Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from a Syriac Orthodox, Jacobite and Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal
Quad Centum (Issue 400) Souvenir Edition

Volume 7 No. 400 March 1, 2017
 

Chapter 6: The Salvation

Salvation

What does "Jesus saves" actually mean? What it truly means is to become a child of God, forgiveness of sins and receiving the gift of eternal life. ...

Jesus Christ - The Complete Salvation Package

Jesus' death, though vital, is part of a larger story that includes our Lord's incarnation, death, resurrection and ascension. All these are intrinsic, inseparable milestones of Jesus' one redemptive work - the work that gives us life in his name. Let's look to Jesus - the complete salvation package. ...

Experiencing LIFE With Jesus

Jesus died on the cross for you so that your sins can be removed, so you can confidently enter an everlasting life based on what God has done for you, rather than what you have tried and failed to do for Him. ...

Salvation Is for Sinners

The value of the human soul is so precious that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit devised a plan before the world was created: The Son of God would die to redeem fallen man. ...

Can I lose My Salvation?

We all sin and fall short, but the important question to ask is what is the condition of your heart - have you truly repented and believed in Christ as your Lord and Savior, or are you trusting in false assurance? ...

Last-Second Salvation

Here we have the most amazing example of saving faith in all the Bible. Jesus is hanging next to him, a bloody mess, a sight awful to behold. The man's feet and arms are nailed to the cross, ropes hold his body upright so it won't fall off...Somehow this thief saw Jesus bleeding and naked and yet he believed that he would someday come in his kingdom. He saw Jesus at his weakest moment, and still he believed in him. He is a crucified sinner trusting in a crucified Savior. ...

Chapter 6: Salvation

Salvation
After reading the wondrous history of the Lord Jesus Christ it may still be unclear to you what exactly He has achieved. The Lord Jesus is called the Saviour, but the world still seems doomed. Suffering and grief often rule and people are constantly dying. Nature and the environment also show obvious signs of decay and decline. Instead of improving, life seems to worsen in many aspects. What does "Jesus saves" actually mean? Read the Bible with a faithful heart!

What it truly means for someone to be saved is to become a child of God, forgiveness of sins and receiving the gift of eternal life. To all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. (John 1:12). But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. (1 John 1:7). God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. (1 John 5:11)

But if God Himself says that the wages of sin are death, how can He forgive our sins without punishing us for them? The Lord Jesus died instead of sinning people. He took all of the punishment that we deserve upon Him. But He was pierced and crushed because of our sins. He was severely punished so that we could enjoy peace: He was beaten and we were healed! All of us were like sheep that had wandered off. We had each gone our own way. But God laid all our guilt and sins on Him! He was wounded and crushed because of our sins; by taking our punishment, he made us completely well. (Isaiah 53:5,6). (See also Romans 5:6-8; 2 Corinthians 5:19-21; 1 Peter 1:18,19;1 Peter 2:24). God sincerely wants to forgive us all our sins. "Come now, let us reason together," says the LORD. "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. (Isaiah 1:18b)

What should we do to receive our part of this wondrous salvation? We should repent our sins and believe that Jesus has died for us.

Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord. (Acts 3:19). Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household. (Acts 16:31). We do not deserve glory or earn it by being as good as possible, because we are saved by God's grace (His undeserved favour and charity), not by our own merit. God's Son gave His life and blood to relieve us from sin. Everything we ever did wrong has been forgiven because of that. Such grace! (Ephesians 2:7). There is no other way to be saved than through the Lord Jesus. Jesus said: "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6). Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).

A great promise is given to anyone who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ, everyone who truly believes, receives eternal life. He is no longer under the judgment of death. Jesus said: "I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life". (John 5:24). This new life in Christ starts as soon as one believes. The Lord Jesus said: "I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life." (John 6:47). Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son. (John 3:18). They who believe can be absolutely certain that they have eternal life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. (1John 5:13).

When the faithful die, they are taken up immediately to be with Jesus. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. (...) to depart and be with Christ is better by far. (Philippians 1:21-23). What happens to the bodies of the faithful who die? They will be resurrected in glory, when the Lord Jesus returns to earth. By the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, he will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. (Philippians 3:21).

