Matthew 27: 27-46
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Imagine a spaceship hovering over a planet in which people can beam down. The spaceship can move from place to place in a flash – the ultimate form of travel. You can end up not only in another place but also another time. Imagine something went wrong and we do not know where we are or in what time we are. We start to look for familiar landmarks. As we walk along, we find ourselves on a hill facing a bright sunset. You can see three crosses – no people, nothing else, no signs of activity. Absolute silence. But in your mind’s eye, as you move forward, you get the feeling that you have just missed something. You draw nearer, looking for clues as to what you’ve missed. You see marks on the crosses – nail holes. There are patches of blood stains on the ground. You realise you have missed a barbaric form of death by crucifixion by the Romans. You now know where you are and the time frame. You have perceived from the blood on the ground the life that ran out of three men.
In times past, life wasn’t so precious. The death penalty was given for offences today we would consider quite mild. 250 years ago, in this country, a boy would be sentences to death for poaching a rabbit to feed his family. The scene we are standing at is a sight of battle, battle against sin. The one who died at the end of the fight was the victor. “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” (John 15:13). If we’re not familiar with the gospel, we can wonder, ‘What does this mean?’ Can it be that one of the men who died was innocent of any crime and died in the place of someone else, that He laid down His life for others? If so, which one was it? Who benefitted from this unselfish act?
In the gospel we find the incredible but true story of how mankind had become so sinful down through the years, that our just God could not look upon us because of the terrible state we were in. A righteous God demanded that a penalty should be paid to atone for our sins, “And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission.” (Hebrews 9:22). A righteous God demands a penalty of death. “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23).
We learn from this that there is hope. Jesus has paid the just penalty for our sins. In the shedding of blood, He has purchased our forgiveness. The forgiveness of sin is extended to all who repent. But we can’t do what we like. This isn’t just saying sorry, expressing regret or putting on a sad face. Only in true repentance can we reap the benefits of what Christ has done on that cross. Repentance means a complete turnaround from your own way of life, following a different path. It means having in our hearts a saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. John 3:16 tells us, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” The whole idea of redemption was not an afterthought; it was planned from the foundation of the world. Its fulfilment was announced by Jesus in His final breath when He cried out, “It is finished.”
We are told in the gospel that it went dark for three hours. In this modern world we don’t know what real darkness is like. Imagine what it would have been like before God said, ‘Let there be light.’ Jesus is the Light of the world. When that darkness came as Jesus was crucified, I believe it was the time when Jesus was dead. There was no light anymore.
There were three crosses. Three crosses, three men. Two of the men were thieves, one on either side. They had received the death sentence, which means they were not just pick-pockets. They had been caught, tried and sentenced. The poor man who hung in the middle was ridiculed. We know very little about these thieves. We assume they were both guilty of their crimes. But we see one difference between them – one continued to curse Jesus. He was angry and wanted to blame everyone else for what he had done and showed no regret for what he had done.
The other one thief was different. He had been just as evil but he admitted he was getting the punishment which he deserved, “But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.” (Luke 23:40-41).
What had happened to this man? How did he have this change of heart? He was stuck on a cross in full view of everybody else. Somehow, he knew that no matter what he did, nothing would change. He had come to realise that he had brought all this suffering on himself. But within his heart a miracle had taken place. He saw himself as a sinner; he saw the terrible condition of his soul and he could no longer face up to being the man he was. On that day, the Holy Spirit reached out and touched the heart of that man. The miracle of repentance. He felt a burning need for the cleansing of his soul, so he turned to God – to the pitiful bleeding wreck next to him on the cross. He recognised Him for who He really was and said, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” (Luke 23:42). Those words were welcomed by the man next to him who said, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43). There was no baptism, no Sunday School – only repentant faith was needed.
Three men hung side by side that day. The one on the left died in his sins. The one on the right died free from sin. The one in the centre died for the sins of others. One died in love, one died in despair, one died in faith. In the centre was our Saviour, paying the price for us in the deepest of love, dying on our behalf. On the left of Him stood the man who had no regrets for his sins. He cursed those around him as if they were to blame. He did not care about his past, his present or his future. He was heading for the deepest hell. There are far too many in this world who are in the same state. On His right was a man who saw the error of his ways, who freely confessed his sin, and in true repentance had been welcomed into the Kingdom of God.
Let me ask you today, what about you? Where do you stand? Are you standing on the left of Jesus with unrepentant sin and no care for the future, seeing nothing wrong with the life you’ve led, content to walk on the broad road that leads to destruction? Or do you stand on the right with those who acknowledge their sinful state and throw themselves on the loving mercy of a God, in Jesus Christ?
The choice is yours. It serves no purpose to say, ‘I’ll have to think about it,’ or ‘Maybe next week I’ll start going to church and start reading the Bible.’ You fail to realise that nobody can say how much time they have in this world. Today is the day of salvation. The repentant thief knew that his time was coming to an end and he needed to put it right. Could Jesus have rejected him? Could the man have been told, ‘No, your sins are too many and too great to forgive? Never! In Luke 19 Jesus Himself tells us, “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:9). This man was lost – to himself, to the crowd, to the world – but not to God, in Jesus Christ. In His agony and suffering, Jesus reached out to this thief, who was now a child of God. He brought another sheep into the fold, then brought him into heaven. Hallelujah!
We hope that these fictious time travellers would seek a signpost to show them which way to go next. After all, they had been lost once. The cross they saw before them would point the way to God. Anyone who needs to find their way home must look to that cross, to the One who not only knows the way, but He is the Way. He is still reaching out to us, still waiting for us. Follow that sign.