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Robert R. McLaughlin Bible Ministries
The Tree of Life is a weekly teaching summary.
The Tree of Life for week ending 03/28/04.

Near the Cross
Luke 23, Matthew 27

Whenever a person believes on the Lord Jesus Christ and is converted, it is an amazing experience because a miracle takes place. The spiritually dead sinner is raised to eternal life; he is delivered from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light,COL 1:13. The one who believes is said to be born again, 1PE 1:3,23. He experiences a new birth, JOH 3:3, and receives the divine nature within, 2PE 1:4. This is the experience of every converted sinner who "turns to the Lord Jesus Christ" and trusts Him as Savior. The circumstances that surround conversions vary greatly; some are surrounded by spectacular events, such as the conversion of the Apostle Paul in ACT 9:1-5, while others may take place under quiet, private circumstances where no one else can see what is happening.

On of the most remarkable conversions in the entire Bible was that of the thief on the Cross in LUK 23:38-43, "Now there was also an inscription above Him, 'THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.' And one of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, 'Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!' But the other answered, and rebuking him said, 'Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.' And he was saying, 'Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!' And He said to him, 'Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.'"

This was our Lord's second statement from the Cross, and here He turned to a repentant sinner and gave him the assurance that he was going to heaven.

This was truly an extraordinary scene at Calvary. The normal custom would be to crucify the two thieves together, but they placed the Lord between the two thieves. He was "numbered with the transgressors," fulfilling yet another prophecy, LUK 22:37, ISA 53:12. God had everything under control, including all the events that took place at the Cross. Our Lord was born for the transgressors, MAT 1:21, and lived for the transgressors, MAT 20:28. The story of the salvation of the dying thief reveals the power of the Lord Jesus Christ to save mankind and His willingness to receive all that come to Him, no matter their predicament (HEB 7:25). At the time He saved this thief, He was at the lowest moment of His life-stripped of His clothing, nailed to the Cross, mocked by the crowd, and dying in agony. However, while in that terrible condition, He still reached out and saved another soul.

Both thieves could hear Him pray, in LUK 23:34, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." The Holy Spirit used that prayer to speak to their hearts. These two thieves represent the believer and unbeliever with Jesus Christ as the Mediator between God and men, 1TI 2:5. They were on either side of the Lord, so they could see the title that was on His cross,"THIS IS JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS," written in three languages by Pilate. The two thieves represent the fallen human race, who are all guilty before God, and the inscription above the Cross represents the unlimited atonement. The Gospel is given to all, ROM 3:23, JOH 3:15.

Both thieves could hear the crowd as it railed upon the Lord Jesus Christ. They both had equal access to Him. God always works in His providence to create the right circumstances for people to become saved. "The Lord is not willing that any should perish," 2PE 3:9. These two convicted criminals are clearly representative of the human race; they were both guilty of rebellion, murder, and stealing, and they could do nothing to save themselves, but they both had an equal opportunity to be saved by grace. The thief admitted he feared God, admitted his guilt, admitted he deserved this punishment, admitted that Jesus Christ was innocent, and admitted that there was a life after death, an amazing confession. This presents the question for all: "Do you believe that there is life after death? Are you prepared for it, and do you live as though there is life after death?" No matter what success you may achieve in life, you are just a meaningless "vapor trail" (JAM 4:13-14) that will disappear under the sin unto death, unless you have Bible doctrine as your top priority. Do you believe, like the thief on the cross, that Jesus Christ is the Lord of Paradise?

This conversion of the thief was a salvation that was wholly by grace. This man did not deserve to be saved, and he admitted it,LUK 23:40. The first man that God created became a thief; Adam stole from the tree and was cast out of Paradise. The last Adam, the Lord Jesus Christ, turned to a thief, and said, "Today shalt thou be with me in Paradise."

This thief could not earn his salvation; he could not keep the Ten Commandment or any religious ritual. He simply received it by faith. He could not work for his salvation; all he could do was receive it as a gracious gift from God, EPH 2:8-9. He also knew his salvation was secure, as the Lord tells him dogmatically, "You shall be with Me." The word of our Lord is secure and certain,PSA 119:89, "Forever, O Lord, Thy word is settled in heaven." The thief received immediate salvation: "Today you shall be with Me." Salvation is not a process; it is an instantaneous spiritual experience by the power of God when you put your faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ was identified with this man in condemnation, and this man was identified with Jesus Christ in salvation, and this is what the Cross is all about.

All the Lord's disciples have fled, and at this time, the crucified thief was our Lord's only companion. This should be a comfort to us, HEB 2:11, "For both He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all from one Father; for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren." It was a convicted felon with whom our Lord fellowshipped in the final hours of His life. This magnificent event demonstrates how quickly someone can be saved and their entire life turned around for eternity. This helpless criminal could do nothing for salvation; he could only believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Lord welcomes all those who come to Him, JOH 6:37. Heaven and hell are not so far away; one thief went to heaven, the other to hell, in just moments. Eternity lies so near to each of us.