The rest of creation will also take part in the salvation that Jesus brought. When the Lord Jesus returns, all of creation will be renewed. The creation will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. (Romans 8:21).

Source: 1stap.com

Jesus Christ - The Complete Salvation Package

by Joseph Tkach

Near the end of his Gospel, the apostle John made these intriguing comments: "Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book…. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written" (John 20:30; 21:25). Given these comments, and noting differences among the four Gospels, we conclude that these accounts were not written to be exhaustive records of Jesus' life. John says his purpose in writing was that "you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name" (John 20:31). The focus of the Gospels is to tell the good news about Jesus and the salvation that is ours in him.

Though in verse 31 John attributes salvation (life) to the name of Jesus, it's common for Christians to speak of being saved by Jesus' death. Though this short-hand statement is correct, relating salvation exclusively to Jesus' death can stunt our understanding of the fullness of who Jesus is and all he has done to save us. The events of Holy Week remind us that Jesus' death, though vital, is part of a larger story that includes our Lord's incarnation, death, resurrection and ascension. All these are intrinsic, inseparable milestones of Jesus' one redemptive work - the work that gives us life in his name. Let's look to Jesus - the complete salvation package.

Incarnation

Jesus' birth was not the ordinary birth of an ordinary person. Unique in every way, it was the beginning of the Incarnation of God himself. In Jesus' birth, God came among us as a human in the way all humans since Adam have been born. Remaining what he was, the eternal Son of God took on a whole human life, from beginning to end - birth to death. In his one Person, Jesus is both fully divine and fully human. In this stunning statement we find an eternity's worth of significance that merits an eternity of appreciation.

Through the Incarnation, the eternal Son of God stepped out of eternity and into his creation of space and time to become a man of flesh and blood: "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14). Jesus was indeed a genuine full-fledged man, but at the same time he was fully God - one in being with the Father and Spirit. The birth of Jesus fulfills many prophecies and is the promise of our salvation.

The Incarnation did not end with Jesus' birth - it continued throughout his earthly life, and continues today in his glorified human life. The Son of God incarnate (in the flesh), remains one in being with the Father and Spirit - the fullness of the whole God is present and active in Jesus - making the human life of Jesus uniquely significant. As Romans 8:3-4 says,

What the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Paul further explains that we are "saved through his life" (Romans 5:11). The life and work of Jesus are inseparable - they are all part of the Incarnation. The God-man Jesus is the perfect high priest and mediator between God and humanity because he partook of human nature and reclaimed humanity by living a sinless life. His sinless life helps us understand how he can maintain a relationship with both God and other humans. While we typically celebrate his birth at Christmas, the events in Jesus' whole life are always part of our worship. His life reveals the relational nature of our salvation. Jesus brought together, in his own person, God and humanity in perfect relationship.

Death

For some, the short-hand declaration, we are saved by Jesus' death, carries with it the unfortunate misconception that Jesus' death was a sacrifice that conditioned God into being gracious. I pray that we all see the fallacy of this notion.

T.F. Torrance writes that with a proper understanding of the Old Testament sacrifices, we will see Jesus' death not as a pagan offering for the sake of forgiveness, but as a powerful witness to the will of a merciful God (Atonement: The Person and Work of Christ, pages 38-39). Pagan systems of sacrifice were based on retribution, but Israel's was based on reconciliation. Under Israel's system, rather than sacrifices and offerings being given to earn forgiveness, God provided them to cover for and remove the people's sin so that they would be reconciled to God.

Israel's sacrificial system was designed to make manifest and to witness to God's love and mercy, pointing to the purpose of Jesus' death, which is reconciliation with the Father. His death also defeated Satan and the power of death: "Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death - that is, the devil - and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death" (Hebrews 2:14-15). Paul adds that Jesus "must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death" (1 Corinthians 15:25-26). Jesus' death is the atoning part of our salvation.

Resurrection

Each Easter Sunday, we celebrate Jesus' resurrection, which fulfills many Old Testament prophecies. The author of Hebrews tells us that Isaac being saved from death is a picture of resurrection (Hebrews 11:18-19). The book of Jonah tells us that Jonah was inside the sea monster "three days and three nights" (Jonah 1:17). Jesus related that event to his death, burial and resurrection (Matthew 12:39-40; Matthew 16:4, 21; John 2:18-22).

