Hope in the face of death

Luke 23:32-43

32 Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. 33 And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. 35 And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”

39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”


We are in a very particular time in the history of the world right now. Usually, when the pandemic hits, it affected a certain large region severely but not so much others. Covid-19 is a worldwide pandemic. And it is not just something that happens out there, it is very close to our backyard. Lots of people around us are sick with the virus. Many lost their jobs. Some lost lots of money in their superannuation. I talked to some people recently who knew someone who died because of this virus. You might know someone who died because of this virus or maybe you or your immediate family member is affected by it. And because of it, there is a fear that dominated the world right now. There is a fear that you cannot hide from. And it is not a fear of corona, but it is a fear of death. Death is no longer something in the distance future, death is staring at us in our face. And this fear caused unrest in us. It keeps us worrying. It destabilizes us. So, what do we do? How can we deal with it? That’s what I want to talk about today. Hope in the face of death.

I think if you grew up in church, the passage for today is one should be very familiar to you. If you are new and you are exploring Christianity, let me say welcome to you. You are in the right place. We love to have you joining in with us. And I hope you and the rest of us will learn together today on the good news of Jesus Christ. We believe that the message of Christianity is the message of good news and this good news is available for you as well if you put your trust in Jesus. This story is the story that speaks so much about the power and the wonder of the cross. This is a story of hope of how in his suffering at the cross, Jesus still saves his enemies. This story shows that if you are still breathing, you still have the chance to receive salvation. It does not matter how bad your life was, it does not matter what you have done in the past, it does not matter what you are going through, the cross of Christ can save you in one single moment.

This story is very interesting. In this story, we find two very similar people, who committed the same evil, received the same punishment, see the very same thing, yet each responded very differently from the other. And their response determines their eternal life. And all of this happened while Jesus was being crucified. Jesus was crucified in the middle between these two people. One on his right, and the other on his left. One received eternal life, and the other received eternal punishment. One found hope in the face of death, the other found hopelessness. This is a picture of your life and my life. Jesus is crucified and you have two choices. You either receive him or reject him. You want to be like the person who was crucified on the right or the left? Which one is crucified on which side? I have no idea, but it is not important. But your response is. Your response determines your eternity.


Let me give you the context of the story first. The crucifixion was not a surprise to Jesus. Jesus knew that he came to earth, lived on earth as a man, for one specific purpose – to die at the cross. And this has been pre-determined from the beginning of creation. When Adam and Eve fell into sin, the consequence of sin is death. And because of it, the world was corrupted, and every part of creation was broken because of sin. But amid that brokenness, God made a promise to Eve that out of her will come a seed, an offspring, that will crush the serpent’s head and the serpent will crush his heel. There will be a battle between the offspring of Eve and the serpent, which represented Satan.

So, the story continued and as time progressed, people became more and more evil. Till finally God had enough and in his wrath, he sent a flood to destroy the earth. But God saved Noah and his family. Then God made a promise to Noah that he would not destroy the earth the second time because of the sins of the people. And that promise was sealed with a rainbow. If you grew up in church, you know this story very well. But what you might not know is that God referred to a rainbow as a bow. And it was not an ordinary bow.

Genesis 9:12-16 – And God said, This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.”

The Hebrew word that is translated as a bow is actually a warrior’s bow. This is a bow that you used in a war. Pay attention to the direction of this bow. To which direction does the bow point at? Does the bow point at heaven or earth? The bow is pointing toward heaven, the place where God dwells. Do you know what it means? God is saying, Every time I look at the sins of the people, every time I am angry at them because of their sins, every time I want to destroy them again with the flood, I will look at the bow. And the arrow of the bow is pointing toward me. Because I, myself, will be the one who take on my anger. I will release the arrow toward myself. I will be the one who pay for the sins of the people.”

Today, when we look at a rainbow, we think of a rainbow as something beautiful. We take our phone out, we take a picture, and then we post it on Instagram with the caption, What a romantic God we serve. He is the God who always keeps his promises. Thank you, God, you are the sweetest (with heart fingers).” We see a rainbow as something that captivates our heart. But the real meaning of a rainbow is God saying to us, My life for your life. I die, you live.”

