At The Cross

Title: At The Cross

Bible Book: Luke 23 : 33-43

Author: J. Mike Minnix

Subject: Cross; Thief at the Cross; Salvation; Resurrection; Eternal Life


At The Cross

J. Mike Minnix

Turn with me to Luke 23:33-43 and let's read from this great text.

The songwriter penned ...

"At the cross, at the cross,

Where I first saw the Light;

And the burden of my heart rolled away.

It was there by faith I received my sight

And now I am happy all the day." (Isaac Watts)

I want us to go back to the cross this morning to see anew some critical truths for our generation. In essence, we are no different that those who met at the foot of the cross to watch Jesus die. Four hostile groups stood around the cross on the day Jesus was crucified. They are represented by particular passages in the text for today.

i. The Stalkers - v. 33

They are the ones who were looking, lying, and longing to get Him and destroy Him. They stalked Him from the beginning and now they are ecstatic as they watch Him suffer on the cross. There are still some who stalk Him, for they seek to destroy the truth about Him. They deny His virgin birth, His blameless life, His glorious teachings, His amazing healing, His sacrificial death, His bodily resurrection, and His soon return.

ii. The Hawkers - v. 34

These are the ones who hoped to make some money off this event. They were gamblers, garment seekers, greedy, profit-motivated individuals. No doubt there were some people around such a large crowd seeking to sell their wares. They hawked their goods while He died in our place. We must admit that there are some people like that today. Some seek to profit from financially from Jesus and you don't me to tell you who some of them are.

iii. The Gawkers - v. 35

These were the ones conversing, curious, and enjoying the circus atmosphere that surrounded the cross. They were enthralled just to be present to see the suffering of Jesus and the other two men. They were like goose-neckers at a car accident. To them this was something to titillate the emotions and excite the eyes. They wanted to see Him as He died but they did not want to believe on Him for salvation.

iv. The Mockers - vs. 35-39

These were the disdaining, disrespectful, the totally disbelieving people at the cross. They mocked Him, laughed at Him, ridiculed Him, and cursed him as He died.  Like mockers today, they wanted to be rid of Him.

In this atmosphere one thing was most needed, and that was for people to see Jesus for who He really was (and really is). They needed to understand why He was dying, and that He was offering something that no one else before or after Him was qualified to offer.

There was at least one man who awakened that day to the person and purpose of Jesus at Calvary. One of the dying thieves came to personal faith and salvation while on one of the crosses – in fact, he came to faith in Christ while on a cross. The difference was made in the way he viewed the cross of Christ and the Christ of the cross.

"Two men looked out through prison bars;

The one saw mud, the other saw stars." (Dale Carnegie, How to Stop Worrying and Start Living)

One may complain that roses have thorns, while another will rejoice that thorns have roses. Indeed, at Calvary one thief dying alongside Jesus looked on Christ and joined the mockers. The other dying thief looked on Jesus and saw the Savior. In essence, every person who hears the gospel must make a choice to join one side or the other (Matthew 12:30).

The thief who believed on Jesus at Calvary that day saw in Him those things which the church must continue to proclaim and appreciate.

Let us review the four observations that can change a tragedy into triumph, something horrible into something honorable, and something devastating into something dramatic and delightful.

I. Righteousness at the Cross

The dying thief saw that Christ was righteous. Witness his words in verse 41 - "...this man (he was speaking of Jesus) has done nothing wrong." He saw in Jesus a man without faultk while admiting that he and the other thief were guilty of a capital crime.

A. Awareness of Sin

In the presence of Jesus, the believing thief was keenly aware of his own sin. He admitted that he had done many things that were wrong. He called for the other thief, who was dying on the opposite side of Christ, to acknowledge his sin as well. It is interesting to note how two men looking on Jesus could see Him so differently. The difference was that the believing thief spoke of Jesus as one who had done no wrong. He saw in Jesus the perfect Lamb of God. One man believed and was gloriously saved; the other man rejected Jesus and died an ignominious death.

Why is that sinners simply cannot come to terms with their own sins? Many people run from the Lord because they do not want to face the awareness of their own sinful hearts. In the presence of Christ a person must do one of two things. That person must be conscious of sin, or that person will cover up personal sin. Darkness, you see, cannot stand the presence of the light. A lie will seek run from the truth. Many are lost because they just cannot face Jesus and come clean about their own transgressions. There are many people today who turn from Jesus because the brilliant light of His holiness is too bright for them to endure. They mock Him as a means of avoiding the truth regarding the darkness that resides in their own hearts.