We celebrate Jesus' resurrection with great joy because it reminds us that death is not permanent. It's a temporary step toward our future - eternal life in communion with God. At Easter we celebrate Jesus' victory over death and the new life we will have in him. We look forward to the time spoken of in Revelation 21:4: "He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." The resurrection is the hope of our salvation.

Ascension

Jesus' birth led to his life, and his life led to his death. But we cannot divorce his death from his resurrection and we cannot separate his resurrection from his ascension. Jesus didn't just come out of the grave and live as a human being. Now a glorified human, Jesus ascended to the Father, and it was not until that great event occurred that he finished the work he started.

In the introduction to Torrance's book Atonement, Robert Walker wrote this: "The ascension is Jesus' taking of our humanity in his person into the presence of God into the union and communion of the love of the Trinity." C.S. Lewis put it this way: "In the Christian story God descends to re-ascend" (Miracles, chapter 14, paragraph 5). The glorious good news is that in ascending, Jesus took us up with him: "God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 2:6-7).

Incarnation, death, resurrection and ascension - all vital parts of our salvation and thus our worship. These milestones point to all that Jesus has accomplished for us through his whole life and whole work. Let's take in more and more of who Jesus is and all of what he has done for us. He is the complete salvation package.

© 2016 Grace Communion International. All rights reserved.

Experiencing LIFE With Jesus

by Pete Briscoe

"The burden of life is from ourselves, its lightness from the grace of Christ and the love of God." - William Bernard Ullanthorne (1806-1889)

The two men hung together in the midday heat - an unlikely couple, actually, brought together by horrific circumstances. In a matter of hours, Jesus Christ, the sinless Son of God, would breathe His last breath and complete His earthly work. A short time later a thief, a man fully worthy of an eternal hell, would also die.

Consider one of the two thieves who hung on a cross beside Jesus. He was neither a "good guy," nor did he have the opportunity to change his ways and give it a "good try." But, when the man asked for a pardon, Jesus said, "Today, you will be with me in Paradise."

Across the threshold of death Jesus was waiting for him, ready to invite him into everlasting life - just as He is waiting for you right now if you humbly and honestly receive this free gift.

Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God... - John 1:12

Jesus died on the cross for you so that your sins can be removed, so you can confidently enter an everlasting life based on what God has done for you, rather than what you have tried and failed to do for Him.

Yes, the Gospel is truly good news to people who know they are bad. The supernatural and transforming message of truth is like pure oxygen in the lungs of someone suffocating under a blanket of works and religion. That is the eternal hope for our future, AND it's actually our living and active reality today. Think about it. If we have received Him, we are His children now. Eternal life in Christ begins now, each and every moment of every day.

That's something we can live with - experiencing Life today - with Christ.

Jesus, I received You as my only hope of eternal life, and I am receiving You right now as my true source of life today. Thank You for giving me the right to be Your child right now, just as I am. Restore to my soul the joy of this radical salvation! Amen.

Source: Experiencing LIFE Today

Salvation Is for Sinners

by Stephen Davey

Gospel: Mark 2:17

And hearing this, Jesus said to them, "It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners." - Mark 2:17

Jacob Koshy grew up in Singapore with the ambition to become as rich and successful as he possibly could--the desire that ultimately led him into the world of drugs and gambling. In time, he reached his goal, becoming the leader of an international drug-smuggling network. But in 1980, that dream came to an abrupt end when he was caught, arrested, and detained in a government drug rehabilitation prison in Singapore.

Locked in a tiny cell, Jacob became frustrated and embittered. He wanted to smoke, but cigarettes were not allowed in the prison. Friends smuggled in tobacco and he rolled it in the pages of a Gideon Bible that had been left in his cell. One day he fell asleep while smoking and awoke to find that his homemade cigarette had burned out; all that remained was some charred paper. He unrolled the paper and read the words, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?"

