Home Media Sermons by Pastor Nicki Coertze Non-series Sermons . Save me, no rather SAVE me!

. Save me, no rather SAVE me!

Save me, no rather Save me!

Luke 23:32-42 32 Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. 33 And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. 35 And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” 39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. 43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”


Well, once again it is Easter Friday and we need to stand still at the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. For the past few weeks we have been doing just that in our series “Dying to live”. In our study of the cross we are looking at the theology of the cross and the implication of the cross in our daily lives. We will continue with that again from next Sunday. But for today I want to stand still at the cross and approach the message from a total different angle and focus on the GREAT I AM hanging between two thieves at Golgotha and look at their attitude and response to Jesus in the midst of their own trial

I have often said that there are two kinds of people in the world, only two. There are believers and there are unbelievers.  At the end of the day as far as eternity is concerned it does not matter if you are black or white or Russian or South African, when you die your eternal destiny will be determined by what you did with Jesus. On Golgotha we have such a story where two men both in major suffering in their own lives due to their own conduct face this challenge. What will they do with Jesus?

Most people in their trials whether their trials emanate from their own conduct or not, respond in two ways, they either rail against God and say things like “if God is so powerful or if He is a loving God why do we have trials in this life?”, or they can respond and acknowledge that they are sinners deserving of eternal damnation and cry out for mercy.  I find it so amazing that there are so many people who think that God is obliged to make the world a better place for us now as if we deserve it, as if God owes us.

So what do we learn from these two thieves hanging alongside Jesus on the cross? There are similarities between the two of them and there are differences.

These two thieves had a lot in common – both were guilty of crimes and were now receiving their punishment.  Both could see and hear Jesus – they saw him crucified – they heard him scream in pain as the nails were hammered through his body.  Both could see him hanging on the cross, and they could see the sign above his head that said “King of the Jews.” And both could hear Jesus pray, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” By the words that they say, it is also clear that both men had some idea of who Jesus claimed to be, and what that meant.  Maybe they had been raised in good homes and knew the OT scriptures, but had rebelled against their upbringing.  Maybe both men had heard Jesus preach, or seen him perform a miracle.  We don’t know for certain, but it does seem like both men had some idea of what “King of the Jews” could mean.  Both men wanted to be saved from this punishment and tortuous death.

Now think about the similarities with all of us. We all have either or will at a time suffer of circumstances that will test our attitude towards God.  And none of us will be able to say: "I do not deserve this." Most of us have seen Jesus on the cross and have heard his claim to kingship and his gracious words of forgiveness. And all of us want to be saved from death one way or the other. But then there are differences between these two thieves that I want to highlight. Let’s look at the two individually and learn some lessons from their final moments.

Firstly, a look at the first thief

The first thief says, "Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!" What a picture of a spiritually destitute? It is a matter of total indifference to him that he is suffering "the due reward of his deeds." To him right and wrong, praise and blame, good and bad are of no interest: his one objective is to save his earthly skin. He might even believe Jesus is the Messiah, the King of the Jews. But, it's only a matter of convenience to him: he'll take anybody as king who can get him off the cross. For him all that matters is his own worldly purposes.

That's the way one whole segment of humans relates to God in suffering. Suffering interrupts their private, worldly goals and pleasures. So why not try God?  It is that spare wheel mentality we often talk about. We get it out only in our time of need otherwise we do not care two hoots about it. When last have you had the one in the back of your car pumped? I think I made my point.  When people go through trials they are quick to call on Jesus, and then they are amazed that God will not dance after their tune.

The thief had no spirit of brokenness, or guilt, or penitence, or humility. He could only see Jesus as a possible power by which to escape the cross. He did not see him as  King to be followed. It never entered his mind that he should say he was sorry and should change.

Secondly, a look at the second thief

I believe there are great lessons we can learn from this second thief on the cross. Let me highlight six that we can take to heart and make sure that his attitude is reflected in our hearts.

Firstly, he speaks for Himself. He is not sucked in by the other guy’s attitude. He did not join in taking who Christ is for granted as if Christ is there to serve us at our beck and call. The first thing the repentant thief does is not get deceived by all this talk. Christian, we need to be so careful that we never question God on His willingness to act when  commanded by us. This thief was not taken in by his friend, on the contrary according to verse 40: “the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God,…?”

