Scripture Reference:  Luke 23:32-43

“And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us. But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.” – Luke 23: 39-43 (KJV)

Introduction:

There are so many stories in the Bible that it’s practically impossible to pick a favorite, isn’t it?  You have the story of the first couple, you have the Christmas story, you have the story of Noah and the Ark, and you have the story of mankind’s redemption.  The Bible, in my opinion, is the greatest book ever written.  It’s got poetry, drama, and short stories…and it’s a one of the greatest non-fiction writings of all time.  There are literally hundreds of characters to choose from.  As the disciples go…I think I can more closely identify with Peter.  As a Christian I sometimes identify with David because I have made some major mistakes in my life, but God never gives up on me or changes His mind about what He’s called me to do.  Anyone who reads the Bible and doesn’t love Jesus…there’s just something wrong with you, and you need to be checked to make sure you have a pulse.  However, there is one character that always gets overlooked, but to me is perhaps one of the single most important people in all of the New Testament.  The story of the encounter of the two thieves that were crucified with Jesus is probably one of…if not my favorite encounters with Jesus in the Bible…and in this message I am going to tell you why that encounter is so important…and also why I believe religion overlooks it.

I believe this message is going to be awesome, perhaps powerful, and quite frankly might be one of the best messages I’ll ever write…because hidden in this story is my favorite subject to write on…the ministry of reconciliation.  So, I hope you’ll enjoy this message.  I hope you’ll believe with me that God will speak some mighty things to us through this message.  In fact, before I get into this message…I think it’s a good idea to just open it up in a word of prayer…Amen!?!

Opening Prayer:

Heavenly Father, I thank You for dropping this message in and upon my heart.  I ask, Lord God, that You would anoint my fingertips, my mind, and help me to write this message with Your words, Your inspiration, and Your guidance. I ask, Lord God, that You would make my hands the hands of a ready writer…writing only of the oracles of You.  That the Holy Ghost would give me that supernatural ability to write with clarity, boldness, and the unction and utterance that comes only from You.  I pray for ears to hear, eyes to see, and hearts that are receptive and responsive to what You’re about to speak to us through this message.  I ask that You would sink this message into my heart, and the hearts of those who are about to read what You are going to impart to us today through this message…on this day.  I ask these things in Jesus’ name.  Amen and Amen.

Today’s Message – “Is He or Isn’t He? The Story of a Thief

The first thing worth noting from this story is that there were two thieves that hung on crosses that day with Jesus.  I would like to suggest that both of those thieves represent the very simple truth that there are only two things that you can do when it comes to Jesus.  You can be like the thief who boldly and pridefully rejected Jesus all the way to his dying breathe…or you can be like the one who humbled himself and accepted the offer that only Jesus can give.  Remember Jesus said there will be sheep and goats in Heaven?  The goats will be the ones who Jesus says “Away from me I never knew you.” and the sheep are the ones who will hear “well done”!?!  Listen, here’s the truth.  We only have two choices to make when it comes to Jesus.  Either we believe in our hearts and confess with our mouths that Jesus did what He did for us, and become whosoever’s that call upon the name of the Lord to be sozo’ed…or we can reject Him to our last breath and be sentenced to eternal life in hell fire and brimstone.  Let me make sure you understand that Heaven is a real place, and so is hell.  There are people who are really going to be in Heaven for all of eternity, and there’s also…sadly…people who are going to spend eternity in hell.  I don’t know about anyone else…but eternity to me seems like an extremely long time.  I would rather be one of the stupid Bible thumping Jesus Freaks and be wrong…than to be one of those who pridefully rejects Jesus until they’re standing before Him at the Great White Throne to find out all those Jesus Freaks were right…because when you’re standing there before the Lord…then it will be too late to call upon the name of the Lord for salvation…so…let me be clear.  You have two choices to make.  Be prideful and reject Jesus…and spend eternity in hell…or humble yourself and accept Jesus as Lord and Savior…and spend eternity in Heaven.  Listen, anyone who knows me knows I like hot weather…but as hot as I understand it’s going to be in hell…I don’t want to be there for ever and ever and ever.