Our Lord's third statement from the Cross is found in JOH 19:26-27, "When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, 'Woman, behold, your son!' Then He said to the disciple, 'Behold, your mother!' And from that hour the disciple took her into his own household."

If you and I had been in Jerusalem that Passover afternoon when the Lord Jesus Christ was crucified, how near the Cross would we have stood? The Roman soldiers were there, but only because of their duty. However, four women were there, as well as the Apostle John, and they were there because of devotion to the Lord.

This passage helps us understand what it means to be "near the Cross." If Mary Magdalene had been asked, "You are standing near the Cross, what does it mean to you?" she may well have answered, "The Cross to me is a place of redemption." Mary Magdalene had been delivered by the Lord Jesus Christ. She is mentioned in LUK 8:2 as the woman out of whom Jesus had cast seven demons. She had been in bondage to Satan and Jesus delivered her. Mary Magdalene was not only at the Cross, but early on the morning of the resurrection, she came to our Lord's tomb, JOH 20:1. All of us were under the power of Satan at one time in our life, and it was through the Cross that we were delivered from this power. We went from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to the power of God, COL 1:13, 1JO 4:4.

Another woman at the Cross that day was Salome, who was Mary's sister and the mother of James and John. We remember her as the woman who came to the Lord Jesus Christ asking Him to give her two sons a throne in Mat 20:20-28. If we were to ask Salome, "What does the Cross mean to you?" she may well have answered, "The Cross to me is a place of rebuke. I stand here rebuked, because I was selfish; I wanted my sons at the right hand and the left hand of the Lord Jesus Christ. Now I see Him, not on a throne, but on a Cross, and I am ashamed." Her request had been a selfish one; she had forgotten the cost of true reward. There is no crown without a Cross; there is no wearing of the crown without the drinking of the cup. We all have something in common with Salome. Many times, as we contemplate the Cross, we too are rebuked, because our goals and desires have been selfish and proud. Salome says to each of us, "The Cross is a place of rebuke." Perhaps as you stand near the Cross, God rebukes your selfishness and pride, and your desire for glory without suffering.

Also at the Cross that day was Mary, the mother of Jesus. If one had asked her, "What does it mean for you to be near the Cross?" She may well have answered, "The Cross to me is a place of reward." It is interesting to note that we find Mary at the beginning and the end of the Gospel of John, but the two incidents are in striking contrast. In Joh 2, Mary is attending a wedding and is involved in the joys of a feast, where the Lord displayed His power, manifested His glory, and turned the water into wine. In Joh 19, she is experiencing the sorrows of a funeral, as her Son dies in weakness and in shame. He could have exercised His power and delivered Himself, but had He done so, He would not have completed the work of salvation. He did not come to save Himself, He came to save us.

In Joh 2 Mary is speaking, but in Joh 19 she is silent. Her silence was testimony that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. If Jesus Christ was not what He claimed to be, Mary perhaps could have saved Him by pleading His case with the Romans, and telling them He was insane (as he was called in MAR 3:21). However, she kept silent, and her silence is an eloquent testimony that the Jesus Christ we worship is God-God the Son in human flesh. The Cross was a place of reward for Mary. The Lord Jesus Christ did not ignore her, but rewarded her by sharing His beloved disciple with her.

Mary should be honored but not worshiped. We are told that Mary herself said she rejoiced in God her Savior (LUK 1:47). Mary was saved by faith like any other sinner. We should respect Mary, because she suffered in order to bring the Savior into the world. When she was discovered pregnant, she began to suffer shame and reproach immediately. She was misunderstood and slandered. She was married to Joseph, a poor carpenter, and lived in poverty. They had to flee from Bethlehem and escape the sword of Herod. She rejoiced that her child was delivered, but she must have felt the sword in her own soul when she heard that other innocent children had died.

She suffered because of where He died, publicly on a Cross, and naked, with many people passing by. And there Mary stood, feeling the sword go through her soul. Jesus saw her, and assured her of His love, as He always does. You may be going through your own personal Calvary experience; you may be standing by and suffering intensely in your present circumstances, but the Lord Jesus Christ will always assure you of His love. When He said to His mother, "Woman, behold, your son!" and to John,"Behold, your mother!" He was establishing a new relationship. He was saying in effect to Mary, "I am going to go back to heaven, therefore, you and I must have a whole new relationship. But, in order to give you peace and heal your broken heart, where the sword has pierced so deeply, I'm giving you John." In the first three statements from the Cross, the Lord is only concerned for others.

To John, the Cross was a place of responsibility. Our Lord Jesus still reigned from the Cross; He was still in control and giving the orders, directing His followers and loved ones. He restored John, who had forsaken Him and fled, MAT 26:56. The Shepherd had been smitten, and the sheep had been scattered, but John came back to the Cross and was restored and forgiven! It was not the safest or easiest place to stand; it took courage and love for John to return. The Lord Jesus restored him, and it was John who would one day write, in 1JO 1:9, "If we acknowledge [name and cite] our sins, He is faithful and righteous, with the result that He forgives us our sins [known sins] and purifies us from all unrighteousness [unknown sins]." the Lord not only restored John, but also honored him: "John, I will no longer be on earth to watch over My earthly mother, so you are going to take My place. You will be a son to her." We are to love others the way the Lord has loved us.

