We are the sum total of the choices that we make. We are where we are because of choices and decisions that we made before today and as such, our future hangs on them. This is true in life for our education, our marriages our investments, our careers etc.
Slightly over two thousand years ago, choices were made by two thieves which would determine whether they would go to paradise or to hell; one was at the right hand and the other at the left hand of Jesus Christ at the cross. It is in the book of Luke that we see the choice of one to confess before he dies. Luke calls these two men criminals in 23:39. Mathew on the other hand calls them robbers; Mark 15:7 talks of Barabbas who these two may have been accomplices of. Whichever way, we see the repentance of one criminal and the response that Jesus Christ gives to him.
We first see mocking targeted at Jesus Christ and Luke 23:39 reports this, 'One of the criminals, who hung there hurled insults at Him: "Aren't you the Christ? Save yourself and us!" In the same way soldiers mocked and spat at Him. Earlier on in verse 35, there was more of this: '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."
Isn't it ironical that by not saving Himself, we were saved? Had He saved Himself and not died for our sins, wouldn't we have been creatures to be pitied? Would there ever have been eternal life for us after death? But had He saved Himself and come down from the cross, would they have believed that He was indeed the Son of God? Had they not seen Him perform numerous miracles up to this point yet the very voices that sang Hosanna were the same ones now baying for His blood?
Mathew 27:44 records that both criminals were mocking Him, 'In the same way, the robbers who were crucified with Him also heaped insults on Him'.
Then something happened to one criminal in Luke 23:40 as he considered his imminent death, he rebuked the other criminal: '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.' This criminal had a revelation of who Jesus Christ really was and he turned to the Savior and said in Luke 23:42, "Jesus remember me when you come into your Kingdom.'
He asked Jesus to remember him 'when' not 'if' He came to His Kingdom. He perceived in his spirit that Jesus Christ was the King and Savior of the world and he believed that He would one day enter His Kingdom.
The Lord answered him in Luke 23:43, 'I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.' This was an assurance that Christ would die on that very day but would be in paradise after He transited from this world. In those days of Roman rule, death was not a certainty for those that were crucified. Some would hang for up to three days but Jesus assured the criminal that this would not be the case for either of them. We see the intimacy that Jesus Christ introduces into His response-'you will be with me' as He mentions their destiny-'paradise'.
Could this criminal ever have guessed in his wildest dreams that although he had been an enemy of state in the morning he would be a friend of Jesus in the evening? Would he have known that he who had been incarcerated with the penalty of sin in the morning would be free in paradise in the evening? Would he have known that he who was a child of satan in the morning would turn out to be child of God by evening? Would he have believed that he who was condemned for hell would now find peace in paradise and the presence of God Himself? Would he have known that the choice he made to look twice at Christ would earn him eternal life?
The lesson to be learnt here is that choices really do have consequences and while salvation is the sovereign work of God, we are all given a chance to at least hear the message of the Gospel once or many times. As above, both criminals were facing death on the cross, both of them saw what happened at crucifixion and both of them suffered the exact same circumstances yet only one of them chose to repent and believe; the other went to perdition.
The cross divides two sides of people- those that repent and are saved and those that refuse to die to sin. Similarly today, the Holy Spirit convicts people in the same way after a message but sometimes only one hears it and repents; another goes home unrepentant to sin. Saul met with Christ on his way to Damascus to persecute Christians and in that instance decided on whose side he wanted to be.
Salvation is a simple act of faith. It is not by sacrament, ceremony, ordinances or anything for that matter. It is not by registration in a church or partaking of Holy Communion. Neither is it by baptism because the criminal at the cross did not go through any of these, it is by the simple act of believing in Jesus Christ alone.
Salvation is by faith and not by works. Many 'works' could have been credited to the criminal; surely murder, blaspheming or mocking Jesus, but he repented just before death and was saved, Salvation does not keep record of what one has done in the past so every single person on earth can give his life to Jesus Christ.
It is never too late to be saved, this can even be on one's death bed. A simple repentance can bring about salvation. Roman 10:9 says, 'That if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.' But does any of us know what kind of death we will pass through? Is it not better to repent and accept Jesus Christ while we can? And if we have, should we not keep praying for our loved ones whose hearts have not yet been convicted of their sins?
The only way to salvation is through Jesus Christ and it is by calling out to Him.
Choices are made but they have consequences. With regard to Jesus Christ, they have eternal consequences. The criminal on the cross was fortunate because he saw imminent death, but how many of us will ever know that our time is up?
May these words (sermons), from various men and women of God be a blessing to all.