The Thief on the Cross

Scripture: Isaiah 6:1-8, Revelation 12:11
Date: 04/10/2020 
How are we saved from sin?

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Doug Batchelor: There's really only two kings in this world. You can either serve Jesus, or you serve the enemy. People hate to think of it that way, but you've really got Christ or Satan, that's all you have. Some folks say, "Well, I'm not going to get involved, I'm neutral." Jesus said that's not an option. He said you're either with me, or against me.

You know, I want to share something with you that is always fascinating to me. It's a passage you find in the book of Isaiah that sort of outlines the science of salvation. It's the steps in conversion. Chapter 6 is where you find Isaiah's conversion experience. And it says, "In the year that King Uzziah died," this is Isaiah 6:1, "I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of his robe filled the temple."

So, he sees God. He sees him on his throne. He sees the Lord in the year that his king died. I think that's interesting, good King Uzziah. And it tells us, "Above his throne stood the seraphim," these angelic creatures. "Each one had six wings, with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one cried to another and said, 'Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts. The whole earth is full of his glory.' And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke."

Now what would you do if you saw something like that? Well, Isaiah saw the glory of God. He saw the holiness of God and he was overwhelmed. And he said, "Woe is me, I am undone. Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips. For mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts." He repents and confesses his sin after he sees the goodness of God and the power of God. "Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand, coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar, and he touched my mouth with it, and he said, 'Behold, this has touched your lips. Your iniquity is taken away, your sin purged.'"

What a beautiful story. As soon as he sees God, he confesses, he repents, his iniquity is taken away, his sin is purged. And after he's cleansed from his sin, it says, "Then I heard the voice of the Lord." You know, after you come to the Lord, and you repent of your sin, and you're washed from sin, you hear God speaking in a new way. It's like when Christ came out of the water. There was this voice from heaven. God speaks to us and guides us through his Spirit in a new way when we're converted. And that voice says, "Who will I send, and who will go for us?" And then it said, "Here am I, send me." Isaiah responded, and God said, "Go, tell those people." It starts with his seeing the Lord, it ends with his going for the Lord.

Salvation really begins with seeing God. The Bible tells us the goodness of God leads us to repentance. But it really is all summed up in first he saw the Lord, and not only did he see the Lord, the Bible tells us he saw the Lord in the year that his king died.

You know, it's at the cross that we really see the Lord the best. And as I mentioned in our opening remarks, this is what the world refers to as Good Friday. That time when 2,000 years ago, Jesus successfully culminated the plan of salvation by living a sinless life and then dying on our behalf. And when we really see what God has done for us, that has a transformational power. And you know, that I think is the key to revival.

I want to take you to that Friday afternoon, and we're going to go to Luke chapter 23. And this is--the message is really the thief on the cross, as you've gathered. "Then one of the criminals were hanged," crucified, "Blasphemed him, saying, 'If you are the Christ, save yourself and us.' But the other answered and 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 rewards for our deeds. But this man, Jesus, had done nothing wrong.'" Then he turns and he says 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.'"

What a wonderful promise. Now, you don't find this story in Matthew, or Mark, or John, it's only here in the Gospel of Luke that he gives that account. And I'm so glad that it's there, because this story of an 11th-hour conversion really gives a lot of people hope. Now, I don't recommend that anybody waits till the 11th hour before they make their decision to come to the Lord. I think it was Matthew Henry that said one time, "There is one example of an 11th-hour conversion in the Bible, so nobody needs to lose hope." But then he added, "Keep in mind there is only one example of an 11th-hour conversion, so nobody dare presume."

I think people that plan on waiting until the final hours of their life before they surrender their lives to the Lord, it usually doesn't work out that way. We don't know whether or not we're going to die suddenly, so you don't want to plan that way. You want to give the Lord your life and your best now, because it's always better to live the Christian life than to wait and live for the devil and offer to the Lord the leftovers just before you drop off into the grave.

