The Two Paths of the Cross

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The Path That Led to the Cross

Nearly 2,000 years ago, three men were nailed to three rough wooden crosses.
Each one was walked up that dreadful hill and one by one, hand by hand and foot by foot, they were nailed to those crosses.
Painful. Frightening. Hatred brewing. Ridiculed.
These were some feelings and emotions that these men felt.
One was there because he was a thug and criminal.
The other was there because he had committed heinous crimes against the state.
One was there because others hated Him and because of our sins.
Picture it all this way.
Nearly 2,000 years ago the last breakfast was served to two men.
Two men were left to think about their lives and fate.
They went to the cross of shame and death with hate and bitterness and blame of others.
One was thinking back on his childhood and the contempt he had for Rome due to their dreadful treatment of his family.
He hated the Jewish rulers just as much because they hid behind that government rather than rebelling for their kinsmen.
He decided at a young age, even though He knew the Law of God and knew God saw all, that He would get back at these two groups.
He was driven by hate, he let hate and sin drive him.
The other was the same. He was even more bitter and hate filled. He hated everything even himself.
He could only think of what would be best for him over others.
He hated even the air he breathed because it required him to give something back to it just so he could breathe in again.
He sat there waiting on his time to go up the hill and die on the place of the skull.
He hated the thought of not getting to take some with him but knew it was not possible.
Both men sat in silence, brooding, hating, yet fearful of what was to come and what would follow after.
These men are led out and one other joins them.
They look at this badly beaten and disfigured body.
They see the shreds of flesh hanging off of Him and instinctively flinch at the horrendous sight.
They look at him and a glimmer of pity fleets across the face of one criminal to quickly be suppressed by his hate of the Roman and Jewish leaders.
They are forced up the hill carrying the implement of their death on their shoulders.
The third man collapses and is aided by force by another Jewish man.
The two criminals hate the authorities and everything even more by this forced action of another Jew.
Finally these three are on the top of the hill and “WHACK, WHACK, WHACK” go the hammers and spikes through the soft flesh of the wrists and ankles of these three men.
Pain and agony lead to deep and guttural screams. The smell of blood and death fills the air and now it is time for the three to slowly suffocate to death as many people morbidly stand by and watch.
This is the scene we have as we approach the section of Scripture in
Luke 23:32–43 ESV
32 Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. 33 And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. 35 And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” 39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Hate got us all here. Hate is what leads to love. Love is why Jesus came and stayed.
Because of that love, one took the right path and the entrance to that path was only one look.
With these two thieves and the Roman soldiers we see that it is...

The Path of Hate that Led to Love (32-33, 35a-36)

These criminals, as we just saw through my little short story, were men filled with hate and misery.
Even if the text does not say this about them, exactly, we can know it is true because they were not believers, at least not until the end.
If one is not a believer, whether they know it or not, you are filled with hate and misery.
Hate leads you to act in harmful and sinful ways.
Misery makes you bitter and leads you to hate.
This leads you to do wicked deeds and then to scorn the Lord.
We see this in the text with the soldiers mocking Jesus and the criminals are too.
Now, this section does not say they both did but in Matt. 27:44 tells us
Matthew 27:44 ESV
44 And the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way.
This is hate. They were nailed to a cross the same as Jesus was, and they still mock Him with the people they hate the most.
Hate makes you lose your thinking and leads you to join with those you hate even more.
The path of hate is a path that leads to nothing but misery and pain.
These men were in severe pain and were still lashing out at the Lord.
How often do we do that? How often do we lash out and hate the Lord for the pain we have caused ourselves?
We will live in a life of hate and misery that lands us in a situation of our own making and then we hate the Lord for it.
We mock and scorn like these criminals did.
We revile the Lord and become bitter.
We get mad and rant and rave, and then we see something that throws us off.
We hear love back and wonder at this. We wonder why and how anyone can love us when we are this way.
Yet we see in Jesus...

Love is Why He Went and Stayed (34, 35b)

Jesus came because we needed a savior.
He came and was nailed to that cross beside the two criminals because He knew that this was the only way we could be saved.
He loved us that much and that is a testament to the two beside Him and to others looking on.
In verse 34 we see Jesus say, “Father forgive them for they Know not what they do.”
And then in 35b we see them shouting for Him to come down and save Himself.
But, He had to stay on that cross to provide salvation.
He had to die for us to live.
He had to suffer so we don’t have to.
His love brought Him here and His love kept Him on that cross.
Even with the calling out from the one thief for Him to save Himself and them.
That guy did not know that He had to stay on the cross to save Him.
But that man was so selfish he did not care. He wanted relief right then and could not see the love of Christ through his selfishness.
Too often we are that way too.
We are in something and want relief then and we cannot see the love of the Lord through what we are facing because all we see is our selfishness.
I am telling you now, if Jesus would suffer through the immense beatings and pains of the crucifixion and stay there for us in that horrible pain, I can guarantee you He still loves you in all you are in now today.
He was and is the King of the Jews, but the King gave Himself that day for us and all who hate Him.
He surrendered to death and suffering for all of us and I promise He still loves you today.
He is full of mercy for everyone because it takes deep love and mercy to say forgive them to those who are beating and killing you.
It is this that made the second criminal rethink what he saw and that led to...