Curiosity struck him and he asked the guard for a new Bible. Upon receiving it, he read the story of Saul's miraculous conversion. Immense joy overtook Jacob as he realized the truth of what he had read--if God could save an enemy like Saul, He could save him as well! Without wasting a second, he fell to his knees and prayed for God to forgive his sins. Tears flowed as the Lord heard his prayer and saved his soul.

Jacob began sharing his story with other prisoners; some of them accepted Christ as well. When he was released from prison, he became involved in a Bible-believing church, met and married a Christian woman, and together they began serving as missionaries in the Far East, sharing the gospel with sinners in desperate need of the Savior.

The value of the human soul is so precious that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit devised a plan before the world was created: The Son of God would die to redeem fallen man. No matter what has happened to you, my friend, no matter what you have made of yourself, you can become whole again in the eyes of God.

It was Christ Himself who said, "I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners" . . . aren't we all? If you are lost in your sin today, there is good news: Christ died on the cross for people . . . people just like you.

Prayer Point:

If you have never placed your faith in Jesus Christ for your salvation from sin, confess now and accept His free gift to you. If you are a believer, thank the Lord that, although you are a sinner who continually "falls short of His glory" everyday of your life, He never ceases to love you.

Extra Refreshment: Read Acts 9--the story that changed Jacob Koshy's life.

Source: A Wisdom Retreat

Can I lose My Salvation?

by Shane Idleman

A common question for many is, "Can I lose my salvation?" I've heard both sides of the argument, and only God truly knows a person's heart, but I can share a few thoughts. The reason there is a debate is because the Scriptures teach that salvation is a gift from God that cannot be earned, but they also offer warnings about falling away. There should be a healthy tension between God's sovereignty and man's responsibility. This issue should not create a spirit of division, elitism, or theological superiority.

One school of thought suggests that salvation cannot be lost, as in losing your car keys, but that it can be left, as in walking away from it. This may be why Jesus spoke of the man who said in his heart "my master delays His coming; therefore, I will turn from living a godly life". When the master returned unexpectedly, the servant was banished because he chose to turn from what he knew to be right.

In another passage, Jesus said, "You have left your first love," when speaking to the church in Ephesus (Revelation 2:4). James 5:19-20 adds, if anyone wanders from the truth and someone turns him back, a soul is saved from death. If anything, these Scriptures, and many more, reinforce the fact that we have certain responsibilities.

1. We must look at the context of such verses.

For example, in James 5 the context is a believer who is sick because he or she wandered from God (a pattern of sin) – from alcohol and drugs to lying and slander, and from sexual sin to the sin of pride – the warnings, convictions, and rebukes were all ignored. The elders become involved in hope that confession and repentance take place, and that faith-filled prayer releases the person from God's chastisement (cf. Hebrews 12:5-7). The believer is heading toward physical death as the result of wandering from God, but if repentance takes place, they will be restored – the soul is saved and his ongoing pattern of sin (multitude) is covered, concealed, and dealt with. This verse is not about salvation, but disobedience.

We should never turn from what we know to be right. Jesus encouraged His followers to be watchful, prepared, and ready for His return. Are we watchful? Are we prepared? Are we ready? (Read Matthew 24:45-51; Luke 21:34.) The Scriptures offer a healthy tension between God's sovereignty and man's responsibility.

The other school of thought suggests that some passages are dealing with people who never fully surrendered to Christ. As a result, they fell away. They heard the gospel, but never fully embraced it and turned from their sins; they only had "intellectual" knowledge of salvation. According to this view, the real question isn't, "Can a person lose their salvation?" but, "Was the person really saved to begin with?"

Titus 1:16 and James 2:14 both conclude that many people "say" that they know God, but deny Him by their lifestyle. I John 2:19 suggests that those who acknowledge Christ initially, but deny Him later, are not saved to begin with: "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us."

2. Who holds us together?

If we must maintain our salvation, what happens if Alzheimers or some other mind-debilitating disease sets in and begins to twist, corrupt, and pollute our thinking? Is all lost, or are we held together because we are a child of God? I am convinced, like Paul, "that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:38-39). Nothing can separate us from God, but we should never ignore the strong warnings about turning from Him.

When it comes to salvation, we all agree that God gets all the glory and all the credit. Salvation is His work. We are never outside of His sovereignty and control: "It is God who makes us stand firm in Christ" (2 Corinthians 1:21).

