pastor Joe Guglielmo teachings through the Bible, verse by verse for a better understanding of Gods Word.
Series: Holiday Messages



LUKE 23:33-43


Most, if not all of us have a desire to be clean, to feel good about ourselves. And when we feel bad, when we feel that we have done something wrong, we try either to make it right, to suppress those feelings or to find a way to justify our behaviors and make the wrong thing a right thing in our eyes.

You see, God has placed in our hearts, in our conscience what is right and what is wrong. The problem comes when we begin to ignore what God has said and, as Paul tells us, that our "...own conscience [is] seared with a hot iron." I Timothy 4:2. In other words we become insensitive to what is right and what is wrong, we have begun to short circuit the system that God has placed in us.

But many still struggle in this area and they go to all kinds of therapists to have someone in authority tell them what they are doing is not a sin, it is not their fault, it is even a normal lifestyle. In other words, they want their behavior justified so they can feel good about doing evil.

Let me give you an example of the extreme measures that some people will take to feel clean, to right the wrongs they have done in their life. In his book Living In The Light Of Eternity, K. P. Yohannan writes:

"Newspapers in India carried the story recently of a Hindu man who, like many other devotees, embarked on a pilgrimage to a holy site to receive forgiveness for his sins. His desperate desire to be cleansed of sin caught the eye of the media."

"The man had begun his journey with his two sons about 125 miles from the holy mountain that was his destination. He took a small pebble in his hand and lay down on the dirt road, stretching his arm as far as he could reach and putting the pebble there. Then he raised himself up and walked to where the pebble lay. Picking it up. He went through the entire motion again - and again and again. Body length by body length, he and his sons made their painstaking way to the pilgrimage site."

"At one point along a busy highway, a speeding truck hit one of his sons, killing him instantly. But the pilgrim continued on his way, his passion for forgiveness greater than the grief he felt for his son."

"‘Nothing is too great a price to pay for my forgiveness,’ he told the news reporters who had gathered at the scene. ‘I am willing to do whatever it takes.’"

"The man and his remaining son continued on their arduous journey until they finally reached the peak of the holy mountain. As they prepared to offer their sacrifice to the gods they worshiped, the man directed his son to turn away and begin to pray. The boy complied. While he was looking the other way, his father lifted a knife and sacrificed this remaining son in a final hope of forgiveness for his sins."

What a sad and tragic story, and as sincere as this man was, as dedicated as he was in trying to atone for his sins, he was sincerely wrong and all his dedication to the cause went for nothing, and in the end he lost two sons and still remained in his sins!

Now we in America might not go to such extremes, but our ideas are basically the same, it is our righteousness that will get us into heaven. The thought is we are basically good people and because of that God has to let us into heaven, it is only fair!

As much as man may like to justify himself and his behavior, God has a completely different outlook of the situation we are in. You see, the Scriptures say "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." Romans 3:23. And we have all been born into this world with a sin nature as Paul said in Romans 5:12, "Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned."

Now to think that our righteous behavior, that our doing more good in this life than bad is a "get into heaven free card" is absolutely wrong! Two points I want to make regarding this issue. The first is found in Isaiah 64:6-7. We read "But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; we all fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. And there is no one who calls on Your name, who stirs himself up to take hold of You; for You have hidden Your face from us, and have consumed us because of our iniquities."

Now when the King James translators were translating the Scriptures into English they toned down what Isaiah was saying because they felt it was to strong, to harsh for people. The point that Isaiah is making is that all our good works, all our righteous deeds, are like used menstrual rags before Him! Repulsive, it should be, because that is how God looks at our actions outside of Christ. They can’t save you, only keep you unclean, impure before God.

The second point is this, in Hebrews 9:22 we read "And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission." In the Old Testament it was the sacrifice of an animal that was without spot or blemish that would cover you sins, but it could never completely remove them or take them away. And that same thought is echoed in the New Testament, that without the shedding of blood there is nor remission of sins!

So was this man right in sacrificing his sons? Of course not! As I said the sacrifice had to be without spot or blemish and no man is without acquired or inherited sin. So man could not die for our sins or even his own sins, to pay that penalty for them.

That was Jobs’ hearts cry when he said "Truly I know it is so, but how can a man berighteous before God?...For He is not a man, as I am, that I may answer Him, and that weshould go to court together. Nor is there any mediator between us, who may lay his handon us both." Job 9:2, 32-3. And that was Bildad’s cry in Job 25:4-6, "How then can man berighteous before God? Or how can he be pure who is born of a woman? If even the moondoes not shine, and the stars are not pure in His sight, How much less man, who is amaggot, and a son of man, who is a worm?" As dark, as depressing as those thoughts are, we are told in the New Testament "For there is one God and one Mediator between God andmen, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all..." I Timothy 2:5-6.

