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TEXT: Luke 23:39-43

SUBJECT: Henry on the Seven Sayings #2

      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 important—especially His time on the cross.  Surely, a man of His maturity wouldn’t waste the last hours of His life on trivial things.  And, of course, He doesn’t.   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 Lord’s 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—

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”.

      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.  That’s encouraging, isn’t it?  Your Savior prayed not only once for people who did Him wrong, but He’s still doing it!  The New Testament says,

“Ever lives to make intercession for us”

      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.

“By Him, therefore, let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to His name”.

      I’m getting carried away, I suspect.  If I don’t stop now, we’ll never get on to our Lord’s Second Saying.  So I will and we will.

BACKGROUND

      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 death—quite justly.  But, through circumstances I don’t need to go into, Barabbas got off and our Lord Jesus Christ took his place—on 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:

“Do you not fear God, seeing you are in the same condemnation?  And we, indeed, justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds, but this Man has done nothing wrong!”

      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 done—though in the name of God—had 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 doesn’t 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 King—God’s 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 didn’t care where he was in the Kingdom as long as he was there, as long as the Lord,

“Remembered [him] when He came into His kingdom”.

      Jesus Christ agrees to do that, but does him one better: He says the penitent thief will be with Him in that Kingdom—but not way off in the future (as the man hoped), but,

“This day you shall be with Me in paradise”.

      We don’t 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 he—thief, murder, rebel—to 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 doesn’t just grant the man his last request, but gives him far more than he asked for!  Jesus Christ is

“Able to do exceedingly, abundantly above all we ask or think”.

      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!

      That’s the background of the Second Saying.  The Saying, again, is,

“Truly this day, you shall be with Me in paradise”.

‘TRULY’

      Henry begins with a short lesson in Biblical Greek.  The New Testament—you know—was written in Greek, and the word translated truly (or, verily in the KJV) is a word you’ll recognize: “Amen”,

“Verily, I say to thee, I the AMEN, the faithful witness, I say amen to this prayer, put My fiat to it”.

      The Lord leaves His friend in no doubt of his future happiness.  There’s nothing chancy about it—He doesn’t say, “Hopefully, you will be with Me in paradise”. Or possibly or probably or I think so!”  Or “If you don’t backslide in the next few hours”.  Nothing like that at all!  There is a sureness to His promise—a 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.

      Wouldn’t it be great to have that kind of assurance?  To have Jesus Christ Himself whisper in your ear, You’re saved and you will go to heaven when you die”.    We cannot expect that kind of security, but that’s all right—we don’t need it.  Though my name is not written in the Bible, I can read the Bible and know if I’m saved or not and if I’m 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 don’t know much, and who worry about the future, Jesus Christ says,

“Verily, you shall be with Me in paradise”.

      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, “You’ll be in heaven soon!”  You know I don’t go for Pentecostalism at all.  But if we thought more about what we have in Christ—and how sure it is—I suspect even Reformed Baptists would have fits of Holy Laughter!  (though probably not in public!).

‘TO WHOM’

      Henry goes on to remind us to whom these happy words were spoken,

“To the penitent thief and not to his companion. Christ upon the cross is like Christ upon the Judgment Seat: one departs with a curse, The other with a blessing.  Though Christ Himself was now in the greatest struggle And agony, yet He had a word of comfort To speak to a poor penitent”.

      There were two thieves on the cross: one on the Lord’s right hand and the other to His left.  The men were equally guilty and undeserving of God’s 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 salvation—one sinner chosen, the other passed by.  That is a true doctrine, but it’s 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 same—“He 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 man’s free will too much, we err in the opposite direction: we forget man’s 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, you’ll be with the other thief—

“Where the worm does not die And the fire is not quenched”.

      That’s true, but it is not the main point of our story: the emphasis is not on the impenitent thief, but on the penitent thief—not the judgment that fell on the one, but the mercy that came to the other.

      There’s plenty of mercy in Christ for both kinds of sinners—lost and saved.

O Israel, hope in the Lord for with the Lord There is mercy and with the Lord there is Plenteous redemption.  And He shall Redeem Israel from all his iniquities”.

      It’s there for you if you want it and seek it with a broken heart, knowing you don’t deserve it.

‘BY WHOM’

      After saying this, Henry reminds us of who spoke the words to the thief and what it means to us:

“Christ spoke.  This was another mediatorial word to explain the true intent of His sufferings.  As He died to purchase our pardon, so He died to purchase eternal life for us—to open the kingdom of heaven to all penitent, obedient believers”.

      What did the death of our Lord do for us?  Many things, of course, but I suspect that what he emphasize—maybe too much—is the forgiveness found in His cross.  Is it there?  Yes it is—praise God it is!

“Without the shedding of blood there is no remission”.

      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 they’re 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 that’s all it is, then the animals would all have eternal life because they don’t go to hell.  Henry sums it up,

“It is a paradise—a garden of pleasure better than the one Adam lost.  It is being with Christ there—that is the happiness of heaven—to see Christ, to sit with Him, and the share His glory. It is immediate upon death—to be Absent from the body is to be present With the Lord”.

      The thief had eternal life because of what Jesus Christ did for him.  If you’re a Christian He’s done as much for you as He did for the thief.  Thus, you eternal life.  If you’re not a Christian, well, just remember, the thief wasn’t 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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