Our salvation is guaranteed based on the assurances found in Scripture, but we also must "work out our own salvation with fear and trembling" (cf. Philippians 2:12). My goal is to be faithful to the command to preach, witness, and proclaim while understanding that God does the drawing, saving, and sealing.

3. At the heart of the division is Calvinism vs. Arminianism.

Sadly, brother is shooting brother and sister is wounding sister. Have we forgotten how to show grace to those in the Body who we disagree with? Those who believe you can lose your salvation should not chide those who believe in eternal security – "once saved always saved" is by no means a license to sin – it's a belief in God's guarantee. But on the flip side, those who embrace eternal security should not mock those who disagree.

I can hear it now, "But what about Hebrews 6:4-6." It says, "It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace."

Based on my understanding of terms such as "enlightened," "tasted," and "shared," they are not necessarily words linked to salvation. Judas Iscariot was enlightened - he knew a great deal. He also tasted and shared in the ministry of Christ, but we all know his fate. When he fell away, repentance was elusive. His fate was sealed. However, this verse should force all Christians to take inventory.

We all sin and fall short, but the important question to ask is what is the condition of your heart - have you truly repented and believed in Christ as your Lord and Savior, or are you trusting in false assurance? This may be why Paul said in 2 Corinthians 13:5, "Examine yourself as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?"

Our actions reveal a great deal about our relationship with Christ. A.W. Tozer said: "When people find that after being in the church for years they are not making much progress, they ought to examine themselves and wonder whether they have been truly converted."

Has your heart become so hard as to reject Jesus Christ? If so, you can change that today. I'm aware that I'm driving this point home, but I'd rather err on the side of speaking too much about a committed relationship with Jesus than too little. It's never too late to get back on track: "Return to me, and I will return to you," says the Lord (Micah 3:7). God is sovereign but man has a responsibility to repent and return.

Source: Westside Christian Fellowshihp
Copyright © 2017 Westside Christian Fellowship, All Rights Reserved

Last-Second Salvation

by Dr. Ray Pritchard

Scripture: Luke 23:39-43

"Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. 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" (Luke 23:32-33).

Three men died that day.

They were crucified side by side outside the walls of Jerusalem at a place called Golgotha ("skull hill") where the Romans did their killing. It was located not far from the Damascus Gate so that people going into the city would have to see the executions.

Jesus of Nazareth hangs on the middle cross.

Two men were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left.

Portrait of Two Thieves

Who were they? The translators use different words to describe them . . . "Thieves, robbers, malefactors, bandits." Luke's word means "members of the criminal class, professional criminals, members of the underworld." These men were hoods, thugs, cutthroat killers, men who killed for fun and profit, assassins.

Some writers suggest that they were political revolutionaries bent on overthrowing the yoke of Roman rule. If so, we ought to think of them as terrorists who thought nothing of using violence to achieve their political aims.

Beyond that, we know little else about them. We do not know their names or their hometowns or the specific crime they committed. We assume that they had been partners in crime, but that is not certain. Some suggest they were brothers, but there is no way to be sure.

We would not know them at all except for this: they are supporting players in the greatest drama of all time, the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

It may appear that these two men are exactly alike. They were both criminals who were sentenced to die together at the same time at the same place on the same day. Both had been severely beaten before they were crucified, both were stripped naked before the leering crowd, both were covered with blood and dirt. Both men were dying and both would soon be dead. No one could look at them and tell any difference.

But in reality, no two men could be more different. These two men who were crucified on the outer crosses differed on one main point: how they viewed the man in the middle. They saw him differently and therefore asked him for different things.

- One man wanted escape, not forgiveness.
- The other man wanted forgiveness, not escape.

Amazing Faith

Let's take a closer look at the man who wanted forgiveness. Was any man ever in a more desperate situation? Brutally crucified, he is dying in agony for crimes he had committed. He is a guilty man justly punished. He deserves to die and he knows it. By sundown, he will be dead.

His case has been tried, the judgment announced, the sentence carried out. All purely legal avenues have been exhausted. This man is as close to death as you can be and still be alive. Now at the last moment he makes one final appeal to the Supreme Court of the Universe: "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom" (v. 42).