As we come together on this Good Friday 1999 we must understand that the cross of Calvary was not the result of Jesus losing control, stepping out of line, and because of that was put to death. Not at all! Jesus said in John 10:17-18, "Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father." When John the baptist saw Jesus coming to him by the Jordan River he said "...‘Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" John 1:29.

Jesus, God incarnate, came to offer Himself as the perfect sacrifice, shedding His blood so that our sins would be cast as far as the east is from the west, (Psalm 103:12), to be remembered no more, (Isaiah 43:25). And Jesus was a perfect sacrifice, He had no acquired sin or inherited sin, He was sinless, as Peter tells us, "knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot." I Peter 1:18-19.

Now to say the cross, the death of Jesus was a second thought, an alternative plan because things got out of control, is just plain foolishness. In Revelation 13:8 we read "All who dwell on the earth will worship him, whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world." You see, before the earth was even created, God knew what He would have to do to save sinful man - He would have to shed His blood to atone for the sins of the world.

As I have said, man wants forgiveness, he wants to feel clean, he doesn’t want this guilt of sin upon his life, and yet he runs to and fro trying to be relieved from this burden, looking here and there and everywhere except where it really matters, the Lord. Peter said "For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit." I Peter 3:18.

With the remainder of our time this evening, I want to look at the love of God as He hung on the cross between two thieves. You see, even at this point, God was reaching out to sinful man, and for one it was a tragic ending to an evil life, and to the other, it was a glorious ending to an evil and wicked life. So if you would, please turn in your Bibles to Luke chapter 23, and lets begin reading in verse 33.

LUKE 23:33-43

"And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left. Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.’ And they divided His garments and cast lots. And the people stood looking on. But even the rulers with them sneered, saying, ‘He saved others; let Him save Himself if He is the Christ, the chosen of God.’ The soldiers alsomocked Him, coming and offering Him sour wine, and saying, ‘If You are the King of theJews, save Yourself.’ And an inscription also was written over Him in letters of Greek,Latin, and Hebrew: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS. Then one of the criminals whowere hanged blasphemed Him, saying, ‘If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.’ Butthe other, answering, rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said to Jesus, Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise."

Just as Isaiah 53:12 says, Jesus was "numbered with the transgressors", Jesus was hung on a cross between two thieves. Luke uses the word "criminals" or "malefactors" and Matthew uses the word "robbers" or "thieves". Luke’s point is that they had the "malicious, cunning, and treacherous character of an evildoer." Matthew’s point is that they would "deprive another of his property openly and by violence." In other words, these men that hung on either side of Jesus were guilty of armed robbery and most likely they murdered their victims.

And yet Jesus was innocent, He committed no crime. Isaiah 53:9 says that "...He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth." Isaiah continues to say "Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise [crush] Him; he has put Him to grief. When You make His soul anoffering for sin,...and He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for thetransgressors." Isaiah 53:10, 12.

In saying that, in seeing the total unfairness of the entire situation, that our Lord, who was completely innocent, and yet He was beaten so badly that His face no longer resembled that of a man. He was scourged so badly that most people died at the scourging post after enduring this torture. He was mocked, spit upon, hung on a cross naked for all to see His shame. And yet He was totally innocent. What do you think the first response you would have made if you had these things done to you? If we were honest, it would not be a pretty picture on our part. And yet, the response of Jesus, the first words He spoke from the cross, were "...‘Father, forgivethem, for they do not know what they do...." Luke 23:34. Notice the compassion of Jesus for those that were putting Him to death.

James S. Stewart put it this way, he said: "That the messiah should die was hard enough to credit, but that he should die such a death was utterly beyond belief. Yet so it was. Everything which Christ ever touched - the cross included - he adorned and transfigured and haloed with splendor and beauty; but let us never forget out of what appalling depths he has set the cross on high."

"O teach me what it meaneth

That cross uplifted high

With One, the man of sorrows,

condemned to bleed and die."

- Lucy A. Bennett

Now as much as Jesus was the focus of the day, we must not forget that there were two other crosses standing that day, on either side of Jesus. And on both of these crosses were men who deserved what they were getting - death! In life they were evil, murderers, and now they were caught, and they were going to pay the penalty for what they did. Justice was going to be served for the crimes they committed.