This leads us to the second thought about this thief: he feared God. We are not sure if he realised this before, but he seemed quite convinced now that God is real and God needs to be feared. This conclusion must be arrived at by princes and paupers. Solomon realised this in Ecclesiastes 12:13 (ESV) 13 The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” Well, it is never too late to fear God, but be careful, don’t presume. You cannot fool God and think you will live the way you want to and just before your death bed you will make right. God knows the heart. The clay cannot fool the potter; the creature cannot fool the creator.  Too often I hear this very section quoted when a person who was so far from God dies, and then we say, ‘well who knows, he might have made right in his final moment’.

Thirdly, the penitent thief admitted that he had done wrong: "We are receiving the due reward of our deeds" (v. 41). What a wonderful acknowledgement, what a point of honesty. He had no desire to save face, but blatantly acknowledges that the wages of his sin is death in the physical realm.  He was going to die but the difference at the end between him and the first thief is that this thief will have eternal life. Remember the bumper sticker ‘once born twice dead, twice born once dead.’ The first thief would taste the second death, but the second thief would only taste the first death. The second thief realised that he was dealing with an all knowing God.

Fourthly, not only did he admit to wrong and guilt, he accepted his punishment as deserved. 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds." This is the real test of humility before God. Many people will mouth the confession of sin: "God be merciful to us miserable sinners," but when some trouble comes, they get angry at him. And this anger reveals that they do not really feel undeserving before God. They still feel, deep down, that they have some rights before God, and that God owes them.

Fifthly, the thief acknowledged Jesus' righteousness: "This man had done nothing wrong." It didn't make any difference to the first thief if Jesus was right or wrong, as long as He could rescue him from the cross. It was not all about the King of Glory, but about the thief. But for the second thief it mattered what he thought of Jesus, and in the same way it matters for us. You cannot taste eternal life unless you have a right understanding of who Jesus is. Jesus is worthy of our total faith and allegiance because of who He is.

And then, sixthly, the thief goes a step further and acknowledges that indeed, Jesus is the King of Glory. "Remember me when you come into your kingdom." Even though he is suffering now, Jesus has the mark of a king. For those who have eyes to see, he has a power here on the cross—a power of love that makes him king over all his tormentors. He is not only good, he is powerful, and one day he will vindicate his great name, and every knee will bow and confess that Jesus is Lord—to the glory of God, the Father. This thief somehow comprehended that Jesus is the King of the eternal Kingdom and that eternal life was in His hands.

And finally, there is a second angle to the acknowledgement that Jesus is King.  The penitent thief does one more thing. He prays the most important prayer that he could ever pray. He now pleads to Jesus for help: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Do you realise that there is a vast difference between the following two sentences namely “save me” and “save me”? Both thieves wanted to be saved from death. But O how differently they sought their salvation. The first thief prayed to Jesus: "Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!" and the second thief after acknowledging all that he did prays: "Jesus, remember when you come into your kingdom!" There is an infinite qualitative difference between "Save me!" and "Save me!"

Thirdly, a look in the mirror.

Now what motive does Jesus give us to follow in the steps of the penitent thief? There is a fearful silence toward the railing thief: not a word recorded of Jesus to him. Perhaps a final pitying glance, but no promise, no hope. But to the penitent Jesus says: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” This was almost too good to be true. There would not even be a delay. Today the Spirit of Jesus and the renewed spirit of the thief would be in union in Paradise, or eternal glory in the presence of God. The promise would be without delay.

I believe we are given the same promise at the mouth of Jesus which He expressed to Martha when Lazarus died.  John 11:25 (ESV)25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,…” This is the same bold claim that Jesus made to this thief when He said: “you will be with me today…” But Jesus, does not end His statement to Martha without a challenging question. John 11:26 (ESV) 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

Tell me my friend. As you listened to me preach to you this morning, can you identify with these thieves? Which one is you? Are you railing at God and insisting that God does everything for you, your way for this life, or are you willing to humble yourself in the sight of God so that He can lift you up. Have you come to a point in your life that you recognise who Jesus is and who you are?  Are you like me saved by your good looks? You took one good look at yourself and saw that you are a sinner; hopelessly lost and deserved of eternal damnation in hell as the wages of sin is death. And have you taken that second good look at Christ, realised that He was born of virgin, lived a perfect life, died on the cross in our place, buried in the grave, but three days later He rose from the dead, then He ascended on high, and is now seated at the right hand of the Father, preparing a place for us and that He will come and fetch His bride so that we can be with Him forever in paradise? When you humbly acknowledge Him as Lord of your life and your only way of salvation His promise to Martha becomes your promise and you will live forever.  Which “save me” will be yours, because the one you choose makes a difference to eternity?


.Logos Community Church: 29 April 2013