Now, there have been some people that, praise the Lord, I was at more than one hospital bed when somebody gave their heart to the Lord, and I prayed with them in just the final days of their life. And I believe I'll see them in the kingdom. But you don't ever want to plan your life that way, but there is hope in that.

Now, when we're looking at this story, there's so many things we can learn from this. First of all, the conversion takes place at the cross. You know, one of the great passages in the Bible, it talks about Galatians chapter 2, verse 20. "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ that lives in me. And the life that I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me."

You know, when I read that, it occurred to me one time, there's only a couple of people that were actually crucified with Christ, literally. There were two thieves, and one of them was saved. So, I made it a special interest of mine to study what happened in this example. Something else about these two thieves is it says they were guilty of murder. Well, Jesus said, "If anyone is angry with his brother without a cause, he's guilty of murder." We can have homicide in our hearts, it's not just an action, it can be an attitude. And we also learn from this story they could do nothing to save themselves.

So, here they are, they're under a death sentence, like all of us. They're guilty of murder, and robbery, blasphemy, it says they blasphemed Jesus to begin with. You know, Jesus was on the cross for about six hours alive, one hour dead, a total of seven hours, very interesting. Last hour on the cross, He was resting. And during the time of the crucifixion, originally both thieves sort of engaged in asking Jesus to use His power to save them. But as the hours wore on, something began to happen in the heart of one of those thieves.

Now, I'm going to tell you in a series of points here what happened. And this thief, he went through, it says, I'll just tell you real quick. He beheld the evidence, he believed, he broadcast, he beseeched, he became, and he was blessed. And so, this thief goes through a transformation. He goes through the steps of conversion on the cross. Now, the reason we're looking at this in studying the subject of the new heart is because I believe we can apply these principles to our lives, and say, "Lord, have I gone through these steps?"

So, let's look at some of these things together. Well, first of all it says he beheld the evidence. I just talked to you about the story of Isaiah. Isaiah saw the Lord. Something happens when we see. Jesus said, "If I am lifted up, I will draw all men unto me." And as we behold, Christ said, "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness." You remember all the Israelites there in the book of Numbers. They were bitten by serpents, and they were dying. And Moses was instructed to make a bronze serpent, and put it on a pole, and he lifted it up in a position of visibility for everybody. And those that looked in faith were healed of the venom. And Jesus said, "As Moses lifted up the serpent, so the Son of Man must be lifted up." And you know, we sing that song, "Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus." And John the Baptist, when he first identified Christ, he said, "Behold, the Son of God."

Something happens when we see. Our eyes are opened in a special way. The conversion of Isaiah, he saw the Lord. Paul on the road to Damascus, he saw the Lord. What did Zacchaeus want? He wanted to see Jesus. These and many others in the Bible, their conversion began with getting a picture of God and his goodness. And then that led to repentance and the other steps in the process. So, this man sees Jesus lifted up. He saw his king in the year that he died.

You know, there's real power in the cross. Go through your hymnal sometime and look at how many songs revolve around the theme of the cross. Whether it's "Beneath the Cross of Jesus," or "At the Cross, At the Cross," and so many others, there's real power in the blood, as they say. So, he beholds the evidence. He sees the contrast between Barabbas and Jesus. See, that man was a witness to the trial of Pilate. So, when Pilate, you know, there were three crosses already prepared that day, Barabbas was supposed to die on one of them. Pilate thought, "I've gotta trick to see if I could get Jesus set free." Pilate didn't want to have him crucified. His wife had warned him, don't do anything against that just man. So, he said I'll take this hardened criminal, Barabbas, and I'll set him next to Jesus who has already been beaten, and they'll have empathy, and they'll say let Jesus go. But it didn't work that way.