I submit to you that here we have the most amazing example of saving faith in all the Bible. Jesus is hanging next to him, a bloody mess, a sight awful to behold. The man's feet and arms are nailed to the cross, ropes hold his body upright so it won't fall off. Every movement is agony, every breath torture. Beneath him and behind him the howling mob screams for blood. They jeer, they hiss, they curse, the spit, they roar like wild hyenas. They cheer as he coughs up blood, they shout with approval when someone aims a rock at a piece of tender flesh. It is garish, hellish, brutal and inhuman. Yet it is here - amid the blood and gore - that this man comes to faith.

Somehow this thief saw Jesus bleeding and naked and yet he believed that he would someday come in his kingdom. He saw Jesus at his weakest moment, and still he believed in him. He is a crucified sinner trusting in a crucified Savior. No man ever looked less like a king than Jesus did that day, yet this man saw him as he really was.

This is made more amazing when you consider that this man had none of the advantages the disciples had. As far as we can tell, he never heard Jesus teaching by the seashore, he never saw Jesus heal the sick or raise the dead, he knew nothing of Jesus' great parables and never saw any of his miracles. This man missed all the outward signs of Jesus' kingship. Yet he believed.

He evidently knew nothing of the virgin birth, the Old Testament prophecies, the conversation with Nicodemus or the raising of Lazarus just one week earlier. The coming miracle of the resurrection was unknown to him. All the things we take for granted, he knew nothing about.

Yet there on the cross, he came to understand the heart of the gospel. In the crucified Jesus, beaten, mocked, forsaken, his life blood ebbing away, this thief saw a king and another crown than the crown of thorns.

One crucified man saw another crucified man and believed in him.
That made the difference between heaven and hell.

Saved at the Very Last Second

In that light his words seem all the more remarkable. "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." By saying that, he didn't mean "Remember my name" or "Erect a monument to me." He simply meant, "At the end of the world, make a place for me in your kingdom." It is the modest prayer of a man who knows he does not deserve what he is asking for.

When we put the totality of his words together, we can clearly see how great this man's faith really is:

"This man has done nothing wrong"
Faith in the Person of Christ

"Jesus, remember me"
Faith in the Power of Christ

"Jesus, remember me"
Faith in the Mercy of Christ

"When you come into your kingdom"
Faith in the Kingdom of Christ

What about this prayer? It is a bit unusual. But it reminds us that God judges the sincerity of our hearts and not the accuracy of our words. When you go to the doctor, you don't usually know exactly what medicine you need. You just need to go to the right doctor and he'll make sure you get the right medicine.

Likewise this poor dying thief didn't know all the right words to say, but what he said was good enough because he said it to the right person. When he said, "Jesus, remember me," he didn't know all that he was asking for; before sundown he received far more than he expected.

This thief on the cross was dying for his sins - a guilty man justly punished. He cried out to Jesus and at the very last second he was saved.

A Promise with Three Parts

How do we know this thief was saved? We know he was saved by the answer Jesus gave in verse 43: "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise." Jesus answered his request by giving him a promise with three parts.

1. Immediate Salvation. Note the word "today." Jesus put it first for emphasis, meaning, "This very day, the day of your crucifixion . . ." Wherever "paradise" is, Jesus told this thief that he was going there that very day.

2. Personal Salvation. The phrase means to be "with me in a very personal way." It is not "You over there and me over here" but "You and me together, side by side." It means to be in the personal presence of another person. Wherever Jesus was going, this thief would be right by his side.

Sometimes we focus on the details of heaven so much that we miss the big picture. We wonder what our loved ones are doing in heaven. But even in our best moments, we "see through a glass darkly." We know so little of what life is like on the other side. But this much is true. Heaven is where Jesus is, and to be with him is to be in heaven.