And this is the story of the Old Testament. Where God began his plan to restore humanity and all of creation to their original purpose. God chose Abraham. He chose Israel. But Israel continued to forsake God and lived in sin. God gave them the sacrificial system in which an innocent lamb must be sacrificed to cover the sins of Israel. But this was only a temporary solution. God was waiting for the right time where he himself will come and take on the arrow of his own wrath. Isaiah prophesied that this servant would come. He would be afflicted because of peoples’ sins and by his stripes, people would receive healing. And when Jesus was born and John the Baptist saw Jesus, he declared, Behold, the Lamb of God.” Notice, John did not say, Behold, the Son of God,” but he clearly said, the Lamb of God.” Because the time has come for God’s arrow of wrath toward sin to be unleashed. And Jesus came to earth for one purpose: He came as the Lamb of God to take Gods arrow of wrath toward the sins of humanity upon himself.


In our passage for today, the arrow has been unleashed at Jesus. Jesus is taking the wrath of God against sins upon himself at the cross. And at the same time, two criminals are being crucified next to Jesus. Few things about these criminals. It is very likely that they are called criminals not because they committed a hefty crime, but many scholars believe that they are part of the group that rebelled against the Roman empire. They are part of the group known as “Freedom Fighters.” So, they are crucified because they are considered as the enemy of the Roman empire. Notice once again at the similarities between these two criminals. They committed the same crime, they received the same punishment, they saw the same things from the cross. If you pay attention to the story, Luke tells us that these two criminals saw the religious Jewish leaders mocked Jesus. They heard the Roman soldiers mocked Jesus. In fact, these two criminals also mocked Jesus. Luke does not tell us about it, but Matthew tells us that both these criminals mocked Jesus. And they also heard Jesus replied,Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Pay attention to this. Both experienced and saw the exact same event. But in the end, their response is completely different from each other. And my hope is that tonight you and I will have the right response when we see the cross of Jesus.


Three things: The wrong response; The right response; The answer of the cross.


The wrong response


Luke 23:39 – One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!”

There are two reasons why this is a wrong response. First, he said, Are you not the Christ?” By the way, Christ is not Jesus’s last name. Jesus is not Mr Christ. Christ is a title that is given to a saviour that God will send to save his people and fulfil all the hope of Israel. So, this criminal heard the mockery of the Jewish religious leaders. He can save others. If he is truly is Christ, the chosen one sent from God, let him save himself. HAHAHA.” This criminal also heard the Roman soldiers mocked Jesus. Is he a king? What kind of king is this? There is no such thing as a crucified king. This is foolishness. HEHEHE.” From both the Jewish and the Romans point of view, if Jesus is indeed the Christ, if Jesus is, in fact, a king, then his crucifixion should have never happened. If Jesus is the Christ that was promised in the Old Testament, how could he die? This is like you watching Black Panther and he died at the beginning of the movie before he has the chance to save the world. You would think, What sort of movie is this? This is not Black Panther. Black Panther can’t die at the beginning of the movie.” So, the conclusion is you are not watching Black Panther; You are watching Black cat. It is impossible for Christ to die. He is the chosen one sent by God to save humanity. This does not make any sense.” But let me tell you. The gospel does not make sense to human’s understanding. This criminal looks at Jesus and thinks, This does not make any sense. Arent you the Christ?” Or, to put in our situation, If Jesus is God, why would he allow Covid-19? This does not make any sense.” The first criminal looks at Jesus through a human’s perspective and wisdom and concludes that if Jesus is, in fact, the Christ, then he would never have to go through crucifixion.


The second reason behind his wrong response is he says, Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” With another word, he is saying, This does not make any sense. Christ should have never been crucified. But if you are truly the Christ, then prove it to me. Save yourself and save me. If you can save me, then Ill believe that you are Christ.” What is he doing? This criminal does not care whether Jesus is Christ or not. There is only one thing he cares about is to be saved from the pain of crucifixion. He is saying, Whats important is that I am saved from this pain. It does not matter who you are. Save me from this pain.” He does not see Jesus as beautiful; he sees Jesus as someone useful to give him what he wants. There is a big difference between seeing Jesus as beautiful and seeing him as useful.