The Right Path Chosen (39-42)

The second criminal began to think a little about what was going on.
He began to remember the things he was taught as a child about God and the Messiah to come.
He read the sign above Jesus and saw it said KING OF THE JEWS.
He heard Jesus say “Father forgive them.”
He wondered how this could be said.
He wondered why Jesus would say this.
He remembered being taught that Prov. 9:10
Proverbs 9:10 ESV
10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.
He began to remember these teachings and to think back on his hatred for the Jewish community and the Roman empire.
He looks at the other criminal who is still so full of hate, hating even the breath he breathes because he is forced to give something away with each breath.
He then rebukes him because of his blaspheme of the savior.
This man finally realized that Jesus is the Messiah.
He finally learned that his life was in the position it was in due to himself and no one else.
He realized that he is to blame for the thefts he committed. The lies he told.
The people he scammed and robbed.
His hatred was all his own and no one elses.
He was to blame for the misery he had in life.
He remembered hearing that this man said “whoever believes in me will have everlasting life.”
He heard these stories and he began to remember the teachings afresh from his youth.
This is one reason, PARENTS, that we must Prov 22:6
Proverbs 22:6 ESV
6 Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.
They will remember these teachings in life.
But in training we must live it out before them and demonstrate what it means to live a life committed to Christ.
Jesus’s life and actions before these men is what caused this criminal to remember the teachings of his youth and to see that Jesus must be the Messiah.
This is why he rebuked the other criminal and condemned him by saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence and condemnation, and we justly for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds...”
He realized that the law of God was right and that his learning from youth was that sinners paid for their sin with their lives.
He knew it and he probably remembered hearing Isaiah 53 and the suffering servant.
His eyes were opened at the end.
He saw Jesus for who Jesus is.
He realized that he was about to face eternity and he knew that Jesus was a savior.
Which led him to ask Jesus to remember him when He came into paradise.
This is a very interesting question.
It is because many try and add so much to what it takes to be saved by Jesus.
But here we see the clearest display of the gospel in all of Scripture.
We see that it takes...

Just One Look

In the final verse Jesus confirms that it is that simple.
He tells this criminal, I am certain with a smile in His eyes, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Today because you asked to be, you will be with me.
The most powerful part of this is not that the man will be in paradise. No, it is that the man will be in paradise “with me.” With Jesus.
That is paradise to be with Jesus is paradise.
And it only took one look, one simple asking of Jesus to be with Him.
It is just like in Num. 21:8-9 “8 And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.”
And John 3:14-15
John 3:14–15 ESV
14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
The Israelites only had to look at the fiery bronze serpent to receive life and Jesus uses this to say the same to those who believe.
The criminal on the cross believed.
He asked Jesus to save Him and Jesus said YES.
This man did nothing to earn this.
On the contrary, he did everything that one could do to not be able to receive salvation.
But even at the end there is a chance and this man asked and received.
He did not get baptized.
He did not attend church.
He did not do any works after salvation.
He did not serve anywhere.
He never gave to the church.
He did not go and make disciples.
He did not get on his knees and pray.
No, he asked for Jesus to save him and he was saved.
That is how simple it is to be saved by Jesus and receive everlasting life.
Just one look and it is yours.
Now, it is better for the whole body of believers if we do give, serve, pray, attend church together, and do good works in the name of the Lord, but none of that is what saves us it is only belief in Jesus that saves.
Those works are things we do out of our deep love for the Lord and what He did for us.
This lost, hate filled, bitter, beaten down, sinner for life criminal saw that he had a chance and he asked.
I am telling you now, that you are not too far away that Jesus can’t or won’t save you.
He is for you and He died for you.
His love put Him on the cross and His love kept Him there.
Today I ask you to look at the man on the center cross and ask Him to remember you when He enters paradise and you too can be with Him there forever.
Just as Alistair Begg said one time about the criminal, “he was cussing the guy with your friend. You’d never been to a Bible study. You didn’t know anything about church membership. And yet–and yet, you made it! You made it! How did you make it?”
He goes on and says the angels in heaven were quizzing the man and asking him if he was clear on the doctrine of justification. The man says “never heard of it.”
They ask about other doctrines and to each the man says, “I know nothing of those.”
Finally in exasperation the angels ask, “on what basis are you here.”
And the criminal said, “The Man on the middle cross said I can come.”
That is what it is.
The man on the middle cross says you can come.
He says you all can come.
He has it opened to each of you, that is why He was on that cross.
He went to it and stayed on it until death, and then as we celebrate today, was raised again for you and me to have that life with Him forever.
“The man on the middle cross says you can come.”
Will you come to Him and enter paradise, or will you go like the third man and die hating even breathing out because you are having to give something back and can’t keep it?
Just ask Jesus to let you be with Him forever and He will say to you “you will be with me.”
That is why He came and suffered, died, was buried, and was raised again.
Will you lay down your hatred and bitterness for Him like the second man and receive today everlasting life?
I pray you will because Jesus offers it now to all who will believe.
I pray you will believe today before it is too late.
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