If I've been on a trip, away speaking for a week, I may say to someone, "I can't wait to get home again." But I'm not talking about the literal bricks and the literal carpet. It's not as if when I come in, I say, "Hello, drapes, I'm glad to see you again. Hello, dining room, I missed sitting in those chairs." You'd think something was wrong if I talked like that. No, home is precious to me because my sweetheart is there. When I say, "I can't wait to go home," I mean that I can't wait to see Marlene again. It's the same thing with heaven. The glory of heaven is not the streets of gold or the gates of the pearl or even the River of Life or the angels of God. The glory of heaven is Jesus. Heaven is wherever Jesus is, and when we finally get to where Jesus is, we will be home for all eternity.

3. Heavenly Salvation. "Paradise" is the crucial word. Scholars tell us that it originally referred to the walled gardens of the Persian kings. When a king wanted to honor his subjects, he would invite them to walk with him in his garden in the cool of the day. This same word was used in the Greek Old Testament to refer to the Garden of Eden; in Revelation 2:7 it refers to heaven. It is a place of beauty, openness and inexpressible blessedness.

If we take these three promises together, we can see what a remarkable thing Jesus is saying. He is promising that this thief - who has lived his entire life in crime - will, upon his death, be transferred to heaven where he will be in the personal presence of Jesus Christ. Truly, this thief received much more than he asked for.

What a day this was for that misbegotten criminal. In the morning he's in prison, at noon he's hanging on a cross, by sundown he's in paradise. Out of a life of sin and shame, he passed immediately into eternal blessedness.

From this we take great comfort as we bid farewell to our loved ones who die in the Lord. At the very moment a believer dies, he passes immediately ("Today") into the personal presence of Jesus in heaven. That is what Paul meant when he said that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8). Heaven begins the moment we cross the narrow divide between this life and the next. Not 50 years after we die, or 150 years later, or 1500 years later but today. We have the word of Jesus on this.

This man - this thief, this scoundrel, this wastrel, this professional criminal--this man who, if he showed up in church today would scare us to death, this man who, if he moved to our town would make us want to move out, this man went directly from the cross to paradise.

Lessons of Hope and Encouragement

As I read this story, I take from it three lessons of hope and encouragement.

1. It is never too late to turn to Christ.

Sometimes people say, "I'm too old for this" or "I'm too old to try that." Sometimes it's true on the physical level. As you get older, there are some things you just can't do any more. But no one can ever say that about turning to Jesus. It's never too late to turn to him. As long as there is life and breath, as long as the heart still beats, the invitation still stands.

Can someone be saved at the last second? Because of God's amazing grace, the answer is yes. Brian Bill shared this with the Keep Believing team several days ago:

"Wanted to pass along that a man died this past weekend. But not before he was saved through his niece reading An Anchor for the Soul to him. He was blind but now he sees!"

Thank God for the niece who loved her uncle enough to read him a book that would show him the way to heaven. Sometimes we say, "I'm eternally grateful" when a friend does us a favor, but we don't literally mean we are grateful for eternity. But in this case that's an appropriate response.

Her uncle is now eternally grateful for a niece who shared the Good News with him.

Those of us who are praying for our loved ones should take great hope from stories like this. Sometimes we look at people and say, "They are just too far gone. They will never come to Jesus." Then we get discouraged and stop praying for them. But this story teaches us that no one is ever too far gone. It's true, he waited until the very last second . . . but it's also true that in that last second he was saved. Don't ever give up on those you love. They may, like this wretched thief, waste a lifetime and then at the end turn to Jesus Christ.

Don't despair . . . for yourself or for anyone else. It's never too late to turn to Christ.

2. Even the very worst can be saved at the very last moment.

Sometimes we hear people make fun of "death-bed" conversions, as if such things never happen. Well, let me tell you that they do happen. And why not? If a man knows that he is dying, is he not likely to think about the hereafter and where he will spend eternity?

I do not mean to suggest that anyone should wait until the last moment to be saved. Far less do I intend to suggest that anyone should live a profligate life with the intention of coming to Christ just before he dies. People who live that way aren't serious about salvation. I have a friend who spends his days ministering to the dying. When I asked him about death-bed conversions, he said, "People die the way they have lived." I'm sure that's true in most cases. No one should think they can laugh at Christ for years and then at the last second repent and be saved. To be sure, such a thing could happen, and it sometimes does happen, but it is not the usual course of events.

As far as we can tell, the thief who believed in Jesus had no prior knowledge of him, which makes his conversion all the more remarkable. Let no one use this example as a reason to delay coming to Christ.

