Thief on the Cross
The first is found in the book of Luke if you would like to follow along with me. It seems that Satan has a special interest in the idea of spiritualism and that he has a special interest in trying to cover up the real truth of God's goodness to man in the face of death. But if you will notice with me in Luke 23. We come to the crucifixion story here. This is happening on Friday afternoon. Christ is already positioned between the two thieves. One thief will turn to Jesus, and notice verse 42.
Luke 23:42,43. 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. If it is true that we go to sleep when we die to await the wonderful joy and celebration of the resurrection, what did Jesus intend for the thief to believe here when He said to him, "Today shalt thou be with me in paradise."
You know, the Lord doesn't give me and He hasn't given any of us the authority to correct Scripture. But it is our responsibility to study it diligently.
Notice in verse 43 what happened if we moved that comma over. Now, remember this is a special day. "Verily I say unto thee today, Shalt thou be with me in paradise." If we move that comma over after the word, "they" it gives a totally different meaning to what Jesus was saying. I believe this is the correct punctuation for this verse because there was something important about that day.
When Christ as being crucified as a common criminal, no one shouting, "Take Him down from the cross, He's the king of glory, the king of the universe, the Messiah destined to come." Almost as if all the voices were silent came a lone voice from someone most unexpectedly, someone already condemned to die that the public looked upon as a nobody. But that nobody, that thief would proclaim in his plea to the Lord Jesus Christ his belief. When no one else was willing, this man's convictions swelled up within his heart and he said, "I believe. Lord, when you appear to be a nobody, when You do not look like the King of Glory, the Son of God, I believe that You are the One promised of God."
And so, important enough is the record that the bible has left for us to study today where Jesus would say to him, "On this particular day when I am being assumed as a criminal, a nobody, when you have pronounced your faith in Me, I want to declare to you today, you shall be with Me in paradise."
Now, I know this to be true because Jesus Himself did not go to heaven that day. And paradise is also the same definition as the New Jerusalem.
Someone came to me after a meeting one night and they said, "Wendell, don't you know that paradise is a place different than the new earth?" I thought about that a little bit. That's really not true. In the book of Revelation it tells us that those who are on Jesus' side will be privileged to eat from the tree of life which is in the midst of the paradise of God. (See Genesis 2:7 and Revelation 2:9) So Revelation declares that the New Jerusalem, or the headquarters, the place where the Tree of Life rests, that is really the paradise. And so, Jesus gave this thief on the cross the assurance that he would be with Him in paradise, but it would not be on that Friday afternoon.
Turn with me to John 20. John 20 tells us the story of the resurrection, how that Mary came to the tomb early in that Sunday morning. Supposing the someone had stolen the Master away, she was quite concerned because Jesus was no longer in the tomb. Then she hears a voice unlike any other voice, a voice that speaks and calls her name like no other, "Mary." And she turns, doing that which would come naturally to someone you loved. Verse 17. Jesus saith unto her, "Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to thy brethren, and say to them, I ascend to my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God." Now, this is on Sunday morning. He says, "Don't touch me. Don't embrace me. For I have not yet ascended to my Father, but go to my brethren and say unto them, 'I will ascend unto my Father and your Father and to my God and to your God.'" Now, read into this, He was really saying to her, "Mary, I have not yet ascended to paradise."
So, if this is on Sunday and He died on Friday, it would make all the sense to move that punctuation over after the word, "they" aligning that scripture up with all the others in the New Testament that let us know for sure that when a person dies they quietly await the beautiful calling of Jesus on the resurrection morning.
[In the most original manuscripts, there were no punctuation marks at all. The present position of the comma was done after punctuation marks began to be used. By that time, the scholars of Christianity had accepted the Roam-Greco-Babylonian concept of death and hell, mostly Grecian in origin, and had discarded the pure concepts of the early Old Testament.]
Rich man and Lazarus
Turn with me to another text in the book of Luke. Turn back with me to Luke 16. I happened to be attending a revival meeting in a small rural country church, not long ago. The pastor was preaching. He gave a very eloquent appeal at of that evening's message for those in the audience to come forward and to be saved. I was listening to his content and I was listening to his appeal, watching his mannerism and how he would give that beautiful invitation. And as he walked down and stood in front of the alter and the audience was standing and singing, he began to paraphrase this same story that I want to read from the Bible. His appeal went something like this, "The Bible says there was a rich man and a poor man. And the Bible says the rich man died and as soon as he died he went straight to hell and so he was down there burning and his body and mind was filled with pain and anguish and torment." He further went on and said, "And if you leave this building tonight and you are lost, unsaved and condemned of God, if you are killed on the way home in an auto accident you will wake up in the fires of hell, burning." And he quoted the story here of the rich man and Lazarus.
