Green Pastures By Pastor T. O. Banso
The message of Easter is an all-season message even when Easter celebration is over. That's why I've decided to bring this message to you just some days after Easter Sunday and Easter Monday.
My focus in this message is Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world together with the two thieves crucified with him. (Mark 15:27 KJV) The NKJV calls them robbers. In Luke 23:32, they were referred to as criminals (NLT, NKJV etc.) or malefactors. (KJV, ASV)
The crucified Jesus
Over 2000 years ago, Jesus Christ was crucified. The religious leaders, who were Jews, out of envy, conspired against him. Though neither Herod nor Pilate found him guilty of any offence, he was nailed to the cross.
Jews didn't practise crucifixion. The capital punishment specified in the Old Testament for offenders or sinners was stoning to death. (Lev 20:2; Deut 22:24) Bible characters like Achan and Stephen were stoned to death. But because the religious leaders hated Jesus so much they subjected him to the Roman capital punishment of crucifixion since the Jews were under the Roman government that time. His crucifixion was a fulfillment of prophecy.
Pilate would have released Jesus having found him innocent. He was willing to give the religious leaders permission to stone Jesus to death according to the Jewish law but they demanded from Pilate his crucifixion. (John 18:31-32, 19:5-6, 13-16)
The Jewish law allowed that after being stoned to death, the body of the offender be publicly displayed on the tree but the body must not remain on the tree overnight; it must be buried that day to avoid the land being defiled "for he who is hanged is accursed of God." (Deut 21:22-23 NKJV)
The Jewish leaders did their worst and when Jesus said, "It is finished" I think they must have thought he said, "I am finished!" Jesus didn't say, "I am finished." He said, "It is finished!" The work of salvation was finished. Forgiveness was finished. Redemption was finished. Healing was finished. Deliverance was finished. Praise the Lord!
The three characters on the cross
Jesus didn't die out of weakness. He didn't die because he lacked power. (Matt 26:52-54) Neither did he die because he was a sinner. He died because he wanted to save you and me. That is why I pity one of the two thieves or criminals crucified with Jesus. He should have kept his mouth shut if he didn't know the right thing to say. Instead of taking advantage of the last opportunity he had to make his life right with God, he joined those mocking Jesus. He said, "So you're the Messiah, are you? Prove it by saving yourself - and us, too, while you're at it!'" (Luke 23:39 NLT)
That criminal was not only a criminal, he was also not wise. But look at his fellow criminal. He was wise. He didn't join his colleague to scoff at Jesus. The Bible says, "But the other criminal protested, 'Don't you fear God even when you are dying? We deserve to die for our evil deeds, but this man hasn't done anything wrong. Then he said, 'Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.'" (Verses 40-42 NLT) What a wise and God-fearing criminal! He took advantage of the last opportunity he had to ask for forgiveness, and he got it. This hell-bound criminal got last minute salvation. His journey to hell was diverted to heaven because he believed in the Son of God! Verse 43 says, "And Jesus replied, 'I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.'" (NLT)
There are three characters nailed to the cross. The first was Jesus, the one who never sinned so he didn't need to seek forgiveness. The second person was the thief or criminal who sinned and was guilty but made mockery of the person that should have forgiven him and ushered him to paradise. This man is in hell today. Even if he had the excuse that he didn't know what the law said or that it was some people that influenced him negatively over the years to go into crime, he had the last opportunity to seek forgiveness before he died but he messed it up. The third character was the criminal who acknowledged his sinfulness, feared God and didn't mock Jesus but rather asked for his help to give him access to the Kingdom of his Father. He took advantage of his opportunity, and is in heaven today with Jesus. The thieves in this country including corrupt civil and public servants and their private sector collaborators need to emulate this repentant thief and repent of their sins now rather than putting their trust in their lawyers to save them.
Seizing your opportunity
You can be either of these two criminals on the cross since you're not without sin like Jesus. "For all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God." (Rom 3:23 ASV) Jesus died on the cross for your sin. Are you going to be as wise as that thief who acknowledged his sin and Jesus forgave him his sin and took him into the Kingdom of his Father? Have you confessed your sin to God and asked for forgiveness through His Son, Jesus Christ? Or are you playing with sin and mocking the death of Jesus on the cross? The Bible says, "For the word of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us who are saved it is the power of God." (1 Cor 1:18 ASV)
Friend, there is no salvation in any other name except Jesus Christ. No church saves - only Jesus saves. So if you have not given your life to Jesus, do that immediately you finish reading this message. Don't be like that criminal who joked with salvation and went to hell fire.
Hell is a place of torment
Remember the Rich man in the Bible. He died without being saved. He begged for just a drop of water in hell but he was denied. How much thirst can a drop of water quench? He made a case for his five brothers who were yet to die so that they wouldn't come to where he was but his request was denied. He was told no one would be sent from the dead to warn his brothers about the place of torment where he was so that they wouldn't end there also. If they wouldn't listen to Moses and the prophets, they wouldn't listen if someone rose from the dead to preach to them. The story is in Luke 16:22-31.
The suffering was so much for this Rich man. No cold water in hell! No comfort! It's all pain, agony, anguish! Matt 13:50 says the wicked shall be thrown into the fire where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Mark 9:48 says in hell, the worm never dies and the fire never goes out. Unfortunately that is the final abode of everyone who rejects Jesus. Will you accept Jesus into your life today or you'll continue to make jest of sin and the gospel? Be wise! Take advantage of the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Today is the day of salvation. (2 Cor 6:2) Make your life right with God now.
If you are not born again, kindly say this prayer now: "0 Lord God, I come unto you today. I know I am a sinner and I cannot save myself. I believe that Jesus is the Son of God who died on the cross to save me and resurrected the third day. I confess Jesus as my Lord and Saviour and surrender my life to him today. I invite Jesus into my heart today. By this prayer, I know I am saved. Thank you Jesus for saving me and making me a child of God"
I believe you have said this prayer from your heart. Congratulations! You will need to join a Bible believing, Bible teaching church in your area where you will be taught how to live your new life in Christ Jesus. I pray that you flourish like the palm tree and grow like the cedar of Lebanon. May you grow into Christ in all things becoming all God wants you to be.