Let me put it this way. Car jump starters is a useful tool that you keep inside your car. Jump starters is usually stored in a place where it is not visible to the eyes and it is usually very dirty. Do you know when you see jump starters? When your car has a flat battery. Right? Recently, I went on a two weeks trip to Bangkok. And when I got back from Bangkok, my car won’t start. The car’s battery was flat. Then and only then I look for my jump starters and let it do its magical work. And once it’s done, what did I do? I stored it and I won’t see it again until the next time my car has a flat battery. Do you see where I am going with this? This is how many people look at Jesus. In times of difficulties, Jesus, are you not the Christ? Save me!” But then you forget about him until you face the next difficulty. And if Jesus did not save you from your misery, you do not believe that he is the Christ. You only see Jesus as someone useful to you. And when he does not give you what you want, you forsake him. You do not love Jesus. You only use Jesus for your selfish gain. What you want is not Jesus. What you want is a personal assistant who is ready to help you every time you are in need. God, exam. What is the question for the exam? Please give me wisdom. Bye.” “God, presentation. Help me so that I can present well. Bye.” “God, Covid-19. Please make sure I will never get it.” “God, God, God… bye, bye, bye.” You see Jesus not as a beautiful glorious God but as a capable and reliable assistant. And do you know what is the irony of this story? This criminal thinks that he can only be saved if Jesus steps down from the cross and saves him. He does not know that for him to be truly saved, Jesus must remain at the cross and die.


The right response


Luke 23:40-42 – But the other rebuked him, saying, Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?  And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Pay attention to the response of the other criminal. The first criminal says, I will believe that you are Christ, I will follow you if you prove to me that you can save me. Save me from this suffering and I will know that you are Christ.” But the second criminal is very different. He says, Do you not fear God? Crucifixion is something that we deserved. This is what we got for what we did. We deserved to be punished.” Now, this is an amazing statement. This criminal does not try to justify himself. He accepts the fact that he is a sinner and he deserved to be crucified. He does not try to downplay his wrongdoing. This is very different from most of us. What do we do when we know we are guilty? We either try to defend ourselves or we downplay our wrongdoing. You know, this is only a small mistake. Lets not make it bigger than what it is.” But if another person does the same thing to you, you blow up. But this criminal is different. He understands that he deserved to die, and he does not deserve to live.

And what is interesting, you have to remember that this criminal is a “Freedom Fighter.” He is someone who rebelled against the Roman empire because he is convinced that the Roman empire has no right over their country. So, this criminal is not saying, It is justice for me to be killed by the Roman soldiers. What we did was wrong.” There is absolutely no way. He rebelled and fought the Roman empire because he believed that they are wrong. He believes that what he did was justice. So, what does he means when he says that they deserved the just punishment? We don’t know how but this criminal understands that he deserved to die because of his sin against God. The second criminal understands that his sin is not first and foremost toward the Roman empire but God.

Martin Luther puts it this way. He said that you cannot break other commandments of God unless you first break the first commandment. With another word, you cannot kill, steal, lie and commit adultery, unless you first break the first commandment, which is, “you shall not have other gods before me.” When you break God’s commandment, you are putting something else in the place of God. You are rejecting God as God and something else has become your god. Let me show you. Raise your hand if you ever tell a lie. If you do not raise your hand, you are lying right now. Why do you lie? We can lie for different reasons but ultimately, we tell lies because it brings us more benefit than telling the truth. Agree? I remember when I was studying in Dallas, my parents told me to focus on study and don’t date any girl. So, what did I do? I dated girls unofficially. The term for it today is “It is complicated.” And every time my mom asked me about girls on the phone, I told her, Nah, I am not in a relationship. I just like hang out with girls and hold hands (I did not say the last part).” Why did I lie to my mom? Because I didn’t want to make her upset. Otherwise, she would stop sending me money. What I did was I put myself and my comfort in the place of God. Do you see what happen? The sin under all sin is a sin against God.