Let's read this and see if this is what you would choose to teach. Luke 16:19, cf. The Bible says, There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day; I like to explain that word "sumptuously" to young people. That word sumptuously meant that that man could eat all the pizza he wanted. That's what it means. He could wear the mossymo tee-shirts and the Rebok or Nike tennis shoes. He had the very best of everything. Six four-wheelers out with his camels. He fared sumptuously.
But there happens to be, according to verse 20 in this story, And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate full of sores, and desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table; moreover he was in such pitiful shape the dogs came and licked his sores.
22. And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom; the rich man also died, and was buried; and in hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
Is this story really teaching that as soon as someone dies they go to be at home in Abraham's bosom if they're righteous, or if they have died wicked then they go straight down to where the mean old nasty devil is and they begin to burn? The story continues. There's a dialogue that takes place between this man that is burning and those who are on the other side, or in paradise. It says in verse 24, And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, This is the man that is supposedly burning. He's calling up there to father Abraham and he says, "Send Lazarus down here, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.
Verse 26. And beside all this, between (I like this position here of grammar - Besides all of this, between us and you.) us and you there is a great gulf fixed: Now, let's pause for a moment. This story of the rich man and Lazarus, if this is a literal story, then we have to explain at least four reasons away. Four reasons, that, in my mind are monumental reasons why this could not be a literal story. As a matter of fact, there is verse that tells us that Jesus taught only in parables (see Matthew 13:34). A parable is a story that has a main lesson or a main theme. You cannot dissect every part of that parable and make it have a main teaching.
I would submit, first of all, that, If Jesus were telling a real story here, teaching the idea that when you die you go straight to heaven or to hell, then He is purposefully and willfully denying the massive amount of other texts that we have to prove otherwise, and certainly Jesus would not do that. The idea that when you die, and you are righteous, that you would be raptured up into Abraham's bosom is a foreign thought. I have never met anyone yet that believed literally that Abraham's chest was so large that it could become a haven or a refuge for all of those who would die and go there.
What about the idea of the wicked being in hell, burning and they have a body? Now, most of us see some merit in the idea that when you die the body rests in the grave. But here, down there in the place of punishment they had arms and legs. This man had eyes and head and ears and a mouth that could speak. You see, this is not a literal story. This is a parable.
What about the idea of someone dipping his finger in water and placing it upon someone's tongue with the flames licking up their angry ways all around that person? No! There could not possibly be a way to carry enough water on the tip of your finger to bring any relief at all to someone who's in such massive place of punishment and of burning. It would take only a second for that wet finger to get dry in that heat. You see, it just does not add up here.
If what I've read is true, the Jews believed in those days that if anything was wrong with you, then God would sort of punish you. If you were handicapped, or if you were deathly ill, or something of that nature, even if you were poor, that meant that God did not love you as much as He loved somebody else. And therefore, Jesus, twisted this story around: the very one they would have assumed to go to heaven, he did not make it. The man who was rich and fared sumptuously every day missed out on the joys of eternal life. And then the man who they'd least expect to go there, was the one who was to be rewarded. That would be the poor man.
So, I think, rather than teaching the idea that when you die, you go straight to your reward, Jesus was right in harmony with all the other texts. You know, the apostle, Paul, and Jesus and John and so many Bible writers all agree that we come forth to immortality, not at death, but at the second coming of Jesus. And Jesus is longing for that great event to come so that He can give that to the human family.
Absent from the body and present with the Lord
Let's turn to another text this morning. 2 Corinthians. Every pastor here could testify to the experience of being on the platform officiating at a funeral sermon, and one or more of the pastors there making reference to what the apostle, Paul said and what he meant by being absent from the body and being present with the Lord. Turn to 2 Corinthians 5:1. Now I know it's a little dangerous to read more than just a few verses, but in the context here I would really appreciate reading with you through eight verses. Then I would like to explain them. 2 Corinthians 5 1-8. For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. It sounds like this is written by an attorney, doesn't it. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven: If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked. For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life.