Let’s get ourselves a serious reality check here okay.  Adam and Eve have been dead for a long, long time…haven’t they?  I mean they lived for over 900 years, and this was well before the flood, and long, long before Jesus walked the earth.  I bring them up to tell you that as long as they lived and as long as they have been dead…that’s a twinkle of an eye in the scope of eternity.  Eternity is like God.  There’s no beginning or end…it just goes…and goes…and goes.  The Bible says that life is but a vapor.  Have you ever seen vapor?  Have you ever seen how quickly it evaporates never to be seen again?  That is how our minute 70 – 100 years on earth is.  It’s like one tiny grain of sand out of all the grains of sand in the world…and then it’s still not enough.  It’s like all the stars that you can see, and how there are billions, trillions, and gazillions more stars that we cannot see with the naked eye or even the Hubble Telescope.  So, when I say that the most important decision in your life has nothing to do with where you live, what kind of car you’ll drive, who you’ll marry, what kind of career you’ll have, or who you’ll vote for during the next Presidential election.  The single greatest decision you’ll ever be face with in your life is what you will do with Jesus.  Will you accept Him or reject Him…because that is the ONLY decision that has eternal consequences attached to it…period.

Listen, I’m not going to preach a religious message here.  I can’t stand religion.  If you’re looking for some kind of message that’s going to tell you the do’s and do not’s of Christianity…I’m not going to write that message.  I am about the ministry of reconciliation, and that means I don’t have time to talk to you about how you should give up the booze or womanizing or whatever it is you’re doing.  My pastor and mentor’s favorite story for me about leading someone to the Lord is that one time he ran into this fellow who literally had a 40 ounce of beer in one hand, and a marijuana joint in the other, and a cigarette in his mouth.  My pastor lead this man to Jesus, and before he walked on to meet with someone else…he said to that man…repeat this after me.  “I am the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus.”.  Most religious people would be appalled by that right there.  How can God save someone with a 40 ounce of beer in one hand, a marijuana joint in the other, and a cigarette hanging from his mouth?  Well, how could God have saved you in the midst of what you were doing when you became a whosoever that called upon the name of the Lord to be saved? 

The Bible says that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.  In other words, you were a sinner when you called upon the name of the Lord to be saved.  You weren’t already righteous and holy when you said some version of the sinners prayer were you?  So, what gives you the right, now that you are saved, to judge the condition of another person who becomes a whosoever?  Just because they may have sinned differently than you!?!  I got news for you, friend, if you’re judging the condition of someone’s heart and life when they come to Jesus…YOU ARE SINNING YOURSELF AND NEED TO REPENT…OTHER WISE YOU ARE GOING TO BE JUDGED BY HOW YOU ARE JUDGING THAT PERSON WHO HAS JUST MADE THE MOST IMPORTANT DECISION OF THEIR LIVES.  Instead of belittling them…you should be rejoicing like Heaven is whenever someone calls upon Jesus to be Lord and Savior.  You do know that Heaven rejoices every time someone gets saved…right!?! 

So, why is this thief’s encounter with Jesus so important?  It’s important because the ministry of reconciliation is put on display right then and there.  The ministry of reconciliation is found here…Corinthians 5:17-21:

17Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.

18And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation;

19To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.

20Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.

21For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.

The significant part of the ministry of reconciliation is found in verse 19, and because this verse is of such importance to the understanding of where I’m going here…I’m going to use the Amplified Version.

It was God [personally present] in Christ, reconciling and restoring the world to favor with Himself, not counting up and holding against [men] their trespasses [but cancelling them], and committing to us the message of reconciliation (of the restoration to favor). 2 Corinthians 5:19 AMP

What the religious world teaches is that in order for us to be good enough to approach God for salvation we need to clean up our lives first.  Do you know that’s what kept me from complete surrender to the Lord for such a long time.  I looked at my life in the scope of religion, and I thought there’s no way I’m ever going to get my life cleaned up enough to be able to approach God for anything let a lone salvation.  I had bought the lie that religion teaches…which is you must have your life squared away before you can come to the Lord for forgiveness…and that even after you do…it’s not a given that you’ll be forgiven.  That Jesus’ blood and sacrifice on the Cross wasn’t enough…and you can probably see why there’s a special place in the pit of hell for preachers who make the Cross of no effect, and teach people leading them astray that in order for them to be accepted…they must earn it.  Friends, we cannot earn one thing from God…everything we have access to in the Kingdom of God is obtained by grace through faith.  There’s no earning anything from God.  There’s no such thing as extra credit.  But, the truth of what happens when a person becomes a whosoever is seen right here in this thief’s encounter with Jesus.

What’s significant to understand here is that the thief had no time to clean up his life, did he?  He didn’t have time to go and make restitution or repay all that he had stolen, did he?  He didn’t have the opportunity to get off the cross, and have someone baptize him, did he?  Do you know what else is significant?  Jesus didn’t say or ask the thief anything about his sin, did He?  There wasn’t a chance for him to visit a confessional, he didn’t give some big long list of what he did, and as we can tell from the length of the story…all he simple did was ask Jesus to remember him when He went into His Kingdom.  Is that right!?! I mean it is written in Luke’s account.  If it’s written…then that’s exactly what happened and how it happened because we know that there isn’t anything in the Word of God that’s in there by mistake…is there!?!

