4. The Three Crosses


We’ve looked at those who weren’t at the cross of Christ, we’ve seen the compassion and love of the women who were at the cross and we’ve seen the insults and mockery of the men who were at the cross.

In this study, we’re going to look at the three men who were crucified at the same place.

A friend of mine who works as a road repairer was recently accused of theft. None of us believed it was true, but when I went to see him at his house, all the signs were there!

Just outside the city of Jerusalem, there was a hill known as Golgotha, sometimes translated as Calvary and one day three crosses were raised on this hill.

The Cross On The Right

‘One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “If you are the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” Luke 23:39

To the right of Jesus, we find the figure of a dying thief who is obviously in a lot of pain and suffering. But notice he appears to have some kind of hatred towards Jesus.

He said, ‘If You are the Messiah, save Yourself and us’. Jesus could have said, what do you mean ‘if I’m the Messiah’, but He didn’t he remained silent.

What did Jesus do to this guy that made him so angry?

He challenged Christ to save ‘Yourself and us’. Who does this thief think he is, demanding that Jesus saves Himself and the other thieves? Here is a thief, within the shadow of death and even though he’s about to die, it’s clear that his sins didn’t bother him.

And doesn’t that still happen today?

People are very happy to live sinful lives, but when they face difficulties or even death, they start to accuse the God, whom they don’t even believe in, with all kinds of accusations.

People are very happy to live sinful lives, but when they face difficulties they start demanding things from the God they don’t believe in so that they can get some kind of relief.

His Was A Cross Of Rebellion

This cross depicts the enmity that many have toward Jesus and it typifies the unbelief of the world at large toward Jesus.

Thousands have perished on this cross of rebellion, and despite all that they know about Jesus, people still reject Him.

‘Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.’ John 20:30-31

John says there’s enough evidence within his Gospel written to produce faith in Christ, which can lead to salvation. Yet people still reject Him in spite of the evidence.

The Cross On The Left

‘But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Luke 23:40-41

Again we see the figure of a dying thief, yet instead of dying in his sin, he was dying to sin and so, his was a cross of repentance.

This thief turns to look at the centre cross, but not to scoff at Jesus in unbelief but in recognition of who Jesus was. He would like to free himself from his guilt and sins.

‘In the same way, the rebels who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him.’ Matthew 27:44

Earlier this thief had joined the other thief in reproaches against Christ at the beginning of the crucifixion. But now we see in this man, unfailing evidence of a great change.

As the day progresses he becomes more and more aware that this was God Himself in the person of Jesus.

‘But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Luke 23:40-41

Notice his faith and reverence in the presence of Deity. He said to the other thief, ‘do you not even fear God?’ And notice he admits his own guilt when he said, ‘we are getting what our deeds deserve.’

He expresses his belief that Jesus was suffering ‘wrongfully’, he says, ‘but this Man has done nothing wrong’. Then he said, “Lord Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Luke 23:42

Then there is his open confession of the Deity of Jesus, he calls Jesus, ‘Lord’. Finally, we see genuine repentance and humility on the part of this dying thief.

He says to Jesus, ‘Remember me when You come into Your kingdom.’ He wanted to change and be in the Lord’s kingdom.

‘Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.’ 2 Corinthians 7:10

He repented and had a change of heart. Everything about this thief indicates his regret over his sins and a desire to be with the Lord.

Do you see the difference between these two thieves?

The first saw Jesus only as a man, but the second saw Him as Lord.

The first saw Jesus as a mock king, but the second saw Him as the ‘King of kings.’

The first saw him as an impostor, but the second saw Him as Saviour.

‘Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:43

Now we can understand why Jesus answered him by saying, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.’

Now let me ask you, where is Paradise? I think it would be useful to look at what the Bible says about heaven first before we answer this.

‘In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth’. Genesis 1:1

‘I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago, was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows.’ 2 Corinthians 12:2

The Bible tells us there are three heavens.

1. The heaven which is God’s spiritual eternal home. This isn’t physical and isn’t created.

2. The heaven where the stars and planets are. This is physical and is created.

3. The heaven surrounding the earth where the atmosphere is, and the birds fly. This is physical and is created.

‘The time came when the beggar died, and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side’. Luke 16:22

Note the term, ‘Abraham’s side’, this is a Hebraism that the Jews understood to mean, ‘the paradise of God’. So, clearly, the Bible teaches us that Lazarus was in ‘paradise’.

