Luke 23:33; 39-43
THE DIFFERENCES ARE ALL THAT MATTER
Intro: Ill. The scene at Calvary. It was a place of
suffering, sorrow and death. It was a place of intense
pain and of eternal loss. It was also the place where
our Savior purchased eternal life for those who will
place their faith in Him. The Bible tells that as Jesus
was dying that day, two other men were also being put
to death. We do not know much about these men. We
do not know their names. We do not know about their
pasts. All we know is that they are called
"malefactors", which means "villains or evildoers"
,and "thieves", which means "Highwaymen or
bandits" and refers to people who "take the
possessions of others through violent means." We
do know that these two men share some pretty strong
similarities. A casual reading of the text tells us that
both are criminals, both have been condemned and
both are being crucified.
However, it is n't their similarities that I am interested
in today, it is their differences. While these two men are
alike on many ways, in other ways they would not have
been more different. It is these differences in these two
men that I want to focus in on this morning.
In some ways all of us in this room are like these two
men. We all have many similarities. Yet, there are
differences between us and it is those differences that
seem to make all the difference. Nowhere is this more
true than on a spiritual level. There the differences in
man is all that matters! Let's take a few minutes this
morning to consider these two dying men. Let's
examine their differences, and as we so, I think you will
agree with me that THE DIFFERENCES ARE ALL
I. V. 39-41 A DIFFERENCE IN THEIR EXTERNAL DEMEANOR
(Ill. The Context. As we listen to these men speak,
in their final hours, it is clear to see that their
differences hinged on a different view of God. It
seems that one man learned to fear God, while the
other did not! In the final analysis, what you think
about God determines how you react to Him and
to His Word.)
A. The Fear Of God's Person - Note: One man
saw his sins v. 40-41, the other did not! One
man realized that he and his life had offended a
holy God. The other could not have cared less!
The difference in them is that one learned the
fear of God before he died and the other did not!
(Note: All one has to do is look at the state of
things in the local church and in society as a
whole to see that men have lost all their respect
fro the person of God. Crime is rampant in
society. 25 million American households per
year are touched by violent crime. In our great
nation, there is a murder every 23 minutes, a
rape every 6 minutes, a robbery every 58
seconds and a burglary every 8 seconds.
According to the M.I.T. mathematicians, an
American child born in 1976 is more likely to die
by murder than an American soldier was to die in
combat in World War II.
Even the church has not escaped this
devastation! The church is treated like it is any
other place in the community. The man of God
is not respected. People name the name of
Jesus and live like the devil.)
(Note: Why? Men no longer fear God! For
many, God has been reduced to the "man
upstairs." He is seen as some kind-hearted old
grandfather, or like a magic genie. Just rub His
belly and make a wish and He will jump through
hoops to make you happy! Nothing could be
farther from the truth! Our problem is that we
have forgotten the teaching of the Word of God -
Matt. 10:28; Rom. 3:15-18; Jer. 2:19.)
(Note: Until we learn a proper, biblical
perspective concerning God, we will never fear
Him as we should and until we fear Him as we
should, we will never be a perfectly right
relationship with Him. In fact, learning to fear
Him is one of the first steps in coming to know
B. The Fear Of God's Punishment - (Note the mention of the word "condemnation" in verse
40. This word comes from the same word that
gives us the word "judgment". One of these
men had come to understand that he was facing
more than death, but that he had an appointment
with God after death. Even though he had never
read it, Heb. 9:27 was real to his soul. While he
grasped this truth, the other man did not. You
see, the person who does not fear God, will
never fear the punishment he faces from God
when he leaves this world.
(Note: Have you ever wondered why people turn
a deaf ear to the word of God and to His
warnings? Well, wonder no more! The Bible
tells us exactly why they do this, Psalm 10:13,
"Wherefore doth the wicked contemn God?
he hath said in his heart, Thou wilt not
require it." Until a sinner understands the fear
of God, he will never experience the grace of
(Note: Friend, where do you stand in relation to
the fear of the person of God and the
punishment of God? Do you realize that every
person who dies in their sins faces a terrible
judgment and eternity in Hell? Both of these
men were wicked, but one learned the fear of
God, the other didn't. Which one best describes
you right now?)