You see, this is why religion doesn’t want you to hear this story, and there’s rarely mention of this story, is there?  However, like I said to you.  I believe this is the single most important encounter in the New Testament.  Okay, maybe the second…what happened with Saul who became Paul is probably the greatest encounter because two-thirds of the New Testament was written by Paul…including the ministry of reconciliation.  So, the next most significant encounter is this thief…but that’s my opinion. 

I have one simple question to ask, and it’s the title of my message.  If we truly believe everything that is written in the Bible to be 100% Holy Ghost inspired and God approved…then the question I want all those religious folk to answer is a very simple, yet profound question that will have them stuttering to give you a response.  Is the thief in Paradise with Jesus or isn’t he?  If you believe that the Bible is absolutely 100% infalible…then you believe like I do…that thief is going to be there to greet me when I get to Heaven just like David, Moses, Noah, Paul, Peter, John, and all the others who will be there to greet me when I get to Heaven.  If you don’t believe the Bible is 100% accurate then you’re going to have to explain why you’re calling Jesus a liar…because Jesus told that thief “Most assuredly I say to you this day you WILL BE WITH ME in Paradise.”  Friends, if there was anything other than calling upon the name of the Lord for salvation…Jesus couldn’t have made that promise.

Listen, it really is that simple.  If there was more required to be reconciled to God then to believe in your heart and confess with your mouth that Jesus is your Lord and Savior…then Jesus could not have promised that thief (or anyone) a place with Him in Paradise.  Jesus’ answer would’ve had to have been something completely different…otherwise…Jesus is a liar.  Either you believe Jesus is The Truth or you don’t.  If you believe that Jesus is The Truth…then you believe like I do that thief is in Heaven.  If you don’t believe Jesus is The Truth…then you can’t believe that thief is in Heaven.

Let me save you the trouble.  That thief is going to be there to greet us when we all get to Heaven just like all those others who have passed on as believers.  The answer to the question is simple…yes…the thief is in Heaven.  If you truly believe the Word of God…then you cannot come to any other conclusion.  So, I don’t know about you, but I am thankful that encounter is printed in the Bible because what that story does is put the ministry of reconciliation on display even before the dispensation of grace began.  You might say that thief was the first convert under the new covenant.  At that moment when Jesus said this day you will be with me…that thief’s life was instantly transformed.  The most important part of the ministry of reconciliation is the fact that if you are a new creation in Christ Jesus…that God is no longer counting your sins against you.  Why?  Because you have been made the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus…and because of what Jesus did on the Cross…you are in right standing with God.

The message to you is simple.  If you’re a whosoever that’s called upon the name of the Lord to be saved…Jesus is saying to you just as He did to the thief.  THIS DAY, your name is written in the Lambs Book of Life, and you are already seated with Him in Heavenly places.  So, stop working for what you’ve already received, and start walking in the Victory that’s been purchased for you on Calvary’s Tree…Amen.

Closing:

Did you receive this message?  What an awesome message to hear straight from the heart of God, Amen!?!  Well, I never like to close a message like this without giving you the opportunity to make Jesus Lord of your life.  It’s really simple to do.  You don’t have to come up with some huge extravagantly and eloquently spoken prayer.  All you simply need to do is say something simple and similar to what that thief said.  If you don’t know what to say, I would like to encourage you to take a moment to get alone, get before God, and just say this simple little prayer…and you too will become a whosoever that’s called upon the name of the Lord…and you will be saved.

Let’s pray:  Dear God, I know that I am a sinner.  I know that I need a Savior.  I believe in my heart and confess with my mouth that what Jesus did on the Cross was for me.  I ask You, Lord, to come into my heart.  I ask You to forgive me of all my sins.  Make me a new creation in Christ, give me Your Holy Spirit to lead and guide me.  I believe in my heart and confess with my mouth…I AM SAVED.  I thank You for saving me.  In Jesus name I pray…Amen and Amen.

Friend, if you said that simple prayer, your name is now written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, and just like that thief on the Cross…this day you are seated with Christ in Heavenly places.  I would like to encourage you to seek a good, strong Bible teaching church.  If you need materials to help you start your walk with God, please write us at christlikeministriesarkansas@yahoo.com, and we will do our best to help get you some basic materials to get you started in your walk with God.

Thank you for taking the time to read this message today.  I hope that you, like me, will understand the significance and importance of this thief’s encounter with Jesus.  I hope you’ve enjoyed this message, and I pray that it’s been a blessing to you.

Blessings and Grace to you.

Pastor Bryan J. Kizer

Christlike Ministries NWA

“My love be with you all in Christ Jesus.” (1 Corinthians 16:24)