Well, this thief was watching this all unfold. He saw the whole drama of the religious leaders saying, "Give us Barabbas." And as a result of that, that made an impression on him. He saw the sign above Jesus's head. He's hanging from the cross, and maybe at an angle where he can read it, and it says, "This is the king of the Jews." Well, that should tell you something. He saw the darkness of the day. He overheard Jesus, I'm assuming that the two thieves were crucified first, and then the Romans, they crucified Jesus last. And he heard Jesus say, "Father, forgive them, they don't know what they're doing." And he realized this is my only hope, so he beholds the evidence, and then he believes the evidence.

It's one thing to know the evidence, it's another thing to believe it. You know, the devil knows the Bible is true, but he doesn't believe it. He's not willing to surrender to it, and have faith in it, and follow it. This man actually acts upon the evidence. When he sees that Jesus is the Messiah, the Savior of the world, he ends up asking for help. And so, this begins to work in his heart, and he realizes this is the Messiah. He settles the faith in his mind.

You know, we cannot be saved without faith. This man believes. Now, what separates this thief from the one on the left? You know, both thieves asked to be saved. The thief on the left said, "If you're the Savior, and if you're the Christ, save yourself and us." What did the devil say to Jesus when he came with the temptations in the wilderness? He said, "If you're the Son of God." Father came to Christ in Mark chapter 9, he's got his son that is tormented by a demon, and he says the demon throws my son in the fire, and he throws him in the water, and he says, "But if you can do anything," Jesus just stopped when he said that, and he said if. If you believe, all things are possible. And so, it is so important to the Lord to believe.

And you know, some of us, you might be saying, "Pastor Doug, I just don't have enough faith, what I do?" Pray the prayer that father prayed in that story. He said, "Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief." So, even if you've got faith like a grain of mustard seed, come. This thief evidently had some faith there. And he turned to Christ then. Not only did he believe the evidence, he broadcast his convictions. He had the courage to actually speak up and say something about it.

In Luke chapter 23:40: "Do you not even fear God, seeing you're under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly." This is him repenting and confessing publicly. He says we're getting what we deserve. "For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation."

It's one thing to believe the Lord, but you can't always be a secret Christian. Someone once said that there's really no such thing as a secret Christian, because either your Christianity will destroy the secrecy, or your secrecy will destroy the Christianity. But it's just so hard to keep the good news a secret. And if you let that happen, pretty soon the good news dies away. This man could not keep it to himself in front of everybody.

You know what? Some people are afraid to testify for Jesus in a crowd where it's not popular. Think about that man that day. He is surrounded by the crowd that had condemned Jesus. They hate Jesus, they're demon possessed, and he turns to Jesus, and says, "Lord." Well, that takes courage, but you know what? When you're crucified with Christ, you have nothing to lose. He didn't care what the crowd thought. What are they going to, do crucify him? You can't do anything worse than that.

And so, it's actually very liberating when you take up your cross and you follow the Lord. This is what this man did. He laid everything down, and he was crucified with Christ. He wasn't afraid to publicly testify for Jesus. Even Christ's own disciples, it says they stood afar off beholding these things. Just before the end, John and Mary came to the foot of the cross, and later, some of the others maybe drew closer. But Jesus was definitely not popular that day. It's probably some of the same people in the crowd that were shouting, "Hosanna to the Son of David," that were also in the crowd shouting, "Crucify him, crucify him." Don't follow the crowd. The crowd's very fickle.

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Doug: So, this man believed, he publicly confessed. You know, you read in Revelation 12, verse 11: "The redeemed overcome by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony." That man publicly said, "Lord," and he declared his convictions. Something else happens here. It says he beseeched the Lord. Not only did he declare him to be Lord, he declared him to be King. Notice, he said, "Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom." You must accept Jesus as your Lord and your King. He's directing your life. He is the king of your life, he rules.

You know, I like the way Paul puts it. He said, "Let not sin reign." A king usually reigns in a kingdom. And when you surrender your heart to the Lord, sin will not reign in your heart anymore. Paul says, "Sin shall not have dominion over you." Again, he's speaking in kingly language. And how often did Jesus share parables of the kingdom?

