Sunday, April 05, 2009

[Matt's Messages] "Between Two Bad Guys"

“Between Two Bad Guys”
April 5, 2008
Luke 23:39-43

Today is Palm Sunday, and Blair read for us the story of the Triumphal Entry at the beginning of Passion Week–the most fateful week in all of human history.

In today’s message, I want to fast forward through the week to the events of Friday, what we often call “Good Friday”–the day on which our Lord Jesus Christ was crucified.

He wasn’t crucified alone. It happened that on that fateful Friday, two other men were being crucified at the same time. The Bible tells us that these two men were criminals. Two of the gospels say, “robbers” or “thieves.” Luke uses the word “kakourgos” which means basically “bad guys.” The King James says, “malefactors.” “Mal” is “bad” and “factors” is “someone who does.” “Benefactor” is someone who does good. Malefactors are ones who do bad. Bad guys.

The Lord Jesus was hung on a cross–“Between Two Bad Guys.”

Judas had betrayed him (Luke chapter 22).

They had eaten the Last Supper, which we will remember together at this Table in a few minutes.

The disciples had promised to stay with him but couldn’t stay awake through a hour of prayer.

Jesus had been arrested and tortured.

Peter had denied him.

The Lord stood trial before sinful men, rulers of the Jews and the Romans. Chapter 23.

The Roman governor, Pilate, tried to set Him free, but the crowd egged on by the Religious Leaders kept shouting “Crucify him! Crucify him!”

And so they did.

In chapter 23, verse 26, we see Him struggling up the road with His cross.

A man named Simon from North Africa was made to carry His cross, He was so weak.

A crowd followed, many crying, weeping and wailing. V.32

“Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull [Golgotha], there they crucified him, along with the criminals–one on his right, the other on his left.”

There He is. Nailed to a pole.

Hanging there being crucified.

You know, we don’t know what that is!

If we saw this, for real, we would puke.

Crucifixion is one of the world’s worst forms of torture and death.

And Jesus was being crucified.

The Bible doesn’t go into the gory details. It doesn’t have to.

Just knowing what it is, being nailed to a pole so that you have to pull up on your arms to breath otherwise your lungs will have no oxygen.

And then you can’t hold yourself up any longer so you slump down. But there’s nothing to rest on. And you can’t breathe. And it hurts. And it hurts. And it hurts.

And there is no end to it. It can go on and on for hours and even days. And then death.

And there were two bad guys getting the same treatment. V.33 says, “On his right” and “on his left.”

Jesus was hung between two bad guys. And they were being crucified, too.

If the pain wasn’t enough, there was also the mocking. V.35 says, “The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, ‘He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.’ The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar and said, ‘If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.’ There was a written notice above him, which read: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.”

But they didn’t mean it.

They were just mocking Him. They were just insulting Him.

The Gospel of Matthew says that both of the criminals on either side of Him were mocking Him, too (Matthew 27:44).

This went on for hours.

And then, there was this interaction between the three men being crucified.

It’s our text for today; it’s verses 39 through 43.

Kathy Moore created a colorful mural of this text that is hanging out there in the foyer this morning.

The awesome thing about that mural is that I didn’t tell Kathy what text I had picked for this morning. I picked it out last Summer! And I told her that we needed a new mural, but I didn’t tell her what to put on it. I think Somebody Else did! V.39

“One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: ‘Aren't you the Christ? Save yourself and us!’”

Criminal #1, we don’t know his name, basically said, “Save Yourself!”


If you really are Who you have claimed to be–and everybody in Israel knows Who you’ve claimed to be!–then save yourself (and us too!).

Use your power and get down off of the Cross!

He, obviously, had no faith. No belief that Jesus was Who He had claimed to be.

This bad guy was rejecting who Jesus is.

The word for “insult” in verse 39 is “eblasphemei,” and it means what it sounds like. He blasphemed Jesus.

He blasted Him and insulted Him and rejected Him.

And he is like all of us before we came to Christ.

No one is genuinely neutral about Jesus. You are either for Him or against Him.

Some people would like to think of themselves as neutral on Jesus. “On the fence,” we say.