Now he that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing is God, who also hath given us the earnest of the Spirit. Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord; (for we walk by faith, not by sight:) now here comes the text that is often misrepresented and another text that I believe Satan really enjoys. As a matter of fact he may even promote this text right here to his own benefit. Verse 8. We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.
Now I'm going to make a kind of chart to help us understand what Paul is talking about here. The left side will refer to our life now on this earth, and the right side will refer to our life in heaven or the new earth.
______________________________________________________________ | | | | | Life on Earth | | Life in Heaven | | THIS BODY | Death | BODY TO COME | |_______________________|___________|________________________| | | | | | Earthly House | Death | Building of God | | | | | | This tabernacle | | House not made | | meaning this body | | with hands | | | | | | Home in the body | | Absent from the body | | Absent from the Lord | | Present with the Lord | |_______________________|___________|________________________|
If you notice, Paul makes some real contrast here. Verse one, he wants to compare this body, or this earthly house with something else. On the left side I've put "Earthly House" and on the right side I've put "Building of God." There's more than one way to do this, but the end results, and God had designed this in here, always come out the same. He wants to contrast this body with the body to come. Notice again with me in verse one. He talks about this earthly house and then the building of God. We could also say, this would be called, "This tabernacle" meaning "this body" and then on the right, this would be according to verse one, contrasted with a "House not made with hands." Now that's sort of long, but you'll understand it right here. Listen, when you understand this, you'll always be able to explain it.
Come on down with me if you will to verse four. He says, "For we that are in this tabernacle (the left side) do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life." Hmm. That's an interesting concept. There must be something here, then between these two stages. And there is. Notice that I put "Death" in the middle. Notice verse six. He says, "Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body (right side), we are absent from the Lord," On that side notice what he would say. "knowing that we are home in the body we are absent from the Lord." Now verse 8. "We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord." So, on the right side we put Absent from the body and present with the Lord.
Now, here's the whole concept resented here by Paul. He's telling the story so true to every one of us, that we that are in this body, we grow old and we begin to hurt. We lose our energy. We get arthritis. We begin to dream of being on the other side, or of immortality. He knew enough about this, though, to know that there is a condition between this body (left side) and the body to come: the building of God, the house not made with hands, and we would truly be present with the Lord on that side (right side). And his desire is just like ours demonstrated here in this text. He says, "I am willing, rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord." He wanted to skip this (center) right here as much as any of us would like to skip this condition, so did the apostle, Paul. He was willing rather to go on and miss death and be filled with the new body which is from the power of God only, recreated.
All meat is good for food?
Turn with me to another text,: the book of Timothy. Have you ever heard the idea that when Jesus died, he cleaned up all the animals and therefore you can eat anything you want to eat because Jesus died on the cross. And especially if you pray over it you can eat it. You've heard this reference before, I'm sure that you have. Now if you were invited home to eat with the Stovers, maybe on a Sabbath after church service and Debbie were to bring out onto the table a large bowl of poison oak and poison ivy for the salad would you eat it? Why no, you wouldn't eat that.
Now notice this right here, 1 Timothy 4:4. For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: This is a classic example of why you should read what is before verse and what is after. If we stay only with verse 4 it would appear that God would be happy if you ate rats had you prayed over. Now notice verse 5. Verse 5 gives the reason every creature of God is good to eat. For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer. Pay close attention. He was not giving a blanket statement here, allowing permission for people to eat the animals which are described as being unclean. Not at all! It's really a reference to the opposite. This word, "sanctify" has a very visible meaning. It means to separate. There's only one place in the Bible where it describes the foods being separated, and that's in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy (Chapters 12, 14, 15). There is a list of clean and unclean meats given there and that's the reason he could say in verse 5 that it would be sanctified or cleansed or separated, set apart by the word of God and also by prayer. So, really rather than teaching that isn't okay to eat anything, it really should have the permission of God, And we should certainly take the time to ask God to bless us as we participate in that.
Aren't you thankful that you can trust the Scriptures? Aren't you thankful that the presence of Jesus is what makes these Scriptures trustworthy? If we hold the Scriptures true to our heart nothing can take away the joy of our complete salvation in Jesus Christ. May the Lord help us to study diligently so we will know how to give an answer for our faith.
Opening Hymn: #318, Whiter Than Snow Scripture: 2 Timothy 3:14-17
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last updated 9/13/99 by Bob Beckett.