II. V. 39-42 A DIFFERENCE IN THEIR EARTHLY DECISION
(Ill. While our first though centered around the fear
of God, this thought centers around the Person of
Christ. While these men were very different in their
approach to God, they also different in their
response to Jesus.)
A. One Rejected Him - As the unbelieving thief
hung on the cross, he heard the crowd, the
rulers and the soldiers question Christ's claim of
being the Messiah, Luke 23:35-37. Notice they
all used the word "if". He also saw the sign they
placed over the head of Jesus, that read, "This
is the King of the Jews." He knew who Jesus
claimed to be. He also knew that all those
around him refused to believe in Jesus. So,
when he opened his mouth to speak, v. 39, he
merely echoed the same word that everyone
else was using, "If." That little word is filled with
doubt. It calls into question everything Jesus
claimed to be. It denies Him as the Son of God.
It denies Him as the only Savior of man. It
denies His sinless nature. It denies everything
the Bible says about Jesus. When it comes to
Jesus, there is no room for the word "if". Either
you believe He is all He claims to be, or you are
a rejecter of the Jesus! When this man said "if"
he threw out everything that Jesus claimed to be
and he reduced Jesus, in his own mind, to just
another criminal dying on a cross. His "if"
decided his fate! And, as a result of his rejection,
he spent his last moments on earth ridiculing the
only One Who save his soul!
(Note: What about you? Have you come to the
place where you are willing to believe everything
the Bible says about Jesus? Or, is your heart
filled with "if's" concerning Him? The sad fact is,
some people in this room will go to Hell, because
you cannot get around your "if's" concerning
Jesus! Don't let what you don't understand stop
you from coming to Jesus! Come to the place
where you are willing to accept Him regardless
of what you don't understand! Remember,
salvation is all about faith - Acts 16:31; Eph.
2:8-9; John 3:16; Rom. 10:9. You don't have to
understand it all, but you do have to believe it!)
B. One Received Him - While the one thief was
listen to the crowd, the rulers and the soldiers,
the other was listening to Jesus. While the one
heard all the "if's", the other heard the words of
our Lord in verse 34, "Father, forgive them; for
they know not what they do."
It hadn't always been that way! Earlier, this
same thief had joined everyone else in mocking
the Lord Jesus, Matt. 27:41-44. But. Something
changed as he watched Jesus on the cross.
Who knows what made the difference. Maybe it
was what Jesus said in verse 34. Maybe it was
what Jesus did not say, Isa. 53:7. Whatever it
was ,his heart was warmed and opened and he
looked upon Jesus with new eyes.
As he looked at Jesus that day, he saw Him
1. Sinless - v. 41 - He looked at Jesus and was
drawn to the same conclusion reached by
Judas Iscariot, Pontius Pilate, Pilate's wife
and King Herod. All of these looked at Jesus
and declared as one chorus, "I find no fault
in Him!" This thief saw Jesus as the sinless
Son of God. You have to come to that place
as well. Only a sinless Savior can take away
your sins, 2 Cor. 5:21!
2. Savior - v. 42 - While the other thief was
looking for someone to save his skin, this
thief was looking for someone to save his
soul. The other just wanted to go home, this
one wanted to go to Heaven. At this moment
in time, no one was willing to call Jesus Lord
but this dying thief. Jesus had never looked
less like a "Sovereign Lord" than He did at
that moment. Yet, this man was able to see
beyond the moment and he understood that
Jesus, alone, was his only hope for salvation.
As soon as he looked in Jesus's direction, by
faith, he was eternally saved, Rom. 10:13.
By the way, that is the same place you
have to arrive at as well! Jesus isn't just "a
way". No! He is "the way, the truth and the
life, no man cometh unto the Father but by
Him!", John 14:6! Is that what you believe?
Nothing else will save your soul! Nothing
else will fit you for Heaven! He must be seen
as Savior before salvation can come!
3. Sovereign - Somehow, while everyone else
doubted, this dying man saw beyond the
cross. He saw beyond the tomb. He saw
beyond the difficulties and he looked at
Jesus Christ knowing He was the Sovereign
Lord. He believed that Jesus was the
Messiah, the King of the Jews. At that
moment, though he did not understand it all,
he knew that Jesus would come down from
the cross, or rise from the dead, either way,
but he knew that Jesus was Lord! The eyes
of faith allowed him to see what no other
person could see that day. Jesus never
looked lass like a king than He did at that
moment, yet this man believed! Even the
disciples and those who loved the Lord Jesus
that day could not see what this thief saw!
