1. Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do
2. 6th hour- Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.
3. Woman, behold thy son! , Behold thy mother!
4. 9th hour- My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
5. I thirst
6. It is finished
7. Into thy hands I commit my Spirit
6th hour- Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.
The second cry from Jesus on the cross was made at the 6th hour. Now, when we read about the last week of Christ, we need to keep in mind that there are two time schemes going on here with the listing of chronological events. One such listing such as this one, is in Roman time. Roman time begins at 6 in the morning, and the hours are counted successively, so the sixth hour of the day would have been what we call today noon. Jewish time, however, begins at 6 in the evening. Thus, Christ had to be taken off of the cross before the Sabbath, Passover, was started. The people who were caring for the body of Jesus were unable to complete all of the necessary preparations for a proper burial, and working quickly, they did as much as they could. They came back on the first day of the week, after the Sabbaths had completed, and then they tried to further fix the body but found out that Jesus was risen instead.
Thus we know that Christ was up on the cross some time more than three hours, though probably not a lot more. We know this because the fourth cry on the cross is given at the 9th hour, or at 3 in the afternoon. At noon, he has already prayed for their forgiveness, but now he is replying to the comment of faith on the part of the thief. Verily, or truly he says, today shalt thou be with me in paradise. Is it not a marvel that the first one into heaven was naught but a thief on the cross? And what was it that saved him? It was his simple plea of faith, “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
And what grace it is that the Son of God should so easily bestow upon the thief! At what cost is our salvation? I would reply that it is a very heavy cost, the heaviest cost of all that God could devise, for having paid his all in giving his life for us, there is nothing more that can be done. It is always a simple childlike faith in God that will save us, and we do well to remember that there is nothing that we can add to it—often we try to add to it by our own good works, but instead we subtract from it. Luther tells us that the tree of faith comes first, “The tree comes first, and then come the fruits.”1 Always and truly we are looked at and judged first by whether we have faith or not. Those judged to have faith are kept by Christ, while those without faith are as the goats separated by the Shepherd, and are forever lost.
And what is the judgment? Is it enough to just say we believe? Read the words of Jesus (Matthew 7:22, and 23 NIV)and see, “Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” I can hear your confusion loudly in my ears; you are thinking that surely he would not say that to you. I believe, you say. But read the words of James (James 2:19 and 20), and what he says about belief, “Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?” Look at what Luther again said, “The tree comes first, and then come the fruits.” A deathbed confession of Christ is always acceptable to him, for does he not tell us so in the parable of the workers of the vineyard. Even those who are hired during the last hours of the day are paid the same wages—thus is plain that faith saves us. But James was speaking about what he was seeing in that some said they had faith, but showed no difference in their lives. Those people, James declares, are people without a saving faith, for their faith produces no works. He points to the demons and their beliefs, correctly saying that they do believe and tremble because of their belief, but for them there is no salvation.
Afraid we are to judge the dead, and righteously so, for judgment ought to be left in the hands of God who alone sees the heart of man. Many times I see funerals where the person who dies is assumed to be with God, but in the hearts of the mourners, if I were to ask them why, they would have no clear answer. The answer for acceptance of God is always based on faith—it is utterly impossible for any man to gain heaven without faith in what God has done. But added to that faith, over time, we should always expect to see that famous fruit that Luther talks about. We will see people becoming changed and convicted as they seek to follow their new found faith.
It is upsetting to me to see so many miss the truth of the gospel—there is forgiveness to all, no matter how heinous their sin might be—but there also is condemnation for all who have not faith producing holiness. Thus we have confusion on the part of many Christians seeking to be tolerant, and they accept everyone’s lifestyle as acceptable, when there is no lifestyle other than the lifestyle of faith that is acceptable to God. On the other side, we have confusion of the part of many Christians who know that there are many wicked lifestyles not acceptable to God, and therefore they cringe from the people whom God indeed loves and would share his truth with. Neither side is following the truth and love of the gospel.
The gospel fairly steers a middle course here, seeing something from both groups. Jude (22 NIV) tells us to “show mercy [to all], mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh. Thus we can see we are to hate the sin, but love the sinner, as has indeed been written so many times. It is difficult for Christians to stay on the middle course, rejecting the sin, but embracing the sinner, but their very hope of salvation rests on nothing less. Jude tells us in the same passage that we are to “snatch others from the fire and save them.” We do no one who is bound for eternal hell a favor by accepting their lifestyle, but we likewise cannot do a favor to such unless we reach the challenge of loving them.
I have always wondered about death—Jesus plainly tells us that the thief was to be that very day in paradise with Jesus himself. But Paul tells us that the dead in Christ are awaiting their new bodies, just as we are, and that together we will be raised to forever be with him. I am altogether sure that the differences will be worked out by God, but the difficulty is to see how they might be. Randy Alcorn suggests that we are given temporary bodies as soon as we die, and that may be the answer for certainly it seems to be the probable answer.
But it ought to be enough for every Christian to know, that in the hour of his death, the living Lord is awaiting his presence. I do wonder about all the people who claim to have near death experiences, for it seems that they never get it right. And I remember that famous saying of our Lord, that there is a great gulf placed between this world and the afterworld, so that no man will ever cross it. Not Hercules, nor any other mythological character could ever cross this barrier. Only Christ has broken the march of death for us, and is it not wonderful to think about being in Paradise with our Lord?
1.Luther, Martin (2009-02-14). Christian Classics: Works of Martin Luther, in a single file, improved 9/1/2010 (Kindle Location 2469). B&R Samizdat Express. Kindle Edition.