Most of us in this worship service have had our eyes dilated at one time or another. When you leave the doctor’s office, you put on a pair of very dark glasses to protect your eyes from the intensity of the light passing through your dilated eyes. Likewise, when it comes to facing the bright light of Jesus and His perfect nature, many people place dark glasses over their souls. They cannot stand the beauty, wonder, and radiance of His pure, holy nature. Their eyes are darkened so that they cannot, or will not, believe on Him as the only Savior of the human soul.

B. Acknowledgement of Sinlessness

As the believing thief acknowledged his sin, he took one of the most important steps in salvation. He believed that Jesus was sinless - without fault.  The believing thief had seen in Jesus the sinless Savior. He knew that Jesus was holy, pure and above sin, and He called on Christ to save Him and deliver him into the Kingdom of God. We read in 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (KJV)

II. Redemption at the Cross

The thief saw that he was rightly condemned for the crimes he had committed. He was legally guilty before the civil law. But, he also saw that he was guilty of sin against God’s divine Law, and he knew that was even more important that his civil sin. His act of confession that day was two-fold. He saw in Christ his only hope to redeem his otherwise ruined life. Also, he saw in Christ his only hope of eternal life.

When Jesus saves, he grants the believer an abundant life now and a redeemed eternal life with Him forever. (John 10:10b, “…I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” (NKJV)

A. Condemnation

Sin places every person under condemnation, “... for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) The believing thief knew he was under condemnation and he acknowledged it. I think the man knew that the condemnation of the civil law was nothing compared to the condemnation of the divine law. He had no hope to relieve himself of the condemnation of the civil law. He was dying. No salvation of his physical life was available. But this man knew by faith that there was hope in Christ. He simply trusted Jesus to forgive Him and grant Him eternal life.

The problem for many people who are lost is that they think judgment will be a matter of testing whether one lived a good life or a bad life. Those who believe this way think that the judgment day will involve God weighing the good and bad that one did in life to determine the place of eternal residence. In this view, if the good outweighs the bad, the person will go to heaven. This idea is foreign to the truth and totally absent from God’s Word. Here is the truth – unless our sin is removed through the sacrifice of Jesus, we are CONDEMNED ALREADY. John 3:18 reads, “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (NKJV) You see, if you are without God's cleansing grace, found only in Christ, you are already condemned. Final judgment is yet to come, but condemnation is already pronounced. Think of it like this. A criminal is often condemned by a jury, but the judge may postpone activating the sentence. Condemnation is a done deal, but the full judgment is yet to come. Likewise, when we are without Christ, we are condemned - we are just waiting for judgment to commence. Dear friend, you don't have to face the judgment alone. You can accept the pardon offered in Jesus Christ. That is what the believing thief did - he accepted the offer available only in Christ.

B. Conversion

The believing thief was converted. He was saved. He was changed. He was born again. He was redeemed because he admitted his sin and place his faith in Christ.

You see, the poor dying man who trusted Christ had no time to labor for the Lord. He did not have time to be baptized. He was saved only by faith in Christ. He had no way to undo his evil works and nor time to do good works. His only hope was Christ. Be sure of this - there is no way to personally undo your evil works and no matter how much time you have in life, you cannot do enough to be acceptable to God.

Granted, if he had been released from the Cross, doubtlessly the thief would have given his all for the Savior in life and death, but his works would not have saved him. Salvation was made possible through the death of Christ – for Christ bore our sins on that Cross. You cannot work your way into God’s favor through good deeds. Of course, those of us who are saved should be prompted to good works for the Lord who redeemed us. In fact, we are saved for that very purpose. Note what we read in Ephesians 2:8-10 ...

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” (NKJV)

It is clear that once we are saved, we are appointed to carry out God’s will and do His good works. The point is that no one can work to be saved, but those of us who are saved are to do good works for Him because we are saved. The conversion of the believing thief was done by the work of Christ and Christ alone. That is only way anyone can be converted - saved. It is a work completed by Jesus alone.

