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Last week we began a Puritan study by Matthew Henry on the Seven Sayings of our Lord on the Cross. The Bible does not present a complete record of what Christ said or did, but everything it says about Him is true and importantespecially His time on the cross. Surely, a man of His maturity wouldnt waste the last hours of His life on trivial things. And, of course, He doesnt. The seven sayings are full of meaning; they tells us a lot about ourselves and even more about the One who died for us.
The Lords first saying was also the most surprising: Dying at the hands of wicked men who knew He was innocent, He cries out for their pardon
And they received it. On the Day of Pentecost these same men were accused of crucifying the Lord of Glory and then offered forgiveness in they repent. Which they did, three thousand on that one day, and many more in the following months. The prayers of our Lord Jesus Christ are never wasted: if He prays for you, you get what He prayed for. Thats encouraging, isnt it? Your Savior prayed not only once for people who did Him wrong, but Hes still doing it! The New Testament says,
He never gets tired of praying for us. Thus, we are and will be saved. Not because we prayed enough or well enough, but because Jesus Christ did and does! What a splendid Mediator we have! How mindful we ought to be of His prayers for us. And how thankful for them.
Has anyone ever thanked you too much? You did him a little favor and he went on and on and on as though you laid down your life for him? He was too thankful. But we can never be overly thankful to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Im getting carried away, I suspect. If I dont stop now, well never get on to our Lords Second Saying. So I will and we will.
On the day of the Crucifixion, three men were under arrest: Barabbas and his two partners in crime. They were rebels to the Roman government who had committed theft and murder in their rebellion. They were tried by Pontius Pilate and sentenced to deathquite justly. But, through circumstances I dont need to go into, Barabbas got off and our Lord Jesus Christ took his placeon the middle cross between two wicked criminals.
At first, both men resented the Lord and tried to add to His torture. If the people below ridiculed Him, the thieves were happy enough to join the mockery.
As the day wore on, however, a change came over one of the men. When his friend kept heaping abuse on the Lord, this man snapped to His defense:
Had he stopped there, you would have to admire him. At long last, he saw that he was a sinner and that what he and the others had donethough in the name of Godhad no God in it. It was a play for power, a lust no different than the one they hated so much in the Romans. He knew the kingdom Christ came to establish was far different than his own version: it was a kingdom of love. After living in a blurry world his whole life, the man finally had a moment of clarity.
But he doesnt leave it there. To his way of thinking, the Lord is not just an innocent man or a leader more worthy than Barabbas, but a real KingGods King, who, even in dying, was building the Kingdom of Heaven. He knows the Lord will soon enter into His Kingdom and desires a place in it. Peter, James, and John wanted the top place, but the thief didnt care where he was in the Kingdom as long as he was there, as long as the Lord,
Jesus Christ agrees to do that, but does him one better: He says the penitent thief will be with Him in that Kingdombut not way off in the future (as the man hoped), but,
We dont know what the man said in response: maybe he said nothing at all. But he must have been flooded with a sense of gratitude. Who was hethief, murder, rebelto sit with the Lord in His Kingdom within a few hours, at the most!
Yet that was the promise made on the cross and kept on the other side where death is no more. What a magnificent Savior we have! He doesnt just grant the man his last request, but gives him far more than he asked for! Jesus Christ is
And never did He prove that more fully than He did on the worst day of His life. Even then, under immense pressure, He was supremely generous, doing more for sinners than ever dreamed of!
Thats the background of the Second Saying. The Saying, again, is,
Henry begins with a short lesson in Biblical Greek. The New Testamentyou knowwas written in Greek, and the word translated truly (or, verily in the KJV) is a word youll recognize: Amen,
The Lord leaves His friend in no doubt of his future happiness. Theres nothing chancy about itHe doesnt say, Hopefully, you will be with Me in paradise. Or possibly or probably or I think so! Or If you dont backslide in the next few hours. Nothing like that at all! There is a sureness to His promisea no doubt about it!
If Jesus Christ is in heaven, the thief is with Him. If the thief is not there, then neither is Jesus Christ. It is that certain! The fate of Christ and His people are that bound up with each other.
Wouldnt it be great to have that kind of assurance? To have Jesus Christ Himself whisper in your ear, Youre saved and you will go to heaven when you die. We cannot expect that kind of security, but thats all rightwe dont need it. Though my name is not written in the Bible, I can read the Bible and know if Im saved or not and if Im sure for heaven.
In the Bible, Jesus Christ promises salvation to everyone who believes. The belief, of course, is not a one-time act, but a life of trusting Him (not perfectly, but really trusting Him). The faith is visible in the way one lives, that is, a life of obedience, and where we fail to obey, regular confession and prayer for pardon. One who has this faith is as sure for heaven as the thief was.
To weak believers, who dont know much, and who worry about the future, Jesus Christ says,
Amen. So be it. It will be.
Ah! How happy we ought to be who believe in Christ! A personal guarantee of eternal happiness! As though Christ Himself said to us, Youll be in heaven soon! You know I dont go for Pentecostalism at all. But if we thought more about what we have in Christand how sure it isI suspect even Reformed Baptists would have fits of Holy Laughter! (though probably not in public!).
Henry goes on to remind us to whom these happy words were spoken,
There were two thieves on the cross: one on the Lords right hand and the other to His left. The men were equally guilty and undeserving of Gods favor, but only one received pardon, the other died in sins and went to a death far worse than this one.
At this point, we Calvinists point to the sovereignty of God in salvationone sinner chosen, the other passed by. That is a true doctrine, but its not the one Matthew Henry is getting at here. He distinguishes the two sinners, not by their election or non-election, but by their repentance or lack of the sameHe has a word of comfort for a poor penitent.
Penitent is the word! The man who felt his guilt and confessed it to the Lord got mercy. The other man did not. If some Christians stress mans free will too much, we err in the opposite direction: we forget mans responsibility to repent of his sins and sue God for mercy.
If you are sorry for your sins, you will be forgiven and saved and go to heaven. If you keep denying them, blaming others for them, justifying yourself, and so on, youll be with the other thief
Thats true, but it is not the main point of our story: the emphasis is not on the impenitent thief, but on the penitent thiefnot the judgment that fell on the one, but the mercy that came to the other.
Theres plenty of mercy in Christ for both kinds of sinnerslost and saved.
Its there for you if you want it and seek it with a broken heart, knowing you dont deserve it.
After saying this, Henry reminds us of who spoke the words to the thief and what it means to us:
What did the death of our Lord do for us? Many things, of course, but I suspect that what he emphasizemaybe too muchis the forgiveness found in His cross. Is it there? Yes it ispraise God it is!
But pardon is not the only blessing our Lord obtained for us on the cross. He also got heaven for us. One of the Church Fathers said He left heaven for the earth so that we could leave the earth for heaven. He was right. Penitent, obedient believers have eternal life and will always have it. Not because theyre penitent, obedient, or believers, but because Christ died for them and promised they would have it.
Eternal life is far more than not going to hell. If thats all it is, then the animals would all have eternal life because they dont go to hell. Henry sums it up,
The thief had eternal life because of what Jesus Christ did for him. If youre a Christian Hes done as much for you as He did for the thief. Thus, you eternal life. If youre not a Christian, well, just remember, the thief wasnt either, for most of his life. But we he turned to Christ he got paradise. You will too. But only when you turn in repentance and faith. So do it. Right now.
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