There's really only two kings in this world, you can either serve Jesus, or you serve the enemy. People hate to think of it that way, but you've really got Christ or Satan, that's all you have. Some folks say, "Well I'm not going to get involved, I'm neutral." Jesus said that's not an option. He said you're either with Me or against Me.

Now, have you asked yourself lately, am I really 100% with the Lord? You can't serve two masters, Jesus said. So, he then beseeches the Lord. He issues a prayer, and he says, "Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom." You know, that's such a beautiful statement, when you think about it.

So often, we forget about God, but we want God to remember us. That man, that thief, that day, he could've said, "Lord, can you make the nails hurt a little less? Lord, I'm thirsty, can you get me a drink?" Of course, Jesus was thirsty, too. He didn't ask for any relief from his present circumstances.

You know, so many people, they have sort of a foxhole conversion. Even Christians that aren't in a foxhole sometimes have foxhole conversions, where they'll go through a crisis, and while they're going through the crisis, they're scared. They get a bad report from the doctor, or they've got a crisis in their family, or they have a near-death experience with a car accident, or something, a financial reversal. A lot of people have had big financial reverse. And they come to the Lord out of fear, but all of a sudden, when the finances are okay, they forget about the Lord, or when they survive the medical problem.

You know, this man was not asking that God change his earthly circumstances, he was asking that he changed his eternal circumstances. You can come to the Lord, and God can change your circumstances. He can save you from all kinds of problems, I've seen it many, many times. I've seen people, I know people who are in prison with a life sentence, and they gave their hearts to the Lord, and through a miracle, they never expected to get out, they got out and continued serving the Lord. Because while they were in prison, they said even if I never get out, I'm giving myself to the Lord. So, it wasn't based on, "Lord, what are you going to do for me?"

So, this thief, he's really not asking for earthly relief. So often, our prayers are like that man who's in prison. And he says, "Lord, this prison is so cold. Will you help them fix the air conditioner or the heater?" Or they say, "Lord, the food in this prison is terrible. Can you do something about the cook, do something about the food?" Or they say, "Lord, my bed is so hard. Can you give me a better bed?" "Or, The concrete floor is so rough. Can I have a little foot carpet?" Or, Lord--and it's like they keep praying that God will make them more comfortable in their prison, and the Lord says to them, "Why don't you pray that I get you out of jail?"

See, Jesus is not just wanting to make us comfortable while we continue living a selfish life. And so often, our prayers are filled with things that are basically saying, "Lord, help me to be prosperous and comfortable on my way to destruction." Well, hope the Lord never answers that prayer for you. You don't want to be comfortable on your way to destruction, you want to be convicted on your way to destruction. And this man was not praying for temporary comfort, he was praying for eternity. And what is more important than that, your temporary welfare, or your eternal welfare? That should be the primary prayer of our hearts.

Point number five, he becomes a new creature. He may not have looked much different on the outside, but something actually happened. Now, he goes through the steps of conversion. You remember we started with the story of Isaiah. We see the Lord, then by contrast, we see ourselves. That man saw Jesus as the Son of God, he saw Him lifted up in the year that his king died, and then he sees himself. He knows that he's wasted his life, he confesses publicly. This man did nothing wrong. We are getting what we deserve. We've been criminals, we've wasted our lives, and then he repents, he's sorry. He publicly confesses, he receives the promise, he beseeches, he asks the Lord, he receives and believes the word of Jesus, and then what happens? He embraces the cross. He is crucified with Christ. He didn't ask to get down.

Now, I want to ask you a question though, just hypothetically. If this man could've gotten off the cross, would he have lived a different life? I think so. You know, a lot of people, when they're converted, you know they're converted because they're just transformed by it. Some people say, "Well, I just want to be forgiven," but they don't really want to be changed. But what really happens when you're converted is that your behavior changes.