Once we have come to the Cross, we have a major responsibility, the responsibility of loving the Lord Jesus Christ and then living for Him and loving others. The Christian life is not an easy life, but it is a wonderful life, and easier than a sinful life!  "Near the Cross" is where He wants us to be, the place of redemption. If you have never trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ, you can be redeemed-simply come to the Cross by faith and trust Him.

The fourth statement heard from the Cross is perhaps the least understood of them all. It is found in MAT 27:46 and MAR 15:34, "Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, 'Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?' that is, 'My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?'"
The first three really do not surprise us. He taught forgiveness, and He came to bring forgiveness, so we are not surprised at His words. However, the fourth statement introduces a mystery that is very difficult for us to identify with. His words were literally screamed. In this cry, the Lord Jesus Christ made it clear that God the Father, with whom He had eternal and unbroken fellowship, had to break that fellowship at this moment. This is the time when Jesus Christ "bore our sins in his own body on the tree," 1PE 2:24. This was the unspeakable agony of the Cross, the spiritual death first prophesied in PSA 22:1, "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me? Far from my deliverance are the words of my groaning." His fourth cry indicated that He was being judged for us. God the Father had to pour out all His wrath, as a matter of justice, upon God the Son, while the humanity of Jesus Christ bore the sins of the world.

This is perhaps the saddest cry heard from the Cross. "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?" is a tremendous statement that no man will ever be able to fully understand. The Lord Jesus Christ was accustomed to addressing God as His Father, as we see in His prayers. However, in this instance, He does not say, "Father," but "My God, My God." This was not because He had any doubt about his Sonship; He was simply speaking from His humanity.

This cry shows us how truly human the Lord Jesus Christ was, that he could be forsaken by God. It is hard for us to comprehend that the Lord Jesus Christ, being "Emmanuel, God with us," and His deity and humanity being permanently united in one person, could have been forsaken by God. But this is holy ground and we must believe it by faith. This is such a sacred statement that it is one of the only verses which is given in all three original languages of the Bible. He was and is the God-Man, who has been scourged, and spit upon, and who has died. All these things were made possible and also sacredly certain in order to complete the redemption of His people. It was necessary for Him to be both God's beloved Son and to be forsaken of His Father. Being forsaken was something personal to Himself. It was not the God of man to whom He appealed, but "My God, My God." It was a personal cry that came from a personal grief.

This certainly was not a cry caused by unbelief. The Lord Jesus Christ made no mistake about this, for God had truly forsaken Him. When He said, "Why have You forsaken me?" he spoke infallible truth. He knew what he was saying, and He was right in what He said. And not many moments after this, He shouted "with a loud voice" His victorious proclamation that "It is finished," and passed from the conflict of the Cross to His coronation. His courageous spirit overcame his physical weakness.

God did forsake His Son, but He loved Him as much when He forsook Him as He always has, ISA 53:10, "But the Lord was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief, if He would render Himself as a guilt offering." The Father was not angry with Him personally, nor did He consider Him unworthy of His love. Yet He did forsake Him. The Lord Jesus Christ was not only left all alone by His friends, but also by His Father.

It is terrible for those in Hades to be without God, but they are so hardened that they are incapable of knowing the beauty of a relationship with God, from whom they are separated forever. But how different was the case of our Lord Jesus Christ upon the Cross! He knew, as no man could ever know, what separation from God means. None of us know the presence of God as Christ did; no believer has ever enjoyed the love of God as He did, nor pleased His Father as He did, JOH 8:29, MAT 3:17. Our Lord had enjoyed the love of God to the fullest, and now He had lost the conscious enjoyment of that precious love. The Lord Jesus Christ loved God with all His heart, and mind, and soul, and strength, as you and I have never yet been able to do.

The love of Christ towards his Father was endless, and so for the light of His Father's face to be taken away from Him, was more dark and terrible than we will ever know. There was absolute purity in Christ's nature, 1JO 3:5, 1PE 2:22. Think of the perfect Holy Son of God, who fully agreed with His Father in everything, realizing that the Father had, for good and sufficient reasons, turned away His face from Him. This was the only solution: Jesus Christ was forsaken of God because we deserved to be forsaken of God. He was there, on the Cross, in our place.

As the sinner, by reason of his sin, deserves not to enjoy the favor of God, so Jesus Christ, standing in the place of the sinner, and enduring that which would vindicate the justice of God, had to come under God's judgment. We as the sinners would have come under this judgment, if Christ had not taken our place. He was forsaken so that you and I would never be, HEB 13:5, "for He Himself has said, "I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you," Since He, for a little while, was separated from His Father, we can now boldly claim in ROM 8:35, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?" and in ROM 8:39,"Nothing shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

For a more detailed study, order tapes 0190-1139 to 0190-1142.

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