Three Crosses at Calvary

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TEXT:  Luke 23:32-49

INTRODUCTION: These three!  What remarkable triad this is!  Why were there only three on that crucifixion day?  And why these particular three?  On that hill, long and grey, outside the city wall, God's arranging hand can be seen in the way the three sufferers had been placed.  Man meant only to increase the shame on the sinless Christ by putting Him between two notorious criminals as if He were the worst of the three, "On either side one, and Jesus in the middle." God however, overruled in the placing of the two thieves, in order to represent the two great classes into which the whole of the humanity is divided both now and in eternity the saved and the lost.  On the center cross hung the King of Love, numbered among the transgressors; and on the other two crosses were slaves of sin, dying for the sins they had committed.  Because all three victims died together, they depict three relative truths.  One dies for sin; one dies to sin; one dies in sin.  The two thieves were dying for their own iniquities, but the Man on the middle cross was dying for the other two men and for all they represent.  Thus we have a dying saint, a dying Savior, a dying sinner


A.        He was in agony and shame

1.      Dying like sinners

a)      Regarded as the most horrible form of death

(1)  There was the pain of the driven spikes forced through the flesh of Jesus’ hands and feet or ankles.
(2)  There was the weight of His body jolting and pulling against the spikes as the cross was lifted and rocked into place.
(3)  There was the scorching sun and the unquenchable thirst gnawing away at His dry mouth and throat.
(4)  There was the blood oozing from His scourged back, His thorn crowned brow, His stick beaten head.
(5)  In addition, just imagine the aggravation of flies, gnats, and other insects.
(6)  And for Jesus, there was the piercing pain of the spear thrust into His side.
(7)  On and on the sufferings could be described. There has never been a more cruel form of execution than crucifixion upon a cross.

b)      Curse associated with it for Jews

Deuteronomy 21:23     His body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day; (for he that is hanged is accursed of God;) that thy land be not defiled, which the Lord thy God giveth thee for an inheritance.

(1)  The criminal hanging upon the tree publicly demonstrated the judgment of God against sin. So it was with Christ hanging upon the cross:
(2)  Christ took upon Himself the curse of the law, the penalty that was due us. He died upon the cross bearing our sin, condemnation, and punishment.
(3)  He bore the wrath of God against sin that was due us, bore the judgment in our behalf.

c)      Condemned one must carry cross to place of execution

(1)  Spiritually, it is man’s sin that forced Christ to bear the cross for man.

d)      Offered vinegar, gall, myrrh to ease pain-refused

(1)  It was the custom to give the criminal spiked wine right before he was raised on the cross. The spiked wine was a strong stupefying liquor used as a narcotic drink
(2)  He refused to do God’s will unthoughtfully, with deadened senses and a semi-conscious mind. He had work to do in sacrificing His life for man: He was to taste death for all men, and He would taste it in full consciousness and by being as mentally alert as possible.

2.      Dying among sinners

3.      But dying for sinners

B.        Love manifested

1.      What a wondrous love Jesus revealed when He was willing to bleed and die

2.      Nature eloquently extols God's power and wisdom, but it is silent as to His love for sinners

3.      It is only at Calvary that we learn that He loves us without stint and reserve

4.      Prayer for those involved in crucifixion shows love

C.        A law satisfied

1.      By His death, Jesus met and discharged the exacting demands of the divine decreeing death for disobedience; "The soul that sinneth it shall surely die.  "

2.      Along with such condemnation was a curse!" Cursed is every one who continueth not in the book of the law"

3.      Jesus took our condemnation and curse and made them His own

a)      He bore our curse and carried our penalty

4.      The middle Cross is the charter for our pardon

D.        A liberty secured

1.      Free from the law

2.      Free from the bondage of sin

E.        A life to be lived

1.      It is one thing to believe in a crucified Christ, and a different matter altogether to live a crucified life; yet the latter should be the fruit of the former

2.      Here we have Christ on a Cross, the world on a cross, and the believer on a cross

Galatians 6:14 But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.

a)      The first cross produced life and peace for us

b)      The second represents the world, to which we are to be dead

c)      The third cross brings us to a realiza­tion of the mystic truth about being crucified with Christ, imitating His sacrifice, sharing His death

3.      Is ours a crucified life?

a)      Are we dead to the appeal of the world of which Satan is God?

b)      Do we know what it is to be raised again, and to have left all the sins that once held us in their thrall in the grace of Christ?


A.        This was the cross of the thief whose spiritual biography was brief but blessed

1.      In the morning he was in nature, lost and condemned; at midday he was in grace, his black past erased; by midnight he was in glory, sharing its bliss with the One who had redeemed him

B.        The triumph of faith

1.      All the dying thief could do was believe

2.      Sinners are saved by grace, through faith

3.      "Today thou shalt be with me..."

C.        The triumph of grace

1.      The thief was saved at the stroke of twelve

a)      "Whosoever cometh to me I will in no wise cast out

2.      It is suicidal to put off the matter of soul's eternal welfare until our deathbed

3.      How sad to give the best of our lives to the devil, and at the last offer Jesus the ragtag of a wasted life

a)      Yet mercy has no limit

4.      The dying thief and murderer had just time to cry, "Lord remember me!”

a)      Grace prevailed and the blood Jesus was shedding made the vilest clean


A.        Standing beneath the dark, tragic cross we learn that the only impediment to salvation and eternal life peace is a hard, impenitent heart, for this second thief died as he had lived, in his callousness and sin

1.      The unsaved criminal was as near to Christ as his now repentant companion in crime was and he could have received the same assurance of pardon as he did, but he did not cry for mercy

2.      Jesus can save the unholy, the unfit, and the unclean,         but he cannot save the unwilling

a)      In His compassion, He never asks any man about the extent of his sin, only the reality of his desire to be freed from iniquity forever

3.      From one side of the cross a thief goes to Paradise and from the other side a thief goes to perdition

a)      Here we see how the cross divides the world

B.        The thief wanted a CHRIST without the cross

1.      Both of the thieves cried, "If thou be the Christ save thyself and us."

a)      One discovered that Christ could save him from sin, although He did not deliver him from the penalty of his sin

2.      The modern cry is for a Christ without His blood-stained cross

a)      Thus we hear a great deal about the ethical Christ, the social CHRIST, Christ the Teacher and Exemplar

3.      The preaching of the cross is always the power of God unto salvation

C.        The thief died with his sin's remedy at hand

1.      It was impossible for Christ to be any nearer to either of the thieves that He was

a)      Truly He was at hand to bless both

b)      One received but the other failed to take the opportunity to accept mercy

2.      There is no sin so black and disastrous as callous rejection

3.      There is no end so dark and hopeless as that of one deliberately refusing Jesus as the only Savior

CONCLUSION: Which cross represents you?  Have you accepted the middle cross?

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