And we are told in Matthew that both these evil men joined in with the crowds mocking Jesus. Matthew tells us that the crowds were saying "...‘You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.’...‘Hesaved others; Himself He cannot save. If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come downfrom the cross, and we will believe Him. He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now if Hewill have Him; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God." Matthew 27:40, 42-43. And these evil men, hanging on either side of Jesus, joined in with this mocking of an innocent man.

But after some time of this verbal bashing, the heart of one of the thieves was broken. Maybe it was the sign that hung over the head of Jesus, written in Greek, Latin, and Hebrew saying "...THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS." Maybe it was the compassion, the love, the forgiveness that were seen in the eyes of Jesus that finally opened up his eyes and his heart to the truth that was before him.

Whatever it was, there was a change in this criminal’s heart, for as the other criminal continued to mock and blaspheme Jesus, he responded by saying, "...‘Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong." Luke 23:40-41.

What an important lesson for us to learn. A person can’t come to Christ until he first sees the need in his own life. If you see yourself as a good person, why do you need a Savior? You don’t, or at least you think you don’t! It is when you are broken in spirit, aware that we are sinners separated from God with no way to get out of the condition on our own, and our only help is when we look up.

That is exactly what this man did. He saw that he was just getting what he deserved. He committed the crime, he committed the armed robbery, he killed one or more people to steal and gain another’s property. And now he was paying the penalty for that crime. And yet, as he looked to Jesus he saw Him as innocent, and this man who was poor in spirit, mourning over his spiritual condition, humbly coming before the man that had over His head, "...THIS IS THEKING OF THE JEWS." and he said to Jesus "...‘Lord, remember me when You come intoYour kingdom." Luke 23:42.

The man simply spoke from his heart his need for forgiveness, "And Jesus said to him,‘Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise." Luke 23:43. Jesus told this man that he would be saved! Wow, what happened? Surely his good deeds did not outweigh his bad deeds. He was not baptized with water to be saved. He in no way could earn his way into heaven, he was hanging on a cross, dying. He did not deserve it, he was a murderer! Then how in the world did this man get saved?

Just like all of us. Paul in Ephesians chapter 2 speaks of us being dead in our trespasses and sins, being blown by the winds of doctrine that are blowing in this world, meandering through life. But then God steps in with His rich mercy and love for us and made us alive again, spiritually speaking. Paul tells us how this happens beginning in verse 8 of Ephesians chapter 2, where we read "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast." Ephesians 2:8-9.

Salvation begins with the grace of God, that is getting something we don’t deserve, we are totally unworthy to receive it. It is through faith, that is believing on what God has said, and that new life, our salvation is a gift of God, all we must do is receive it by faith. No works will ever get you into heaven, as I have said already tonight. No confirmation, baptism, church membership, church attendance, holy communion, trying to keep the ten commandments, living by the Sermon on the Mount, giving to charity, being a good neighbor, living a moral and respectable life, and-so-on. You are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, by Christ alone! As Paul said in Galatians 2:20-21, "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I wholive, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in theSon of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God; forif righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain."

God’s invitation to paradise is open to all, for the atonement for our sins was paid in full by Christ on the cross of Calvary. When Jesus cried out "It is finished!" (John 19:30), TETELESTAI in the Greek, which can also be translated "Paid in full!" All our sins were atoned for by Christ, all we must do to appropriate that into our lives is to receive that free gift into our lives by faith, asking Jesus to be our Lord and Savior!

As I bring this study to a close, listen carefully to these words by Charles R. Erdman. He said:

"This story reveals the truth to us that salvation is conditioned upon repentance and faith. However, it contains other important messages also. It declares that salvation is independent of sacraments. The thief had never been baptized, nor had he partaken of the Lord’s supper....He did in fact boldly profess his faith in the presence of a hostile crowd and amid the taunts and jeers of rulers and soldiers, yet he was saved without any formal rites. It is further evident that salvation is independent of good works....It is also seen that there is no ‘sleep of the soul.’ The body may sleep, but consciousness exists after death. Again it is evident that there is no ‘purgatory.’ Out of a life of sin and shame, the penitent robber passed immediately into a state of blessedness. Again it may be remarked that salvation is not universal. There were two robbers; only one was saved. Last of all it may be noted that the very essence of the joy which lies beyond death consists in personal communion with Christ. The heart of the promise to the dying thief was this: ‘Thou shalt be with me.’ This is our blessed assurance, that to depart is ‘to be with Christ’ which is ‘very far better.’

Do not forget, there were also two thieves on crosses that day, one on either side of Jesus. From Jesus Christ’s side one person may go to heaven and another to hell. WHICH SIDE ARE YOU ON!