The interesting thing this story reminds us is this man is definitely not saved by his works. Well, there is one work he does. Jesus said this is the work, that you believe on the one the Father sent. This man did that work. He believed on Jesus, but this man was not saved because he paid a lot of tithe, he is not saved because he was at church every week, he's not saved because he had the perfect health habits, he's not saved for a lot of the good works and good deeds that we would normally think. There's absolutely no record of any good deeds that he did after he came to Jesus. So, he saved based on his turning to Christ and his faith.

Now, this is something I hope that everybody catches in this story. Jesus looks like He is at His most helpless point in His life. He suspended between heaven and earth, He cannot move, He's imprisoned on the cross, and the devil thinks, "I've finally got 'em where I want Him." See, every other time in Jesus's life, when the crowd tried to stone Jesus, as they did once or twice, or when they tried to toss Him off the cliff there in Nazareth, the Father protected Jesus. But now, God has withdrawn His protection.

There in the Garden of Gethsemane, when Christ prayed that Thursday evening, and He said, "Father, not My will, Thy will be done," the Father withdrew His protection from Christ. Demons came in and just did everything they could to extract as much suffering as they could from the Son of God to get Him to sin, to deny the Father. And finally, now Jesus is being crucified. He doesn't look like the King of the universe or the Creator, and the devil thought, "I've stopped Him, He's helpless," and yet, Jesus said, "I've come to seek and to save the lost."

And that thief, when he called out and said, "Lord, remember me," the devil could not keep the Savior from saving. Even though His hands were nailed to the cross, and His feet were spiked to the tree, when that man asked for help, Jesus, I think His face began to shine. He forgot about all of his physical suffering, because the main purpose of Christ's life was to save the lost.

You know, it's so interesting that Christ's delights in reaching the people that normally you would think are the most hopeless. Who's the first one there at the tomb for the resurrection? A prostitute converted by grace. Who is the one that is beside Christ that's converted at the crucifixion? A thief, a robber, and someone who is at least an accomplice in murder. These are the people who are surrounding the greatest events.

What is Jesus trying to tell us by all of this? That there's hope for every sinner. Doesn't matter what your sins are. "Pastor Doug, I'm guilty of adultery." Oh, Jesus saved adulterers. "I'm guilty of murder." Well, Moses was guilty of murder, as was David and others, and Manasseh, and he saved them. And the Bible tells us the arms of the Lord are not shortened that he cannot save. He can save you, friends. So, then he receives the blessing of Christ. He beseeched the Lord and he receives the blessing. The words of Christ come like music from heaven. "Assuredly I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise." What a promise.

You know, you can go through almost anything if you know it's going to be better on the other side. And when that thief realized that he was promised everlasting life, I think he embraced that promise with his faith. He couldn't do anything with his hands, but by faith he embraced that promise, and peace entered his heart. And I think there was a dramatic transformation that came over his face that the whole crowd went silent and they listened to this conversation between the thief in Jesus. And in the final hours of Jesus's--final moments of Jesus's life in the world, he saved one of the most hopeless people who could not save himself.

Jesus is offering us eternal life. He says follow Me and you will have a place in My kingdom. There were three crosses on the hill that day. One of those crosses died in sin, one died to sin, and then Jesus died for sin. Everybody is in that picture somewhere, friends. I hope that you'll come to Christ right now and say, "Lord I want to accept You and I want to die to sin. I want to have that new birth, that new heart."

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Doug: Turn on the news, search the internet, stroll down the block. Are you terrified yet? Every day brings a new crisis in this COVID-stressed society. And it's not only external disasters, it's now in our very homes. A recent survey polled 88% of Americans as believing that they're more divided now than they were before the pandemic.

Did you know the Bible told us thousands of years ago that all of this would happen? Friends, that's why you need to join me, Doug Batchelor, and Amazing Facts for "Panorama of Prophecy: A Bible Study Spectacular" at the new Granite Bay Hilltop Church. It starts October 15 at 7 p.m. Pacific time. You can attend in person or watch the live broadcast on Facebook, YouTube, 3ABN, or AFTV. For more information, visit

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