Luke 23:40-43 Never too late

The end of the road was very near for the men beside Jesus on the cross.  Two condemned criminals – perhaps robbers, but most probably terrorists – were dying agonizing deaths alongside the carpenter from Nazareth.  There was no way back for them.  When the Romans put a man on a cross, as they often did, he knew that death was the next, inevitable step.  We know from the Gospels that Jesus had chosen to be there in order to fulfil his mission, but what about the other two?  They seemed to be men with no hope, nothing but death ahead of them, yet for one of them life would be transformed right at its end.  We are considering Luke 23:40-43 Never too late.

1. Confessing his sin

To begin with neither man had any sense of sin – both ‘heaped insults on Jesus’ (Matthew 27:44).  But at some point a change comes over one of them.  The only explanation is the miraculous working of God.  His conscience is awakened – ‘we are getting what our deeds deserve’ (v41).  It is the first step to salvation.  The truth we all have to face is ‘all have sinned’ (Romans 3:23).  At the centre of our lives sin and self reign and God is rejected from his rightful place.  The first step towards God is confessing our sin in heartfelt repentance.  ‘Don’t you fear God?’ (v40).  We need to see our sin in relation to a holy God (Psalm 51:4).

2. Recognising Jesus

Had this man done no more than admit his sin, he would have died in despair, but as God works in his heart, he goes further and recognises who Jesus really is.  Note v41 ‘this man has done nothing wrong’ – he is aware of Jesus’ innocence (see Hebrews 4:15).  He also perceives in this bleeding, dying man a king (‘your kingdom’).  His mind, opened by grace, sees a king on the cross.  The name ‘Jesus’ means ‘Saviour’ (Matthew 1:21).  If our lives are to be transformed and our sins forgiven, we need to recognise Jesus as Son of God and King.

3. Seeking mercy

The man makes the amazing request, ‘remember me when you come into your kingdom’.  He is able to look beyond Jesus’ present suffering to see the King.  The essential step was to throw himself entirely on Christ for mercy.  Sin can never be forgiven unless there is a wholehearted turning to Christ and commitment to him (Acts 16:31).  We must forsake efforts to live without God or to earn his favour.  Both are futile.  Faith is an active response to what God has done in Christ to save sinners like us.

4. Receiving salvation

Whatever he may have expected, he received far more: ‘Today you will be with me in paradise’ (v43) – the gift of present salvation and the immediate prospect of glory.  The burden of sin and guilt is lifted and he enters fellowship with God.  When we trust in Christ, we have salvation now (John 6:47) and the certainty of glory at death and of future resurrection.  One man was saved – a warning and an encouragement for every sinner.

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