“I like Jesus. I think he’s a good teacher. I think he was a good man. A prophet. A holy man. We can learn a lot from him. He had a lot of great ideas. I’m not against him.”

But Jesus said, “If you are not for me, you are against me.”

Even if you aren’t hurling insults at Him, if you are not following Him by faith, you are, effectively, a bad guy, an enemy. Jesus’ enemy.

Of course, what could it hurt? They were both dying by crucifixion! What was left but to say what you want say?! This man was hurling his heart at Jesus. And it didn’t seem like it mattered.

Does it seem to you right now like nothing matters?

“Live, and then die, and then that’s it.

Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die! And we’re worm’s food.”

Why not just let it all hang out? Especially if life hurts.

“Save Yourself!”

If you don’t have to go through this, why choose it?

For this bad guy hanging next to Jesus, it proved that Jesus was not the Messiah if He let Himself be crucified.

Messiah’s don’t die, much less die by crucifixion!

“Save yourself! If you can...”

But there was something much deeper going on here than what it seems.

Things are not always as they seem. And if your life seems chaotic and meaningless right now–hear this–things are not always as they seem. God is at work.

And here, Jesus was choosing not to save Himself–so that He could save others.

The fact that He staid on the Cross was actually proof that He is the Messiah.

Messiahs do die. And this Messiah dies a sacrificial death.

Jesus was identifying Himself with sinners like you and me.

And the other bad guy–this is almost unbelievable–he “gets it!”

The second bad guy gets it.

As far as we know, Jesus didn’t say anything to the first criminal. He is silent.

But the other criminal rebukes the first criminal! V.40

“But the other criminal rebuked him. ‘Don't you fear God,’ he said, ‘since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.’”

Now, catch this. V.42. This man is being crucified. V.42.

“Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’”


What’s going on here?!

This bad guy is turning!

This bad guy is trusting!

This bad guy has faith. He believes!

He recognizes that they are suffering justly. They deserve it.

But Jesus doesn’t.

Now, this criminal probably doesn’t know how right his words are.

He may not know that Jesus is perfectly sinless. But he knows that Jesus is innocent of the charges that have Him on this cross.

And He has somehow come to believe that Jesus will inherit a Kingdom!

“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

In essence, he’s saying, “Save Me!”

#2. SAVE ME!

“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

He believed that Jesus was innocent, and more than that, that He was King!

He probably didn’t know that how it all worked, but he believed that Jesus did. And he put his faith and trust in Him and asked Him to save him and give Him a place in His kingdom!


Save Me!

Not just get me off of this cross, but give me eternal life in the divine kingdom.

Forgive me. Find forgiveness for me so that I can live in the Kingdom of God.

And save me!

Have you asked Jesus for that yourself?

That’s what He was dying for.

More than this man understood, Jesus was innocent.

He was perfectly innocent. He had never sinned!

And at this moment, He was taking on Himself the punishment, the penalty, the debt that we sinners had earned for ourselves.

He was not just coming between two criminals.

He was coming between God and Humanity.

And taking our place.

Verses 44 through 49 tell what it was like when He died.

Unnatural darkness for three hours.
The sun stopped shining.
Jesus yelled out and died.
A Roman soldier came to faith.
Witnesses beat their breasts and went away.
The other gospels tell us that there was an earthquake.

V.45 says that the curtain of the temple was torn in two!

Jesus was taking our place and opening up the way to a holy God!!!!

He was saving sinners!

Like this one. Like this bad guy. This is what our Lord said to Him on the Cross. V.43

“Jesus answered him, ‘I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.’”


Isn’t this the greatest news in all the world?

Assuming Jesus knows what He’s talking about. And next week, we’ll see that He certainly does! Resurrection Sunday is right around the corner.

This is great news.

For one, because it’s based on grace!

What did this man do to go to paradise today?

Absolutely nothing! This was a bad guy.

This was not a good guy.

He hadn’t gone to church.
He hadn’t given any money.
He hadn’t lived a fine upstanding life.
He hadn’t any good works to show to earn him some salvation.

He didn’t even have a chance to get baptized!

He was a bad guy!

And Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.’”

It’s based on grace. It’s not based on what this guy did but on what Jesus did for Him.

And that’s how anyone is saved.

The Bible says, “He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.”

It’s grace!

You can’t impress God, but you can receive His grace on your behalf.

Are you a bad guy?

We all are.

We’re all bad guys! But the question is, what kind of bad guy are we going to be?

The kind on Jesus’ left or Jesus’ right?

Will we reject or will we believe?

Because God is in the business of saving bad guys!

Kathy titled her mural, “More Than We Deserve!” That’s right!

It’s all grace.

Isn’t that the greatest news in all the world?

It’s also great because it shows how real change is possible.

This man really changed. Yes, he didn’t have time to live out a full life of service to God. He didn’t have time to make restitution for his robberies. He didn’t have time to change his lifestyle that got him here.

But he did change. He changed from insulting Jesus to rebuking those who do.

He changed from unbelieving to believing.

He changed from shouting to asking.

He changed from wrong thing to right thinking–on the Cross!

He’s being crucified and Jesus is changing Him right then and there!

He changed from loving his own kingdom to wanting Jesus’ kingdom to come.

Real change is possible through Jesus–for bad guys!

Is there someone that you’ve written off as unchangeable?

“Well, they’re never going to change! A leopard can’t change his spots. Nothing can be done there.”


If this guy can change, so can whatever bad guy you are praying for.

It may not happen on your time-table.

But if God sets out to change a bad guy into a good guy, nothing can stop Him!

Real change is possible because of Christ.

Isn’t that the greatest news?

Maybe you’re the bad guy you are praying about!

You wish that you were changed. Trust Him. He is transforming you.

When He says, “You are saved,” He isn’t just saving you from the penalty of your sin, He’s saving you from the power of sin and changing you from the inside out.

Real change is possible.

This is great news, thirdly, because of the guarantee of the future.

Jesus promises: “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

That’s a sure thing.

I love how this bad guy doesn’t have to wait! He goes to paradise (heaven) the same day that he dies.

And so will we. And so did any of your believing loved ones.

Absent from the body means present with the Lord.

Today. Guaranteed.

Do you know that you are going to be with Jesus when you die, guaranteed?

That’s the promise here. If you believe in Jesus.

But it’s more than that. There is a future kingdom coming that you’ll get to be a part of, too!

The bad guy believed that. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

His kingdom is coming! And we will get to be a part of it forever and ever.

New heavens, new earth, new bodies–always with the Lord.

That’s the future that we have to look forward to.

And it’s all because Jesus died for us.

You Are Saved!

Saved by grace.
Saved for change.
And Saved for a glorious future, guaranteed!

Three simple applications as we go to the Table together.

#1. Don’t be like the first bad guy. Don’t reject Jesus and don’t reject Him by sitting on the fence. Trust in Jesus like the second bad guy. Believe He is Who He said He is and did what He said He’d do–and you will be saved.

Turn and put all of your trust in Jesus and Jesus alone.

Don’t try to clean up your act and become a good guy and see if Jesus will take you.

That’s not how it works. It works by grace.

Gift. Free. Unmerited. Unearned. Undeserving.

Receive His grace. Ask to be saved on the merits of Christ and Christ alone!

If you’d like to pray with someone about that, Dave and Jane Catanzaro are going to be in the prayer room this morning, and would be so thankful to talk with you about being saved.

I’d be glad to talk with you, as well.

Don’t walk away today like the first bad guy.

#2. Be thankful for Jesus hanging between the two criminals. Sing “Jesus, Thank You!” in your soul! As we eat this communion meal, the most important thing for us to feel is thanksgiving.

Because it should have been us.

It should have been us! V.41 “We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

He did nothing wrong.

But He did this for us.

Be thankful.

And third application: Tell others.

Tell others that life is not meaningless.
Tell others that real change is possible.
Tell others that God is in the business of saving bad guys!

Tell others about this One who hung between two thieves.

And died for us.

And promises us that we will be with Him in paradise.

And forever in His Kingdom to come.

It’s the greatest news in all the world!

Let’s get out there and tell people.