III. Resurrection at the Cross

Now, I know this sounds odd, but the resurrection was implied at the cross. What a Glorious wonder! The thief saw the resurrection before it happened. He knew the cross was not the end for Jesus. He realized that Jesus was going to conquer the grave and thus he saw his chance for victory in Jesus. Since the believing thief asked Jesus to remember him when He (Jesus) came into His Kingdom, he was acknowledging that Jesus would survive the death of the cross to rule and reign as King. Wow! That is what real faith does. It makes one able to see beyond the physical and sensual world. The thief on the cross could have sung ...

"Oh victory in Jesus, My Savior FOREVER!” (Eugene Bartlett, 1939)

A. Dying With Him

In essence, the believing thief died before he died. Yes, you heard that right. When the dying thief believed on Jesus, his human life was given over to God. In other words, he died in the death of Christ. But, he was given new life through his faith in Christ. I know it sounds strange, but that is the truth of the Gospel. When I got saved, my old life was buried in the death of Christ. Then, instantaneously, I was granted the risen life of Christ.

Here is how Paul stated this truth ...

“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20, NKJV)

My old life did not fit me for heaven or for service in God’s work. My old life died the day I accepted Christ as my Savior. The life I live now is the life He gave me – HIS LIFE! No wonder I am excited about being a Christian.

So, the thief died before he died. Yet, he was more alive than he had ever been before that moment. The death on the cross could not take his life from him because Christ had given him eternal life.

B. Living With Him

Just as Christ was raised from the dead, the thief was alive in Christ. Jesus told the thief that he would enjoy paradise that very day. And, he was in paradise with Jesus. How wonderful! The Christian life is an unending life. If I live, Christ is with me here; if I die, I will be with Christ there. As a child of God, I cannot lose either way. What could be better than that?

IV. Royalty at the Cross

The dying thief saw Christ as the King. Note his words in verse 42. He spoke of Jesus coming into "  ...His kingdom." The believing thief knew that the dying man (Jesus) beside him was more that a man. He knew the words, "King of the Jews" inscribed over the cross were more than mockery and more than opinion - they were fact. Jesus was and is a king; better than that He is THE KING!

A. The King

Jesus is the King of heaven and earth. He stepped out of heaven to enter the world He made. He died, rose, and ascended back to Heaven. He is King Jesus! The believing thief saw this truth by faith.

“The dying thief rejoiced to see

That fountain in his day;

And there may I, though vile as he,

Wash all my sins away.” (William Cowper)

The moment the dying thief believed on Jesus, he became a part of the royal family of God. Look at what we will sing to Jesus in Heaven ...

“And they sung a new song, saying, ‘Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; 10 And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.’” (Revelation 5:9-10 - KJV)

Yes, he has made us part of the kingdom – the royal family of God.

B. The Kingdom

The Kingdom of God is the rule of our Lord over all the universe. All those who believe on Him are part of that Kingdom. World leaders struggle to make our world a utopia, but that will not happen until the King comes back to make it so. Don’t you want to be part of that Kingdom when the King comes? Sure you do. But in order to be part of that Kingdom, you have to embrace the King NOW.


We need to see the cross afresh. With all that is going on around us in the world today, we need to know that Jesus is RIGHTEOUS! Jesus is the REDEEMER! Jesus is ROYALTY - KING of kings and LORD of lords! Jesus is still THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE.

The hope of this world does not rest with a man, a minister, an evangelist, a pastor, a president, a prime minister, a general or an army. The hope of the world is still only possible in JESUS!

A story is told of train that passed by a cemetery named Calvary Cemetery. Everyday on its route through a northern city in the United States of America. The train would stop at a cemetery every day to let people off the train and to allow others to get on the train. As the years passed by, fewer and fewer people stopped at the old cemetery to visit the graves of their loved ones. Finally, a decision was made that the train would stop at the cemetery only if someone requested to disembark there. So, the engineer would call out over the speaker system asking if anyone wanted to stop at the cemetery. The engineer would call out, “Anyone for Calvary? Anyone for Calvary? Last call, anyone for Calvary?” If no one called out, the engineer would pass on by and leave Calvary Cemetery behind.

That is what I am doing today. But, today I am calling you to the Calvary that will take you through the cemetery to the other side where life is everlasting. I am calling you to Jesus – who died – and who was raised from the dead. He offers you forgiveness, peace and life everlasting.

Anyone for Calvary? Anyone for Calvary? Last call, anyone for Calvary?

The believing thief said, “Yes!” Will you say ‘yes’ to Jesus today?

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