How Love Wins [Palm Sunday]

During the time of the Passover celebration in Jesus’ day, the crowds in Jerusalem would swell to three times larger than normal, and chaos was everywhere.  The Romans were always looking for insurrectionists and threats to the Pax Romana, or the Peace of Rome.  Jesus tried to keep His followers quiet, but now was the time to declare His Messiahship.

Jesus entered Jerusalem triumphantly – to the praises of the people.  But by the end of the week, He left Jerusalem carrying a cross.

Take a moment with me and let’s view Easter from the vantage point of the thief on the cross. There are 4 things we can learn from the thief.

1: Like the thief, I deserve to die.

  • Criminals were often crucified under Roman law (Mark 15:17).
    • There were two criminals crucified beside Jesus. One was penitent, the other impenitent.
    • Whether it is legend or history, the penitent one is known as Saint Dismas.  He obviously had a mother and father, maybe even siblings.  I wonder, were they there when he was crucified?
    • Crucifixion was one of the most brutal, degrading, and horrific forms of capital punishment.  The Romans “perfected” it into the most extreme form of torture, and they used it to provoke fear.
  • Regardless of the horrors of crucifixion, Dismas deserved to die.  He was a criminal.  He was a thief.
  • This is where we are similar to Dismas.  We deserve to die.  We have broken God’s laws.  We have sinned.  The Bible says that the soul that sins is the soul that should die (Ezekiel 18:20).  We are sinners and we deserve to pay for our sins.
  • BUT… the hope of Heaven is the hope of the Cross!  Jesus took our place and died for our sins!  Jesus didn’t deserve to die, but He did – in order to pay for your sins, my sins, and Dismas’ sins.

2: Like the thief, I have an arrogant disregard for God.

  • Both men beside Jesus were condemned criminals.  Both of them hurled insults at Jesus (Mark 15:32b; Matt. 27:44; Luke 23:39-41).
  • Dismas started out hurling insults and having a blatant disregard for God.
  • It is here that we are similar.  No, we’re not on the cross next to Jesus scoffing at Him, but how often do we have an arrogant disregard for God?
    • My will, not His will
    • Focus on self, not service to others.
    • Before becoming a Christian, our lives could be described as lives lived in worship of self.
  • Dismas came to grips with the reality of his blatant and arrogant disregard for God.  How about you?

3: Like the thief, I need a realization of hopelessness.

  • At some point, Dismas realized he was hopeless.  Literally, while hanging on to the last moments of his life, he cried out to God (Luke 23:42).
  • Jesus heard him and forgave him.
  • Somehow Dismas realized that we are separated from God by our sins.   He realized that Jesus came to bridge the gap between us and God and take us from death to life. From separation to a united life in Christ.
  • Dismas made the connection – and he made a course correction. How about you?

4: Like the thief, I must surrender all.

  • What does it mean to surrender all?  Jesus saw into the heart of Dismas, and He sees into our hearts too.  Rom. 10:9 says “that if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”
    • You don’t need to be perfect. You just need to be forgiven.
    • Give your heart to Jesus. Say, “Jesus, I believe in you.”
    • Choose to follow Him daily.

Jesus loved both men on the cross.  He was dying to pay for both of their sins.  But only one received His love and forgiveness.  Only one made it to heaven.  Only one heard the message, “It’s not too late for a new beginning!”  Jesus said, “you don’t have to be who you’ve been before. You can be forgiven and no longer known as criminal and thief.  I hang here to die for your sins so that you can receive forgiveness and know that your sins are paid in full!

That is how love wins.