Do not put off until tomorrow what you should do today. I'm sure if we could speak to this thief who was crucified with Jesus, he would say, "Don't delay. Don't wait. Give your heart to Jesus now."

Remember that two thieves were crucified with Jesus that day, but only one believed. As J. C. Ryle put it:

One thief on the cross was saved, that none should despair; but only one, that none should presume.

The fact remains that this man who was a very bad man was indeed saved at the very last moment. Thank God it is so. He had lived an absolutely rotten life, yet he died a Christian death. It happened by the grace of Jesus Christ.

I know that some people feel that they are too far gone in sin to ever be forgiven. Some feel so enslaved by their habits that they despair of ever being set free. Many people would do anything to be forgiven but they think that forgiveness is impossible.

Let me put the matter plainly. It doesn't matter where you've been sleeping. It doesn't matter what you've been drinking. It doesn't matter who you've been hanging around with. It doesn't matter what sins you've committed. It doesn't even matter if you've broken the Ten Commandments - all of them, one by one - this week. It just doesn't matter. You can be saved right now.

If this man can be saved, anyone can be saved. If there's hope for him, there's hope for you. If he can make it to heaven, so can you. If Jesus would take him, he'll certainly take you.

3. God has made salvation simple so that anyone can be saved.

Consider what we have in this story:

- Salvation independent of the sacraments. This man was never baptized, never took the Lord's Supper, and never went to Confession. But he made it to heaven.

- Salvation independent of the church. This man never went to church, never walked an aisle, never attended catechism class, and never gave his money. But he made it to heaven.

- Salvation independent of good works. This man could not lift a hand for the Savior for his hands were nailed to a cross. He could not run any errands for the Lord for his feet were nailed to a cross. He could not give his money for he had not a penny to his name. For this man, there was no way in but the mercy of God.

J. C. Ryle (Expository Thoughts on the Gospels) says it this way:

Do we want proof that salvation is of grace and not of works? We have it in the case before us. The dying thief was nailed hand and foot to the cross. He could do literally nothing for his own soul. Yet even he through Christ's infinite grace was saved. No one ever received such a strong assurance of his own forgiveness as this man.

Do we want proof that sacraments and ordinances are not absolutely needful to salvation, and that men may be saved without them when they cannot be had? We have it in the case before us. The dying thief was never baptized, belonged to no visible church, and never received the Lord's supper. But he repented and believed, and therefore he was saved.

He was pardoned before he lived a single righteous day. In one transforming moment, a man who was not fit to live on earth was made fit to live in heaven.

[Editor's Note:

Some of our authors are getting too anxious to point their point of view here. The salvation of the thief was an unexpected one; but it was extraordinary too. The thief got "pardon" straight from the Chief Priest. It is like getting the Presidential pardon. It trumps everything.

However, it is worth pointing out that the thief did confess his sins before the Chief Priest:

41 And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong."
42 Then he said to Jesus, "Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom."
Luke 23:41-42

The good thief did confess his sins and then pleaded to Jesus for mercy. And the mercy/ pardon was granted.

43 And Jesus said to him, "Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise."
Luke 23:43

So, this process is in compliance with our church's procedure for confession, and granting forgiveness of sins.]

There May I, Though Vile as He

I take my stand with him. I claim the same mercy. We all get to heaven the same way, by the grace and mercy of God.

Over two hundred years ago William Cowper wrote a famous hymn called There is a Fountain that includes a verse about the dying thief. To my knowledge, this is the only hymn that mentions this man:

There is a fountain filled with blood,
Drawn from Immanuel's veins.
And sinners plunged beneath that flood
Lose all their guilty stains.

The dying thief rejoiced to see,
That fountain in his day.
And there may I, though vile as he,
Wash all my sins away.

All that God wants from us . . . and all that he will accept . . . is simple faith in his son, Jesus Christ. When we place our faith in the Lord Jesus, in that very moment we are saved.

The question is simple. Are you ready to die? You have nothing to fear if you know the Lord. You are not ready to die if you don't. Do you know him? What will you do if you don't know him?

Source: Keep Believing Ministries

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