Turn in your Bible to Luke 23:39-43. In the last passage that we read in Luke, Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” In this passage, Jesus forgives a criminal and assures him of everlasting life. Even on the cross, Jesus is ministering His saving work. Even as He dies for the sins of the world, He is concerned about the heart of a convicted criminal who is dying the same awful death that He is dying. And in this wonderful exchange, this unique exchange recorded for us only by Luke, I want us to see three things. We will look at two of them this week, and we’ll look at the last one next week.



I. Jesus is Saving to the Very End

First of all, Jesus is at His ministry of salvation to the very end, even from the cross. Jesus is enduring the physical torment of death on the cross, bearing the weight of the wrath of God for the sins of the world, yet here He is calling a sinner to Himself. At the end of the passage the criminal says to Jesus, “Remember me when You come into Your kingdom,” and Jesus responds, “Today you will be with Me in Paradise,” showing concern for this sinner's soul, even from the cross. It’s just like in the trial in the courtyard when Peter was denying Him while Jesus was being tried by the high priest. Jesus was thinking of Peter, looking at Peter, driving him to repentance. So also here on the cross, while He's dying for the saving of the world, He's thinking about this thief who desperately needs to hear His word of assurance and blessing. Here on the cross, we see Jesus saving, not only in the sense of atoning for our sins, but in the sense of going after this lost sheep.

Jesus said that He came to save sinners, and who's having a conversation with Him? A condemned criminal who admits that he deserves to receive the punishment that he is getting in this awful death of crucifixion. He says in verse 41, “We are receiving the due reward of our deeds.” This is a condemned criminal, and that is the man to whom Jesus says, “Today you will be with Me in Paradise.” By the way, if this verse doesn't teach salvation by grace alone through faith in Christ alone, I don't know a verse that does, because this thief was certainly not a good person who had earned his way to Paradise. The King, Jesus, has forgiven him and welcomed him into Paradise, not because he deserved it, but because Jesus had paid for his sins and forgiven him of those sins and welcomed him by grace into His presence. And so we see Jesus saving sinners even while He's on the cross.



II. A Glorious Conversion on the Cross

The second thing I want you to see is this glorious conversion on the cross. The repentance of this criminal is quite remarkable. Notice what the criminals are saying. One criminal is railing against Him, verse 39, saying, “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!” The other gospels tell us about that. Matthew chapter 27:44 says, “And the robbers also who had been crucified with Him were casting the same insult at Him.” They’re insulting Him the same way that the soldiers and religious leaders are insulting Him, saying, “If You’re a King, come down from the cross and save Yourself.” Mark 15:27-32 tells us the same thing. What I want you to see is that Matthew and Mark tell you that both of the criminals were mocking Jesus at the beginning of the day. It's not like Luke doesn't know what Mark and Matthew know, but he tells us that, at some point during the day, one of the criminals looks over at the other and says, “Stop doing that.”

Something has changed in this man. Even though he started the day hurling abuse at Jesus, suddenly now he's asking Jesus if He will remember him when he comes into His kingdom. Suddenly this man's life is changed, and you ask, “What happened?” Well, one answer that you could give is that this is an example of the answer to Jesus’ prayer, “Father, forgive them, for they don't know what they’re doing.” Or you might say, “The Holy Spirit's working on this man's heart,” and that would be true. But if you asked me, “What was it that caused this man to change? What did he see or hear that made him change?” I don't know, but boy is the change there.

And you see the change in three things in particular. First of all, you see the change in the rebuke that he administers to the other thief. Secondly, he admits his own guilt. He's on a cross dying a torturous death and says, “I deserve this.” Third, he confesses Jesus. He confesses Jesus’ innocence. By the way, notice Luke has now told you that Pilate, Herod, and one of the thieves on the cross have declared Him innocent. This is one of the things that Luke is just pounding home.

But you not only see that confession that Jesus is innocent; you see the thief going on to say, “Would You remember me when You come into Your kingdom?” Now that's amazing because over and over in this passage Jesus has been mocked for claiming to be the King, but suddenly there's this dying man on a cross saying, “Jesus, I know You’re a King, and when You come into Your kingdom, would You please just remember me?” And so we have this rebuke of the other thief, we have a recognition of his own sin, and we have this very clear confession of who Jesus is. It's an amazing change that happened to this man.

And of course the question for us to ask is, “Do we bear the marks of that kind of a conversion?” I'm not saying that kind of a dramatic conversion; every conversion is different and unique because God makes us unique. But all of us ought to be able to see evidences of God's grace in our heart if we truly are in Christ and if we trust Him. Do we have these kinds of evidences of grace? Do we care about the souls of others? Do we see our own sin clearly? Do we embrace Jesus’ person and His words? Do we trust in Him? Do we humbly pray from Him just to be able to be remembered when He comes into His kingdom? These are all marks of the work of God's grace in this man's life. Do we see those kinds of evidences of grace in our life?