I want to tell you about an interesting contrast we find in the Bible.
Writing to the Corinthian church, the apostle Paul says the following in 1 Corinthians 1:18 (NLT),
The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God.
Notice that the same message is preached—and yet some people look at it as foolishness, while others realize it is the very power of God.
There’s a story that depicts this very contrast, and it took place on Calvary itself. We find it in Luke 23:32–33,
There were also two others, criminals, led with Him to be put to death. And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left.
A conversation happens between Jesus and these two criminals. It’s an enlightening exchange because it’s a microcosm of the whole world and illustrates the contrasting responses to the gospel message.
The first criminal who spoke was the scoffer. Luke 23:39 says,
Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, “If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.”
He’s hanging next to Jesus, and he blasphemes Him. In Greek that literally means that he cried out in bitterness and rudeness. He had no remorse for his crimes… only insults and curses.
It really is a picture of some people. They show no humility, no acknowledgment of their sin. Instead, they scoff and reject God because He doesn’t do what they want. He doesn’t dance for them.
When God doesn’t answer as they think He should, or He doesn’t prevent some tragedy from happening, they blame Him, even curse Him.
This first criminal is like those people. They fail to realize that humanity’s own sin has caused all the heartache and brokenness in this world.
This man said, “Save Yourself.” Jesus didn’t need saving—but the whole world needed to be saved. And that’s what He was doing on the cross.
Jesus was taking care of the greatest need of humanity.
The second man was the thief on the other side of the cross where Christ hung. He was the penitent one. Luke 23:40–41 says,
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.”
He said to the other criminal, “You’re under the same condemnation, and we received the due reward for our deeds.” Like these criminals, the whole world stands condemned before God.
We’ve all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God—and the wages of that sin is death. (Romans 3:23, 6:23)
This second criminal understood this and said, “We’re just receiving what is due us.” Like him, we must admit our guilt before we can be acquitted. We are to repent and believe the gospel.
Repentance always precedes believing faith.
This man has committed capital crimes. He says to the other criminal, “We’ve committed crimes worthy of death. We’re getting what is due us.”
All he asks of Jesus is to remember him when He enters paradise. And yet, as we read next, Jesus welcomed him. Luke 23:43 says,
And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”
Think about that for a moment. This man could not make restitution to those he had harmed or live a changed life. There was nothing he could do.
That is because salvation is by grace, through faith, plus zero.
When we call upon Jesus and confess Him as Lord, He gives us an assurance that we are saved, part of His family. Our eternal future is secured.
Like those two criminals, we are all under condemnation. The whole world stands guilty before God. But on the cross, Jesus paid it all.
The cross stands as the focal point of our salvation, but there were two other crosses on Calvary that can teach us much about what accepting that salvation means.
That’s the topic of Pastor Bayless’ message “The Three Crosses,” which we’d like to put in your hands today. This resource, along with his booklet “Understanding Salvation,” is our way to thank you for your gift to help bring our living Jesus to a dying world through the global ministry of Answers with Bayless Conley. Thank you for your partnership to reach our lost and dying world with the saving message of our living Jesus!
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