Listen to what Jesus says to the church in Ephesus.

‘Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’ Revelation 2:7

According to Jesus, the overcoming church will eat from the tree of life in the garden. Sin and death through redemption are now cast out of the human experience. The way is open for the faithful to return to the garden of God.

Clearly, Jesus says that paradise is the Christian’s final home.

‘I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows—was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell.’ 2 Corinthians 12:1-4

Notice that Paul says he was ‘caught up to the third heaven’, whilst in the same setting he says he was ‘caught up to paradise’.

Surely, the phrases ‘caught up to the third heaven’ and ‘caught up to paradise’ mean the same thing! Surely, the ‘third heaven’ and ‘paradise’ are one in the same place!

The ‘third heaven’, or ‘paradise’ is God’s spiritual eternal home, which isn’t physical and isn’t created. This is the place where not only Paul found himself, but the place where Lazarus found himself when he died.

This is the place where Jesus and the thief on the cross went to that day. This is the place where God was before the other heavens were created and where He resides now and forever and the Christians’ final home.

‘I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far.’ Philippians 1:23

Paul says those who die in faith will ‘be with Christ’.

‘We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.’ 2 Corinthians 5:8

Paul says when he departs from his body, he will be at home with the Lord. In other words, Jesus was going to heaven and He promised the thief that he would be with Him in paradise that day, not weeks, months or years from now but that day, ‘today, you will be with me in paradise’.

There’s no waiting place when we die because when we depart from our bodies, as Christians’ paradise awaits, heaven awaits.

Let me say something really important about this thief because many religious people place their hope of salvation on this man’s faith.

People say, ‘well, the thief wasn’t baptised but he still made it to heaven’. Of course, he wasn’t baptised, because Jesus didn’t give the command for everyone to be baptised until after He rose from the grave.

The salvation of this thief occurred while the Law of Moses was still in effect.

‘Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.’ Mark 16:16

About 50 days later Christ would set in force His new covenant. Today, we live under this new law found in the New Testament, not under the Law of Moses.

Some have used this man to prove that one can be saved today without ever being baptized for the forgiveness of sins but this is simply not the Lord’s plan for us today.

The Middle Cross

‘In him, we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.’ Ephesians 1:7

Here we have the cross of redemption, Jesus our Redeemer dying for the sins of the world. Paul says by His blood we can be brought back to God.

It Was Also A Suffering Cross

We can’t even begin to imagine the torture of those nails driven through His hands and feet. The victim of a Roman crucifixion literally suffered a thousand deaths.

There was also the shame and reproach associated with death on a cross because it was reserved for the vilest of criminals. Added to this were all the mocking and verbal abuse from the mob which we looked at in a previous study.

It Was A Vicarious Cross

The thieves were suffering for their own crimes, but Jesus suffered for you and me, for our sins.

‘He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds, you have been healed.’ 1 Peter 2:24

Peter tells us that Jesus had no sin and our Lord was under no obligation to pay the debt for our sins.

“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.” 1 Peter 3:18

Someone had to suffer for sin, so He was willing to suffer for us. Why would Christ give up the glories of heaven and come down to this sinful earth to die for our sins?

‘This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.’ 1 John 4:9-10

Because we were utterly helpless, that’s why Jesus came to provide a remedy for sins. He came to show us the redemptive love of God for sinful man.

Why was it that He alone was the only one who could die for our sins?

‘For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.’ 1 Peter 1:18-19

1. Jesus could die for us because He was spotless and was able to provide the perfect sacrifice.

“He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.” 1 Peter 1:20

2. Jesus could die for us because God, the Eternal Father, appointed Him for this work.

‘Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!’ Philippians 2:6-8

In perfect obedience, the Lord gave up heaven to redeem us by His death on the cross. And, it’s to this middle cross that each sinner must look for salvation today. There’s no other way, only the blood of Jesus can cleanse us of our sins.

A preacher was speaking from the text, ‘The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.’ Suddenly he was interrupted by an atheist who asked, ‘How can blood cleanse sin?’ For a moment the preacher was silent, then he asked, ‘How can water quench thirst?’ ‘I do not know,’ replied the atheist, ‘but I know that it does.’ ‘Neither do I know how the blood of Jesus cleanses sin,’ answered the preacher, ‘but I know that it does.’

Will you apply that precious blood through your obedience to the saving Gospel of Christ?