As a result, he was saved!
Friend, regardless of what others are
saying about Jesus Christ, in the end, it will al
come down to the decision you make
concerning Him! Have you trusted Him as
your personal Savior? Have you been able
to see beyond the jeers of the crowds, the
hatred of religion, and the apathy of the
world? Can you see that there is no other
way to Heaven, but through a relationship
with Jesus Christ? Until you do, you aren't
(Note: can you see the difference in the way these
two men responded to Jesus Christ?
- ĽOne saw Him as liar to be ridiculed, the other as
a Lord to be received.
- ĽOne saw Him as clown, the other saw Him as
- ĽOne saw Him as a foolish sinner, the other as
the Father's Son.
- ĽOne saw Him as a wretched loser, the other as
a Wonderful Lord.
- ĽOne saw Him as a pitiful buffoon, the other as a
- ĽOne saw Him as just another sinner, the other
saw Him as an awesome Savior.
Which best describes your reaction to the Person of
the Lord Jesus Christ?)
III. V. 43 A DIFFERENCE IN THEIR ETERNAL DESTINY
(Ill. Because of the differences in the reaction to
God and their response to Jesus, these men also
experienced a vast difference in their eternal state.)
A. The Destiny Of Hopelessness - The thief who
rejected Jesus is not mentioned again until John
19:32, when the Roman soldiers come by to
break his legs. The last thing he felt in this word
was the crushing blow of the hammer again his
shins. He felt the bones shatter and he was no
longer able to push up against the nails in his
feet so that he might breath. It would not have
been more than a few short minutes and this
man would have entered a Christless, hopeless
eternity. There is no doubt that when this man
died, he went to Hell. The last thing he
experienced here was [ain, rejection and sorrow.
The first thing he experienced when he left this
world was more pain and the endless torments
of Hell and of eternal separation from God. His
was a hopeless destiny!
Friend, don't let this happen to you! You do
not have to die without Jesus and perish in Hell.
You can be saved and you can go to Heaven
instead of Hell. It all depends on what you do
with Jesus Christ!
B. The Destiny Of Hope - The dying thief who
looked to Jesus by faith received one of the most
wonderful promises ever recorded in the Bible.
He was just hoping that when the kingdom was
established that Jesus would somehow
remember him then. Jesus tells him that this
very day they will be together in paradise! There
will be no waiting. There will be no soul sleep.
There will be no time in purgatory to pay for his
sins. There will be nothing but joy, and glory and
the presence of the Savior in paradise. He got
far more than he asked for! Note a few quick
thoughts about this man's salvation.
1. A Gracious Salvation - This man was not
saved by works or by baptism. He was
saved purely through the power of grace
alone. By the way, this is how everyone gets
saved, Eph. 2:8-9. (Please note that this is
the only "death bed" salvation scene
recorded in the Bible! Someone has said,
"There is one so that no man might
despair, and just one so that no man
might presume!") Don't count on getting in
at the last minute! The time to come to Him
is now, Isa. 55:6; 2 Cor. 6:2.)
2. A Guaranteed Salvation - Jesus said
"verily". This is the translation of the word
"amen." Jesus said, "You have my 'Amen'
on it! You will be with me in paradise
today!" This man was in the presence of the
Lord in paradise before the soldiers ever
pronounced him dead! He is a perfect
illustration of "absent from the body and
present with the Lord."
3. A Glorious Salvation - The last person this
thief spoke with on earth was the Lord Jesus
and the first person he saw in paradise was
the Lord Jesus! Jesus told him, "Today
shalt thou be with me in paradise." "With
me", what a glorious thought! Here is a man
unloved by humanity, unwanted by society,
yet cared for by Christ! So it is today,
regardless of your background, you are loved
by Him my friend, Rom. 5:8. You can
experience this same glorious salvation and
the guarantee of Heaven if you will come to
Him by faith! Only Jesus offers hope for the
Conc: In the end, the differences are all that matter!
When you reach the end of life all that will matter then
is what you did with Jesus Christ. When you boil it all
down, the only difference between these men was that
they died on different sides of Jesus Christ. The same
will be true of you. When you die, you will either be on
the right side of Jesus, or you will be on the wrong side
of Him. If you died right now, which would it be?