This is what the second criminal experiences. He understands that in the eyes of God, he is extremely sinful, and he deserves death punishment. He does not say, God, look at my credential. God, look at what I have done. Look at my struggle against the Roman empire. I deserve to be saved. God, you owe it to me. It is only right for you to save me.” But he says, God, I do not deserve to be saved. You dont owe me anything. What happened to me is just. I do not deserve to receive anything.”

There is a story of a king of a very prosperous kingdom who visited a prison. During his visit, he makes a promise to set one prisoner free. The king will interview every prisoner to decide who will receive the pardon. The prisoners are extremely excited and begin to prepare for the interview. As the king interviews the prisoners, each prisoner appeals to the king based on their innocence. King, I should be set free because I am a good son to my mom. It is my friends who made me do the crime.” Or I should be set free because I have a good potential to be someone very loyal and useful to your kingdom.” Each prisoner tries to prove that they are more worthy to receive the pardon than other prisoners. Only one prisoner comes to the king and acknowledges his guilt and confesses all his crimes. The king says, Guard, release this guilty man immediately. Because he is the only one who does not deceive himself and confess his crimes.”

Friends, can you see the different response of these two criminals? They commited the same crime, received the same punishment, saw the same event, but their response is very different. And not only that, but the second criminal also says, but this man has done nothing wrong.” He not only acknowledges his sinfulness, but he also acknowledges Jesus’ righteousness. Jesus does not deserve to be crucified. Jesus does not deserve to receive any punishment. But instead, Jesus is crucified between two criminals. The first criminal sees Jesus as useful. He only wants to be saved from his sufferings. The second criminal sees Jesus as beautiful. He sees the righteousness of Jesus.


Look at verse 42. This criminal goes on to say to Jesus, Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” What a beautiful sentence. He does not ask Jesus to save him from the suffering of the cross. He does not ask Jesus to free him from pain. He only asks for one thing. Jesus, remember me.” What does it mean? The second criminal understands that he does not deserve salvation. But he has one hope: the mercy of Jesus. He is saying, I know you are different from everyone else. I know I am sinful, and I am receiving my just punishment. But not you. You are not supposed to be here. You have done no wrong. And now my eyes see you for who you are. My eyes see your beauty. My eyes see your righteousness. Now I know that you are King. You are the Christ. And I am unworthy to ask you for anything because I am a sinner. But Jesus, if possible, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” This criminal knows that Jesus’ death at the cross is not the end of Jesus’ story. Somehow, he understands that death cannot destroy Jesus. Jesus is returning to his kingdom. There is another life after death. That is why he is saying, I do not care what happens to me now, but Jesus, remember me in your kingdom. What I need is not to be saved from this cross. What I need is for you to remember me.” What this criminal asks for is not salvation from pain but the mercy of Jesus.


The answer of the cross


Luke 23:43 – And he said to him, Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Jesus’ reply is very beautiful. Please notice that when the first criminal asks Jesus to prove himself, Jesus remains silent. Jesus does not say a word. But after Jesus heard the response of the second criminal, Jesus replies to him. Jesus says, Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” With another word, Jesus is saying to him, I am going to give you what you asked for.” This is amazing. Think about it. What use is it for Jesus to grant the second criminal’s request? This man is about to die. He won’t be able to do anything for Jesus. He won’t be able to go and preach the gospel and tell others about Jesus. This criminal will only breathe, and he will die in a few short hours. All his life, he ignores God. He spent all his life pursuing whatever pleases him. And now right at the brink of death, he asks Jesus to remember him. This is a request that does not bring any benefit at all for Jesus. This is what we called a bad investment. But Jesus grants this man’s request. This criminal does not deserve to receive it at all, but Jesus gives it to him. My friends, this is grace. Grace is something that you received solely based on God’s goodness alone. You cannot earn it and there is nothing you can do to purchase it. You can only receive grace if you stop trying to earn it by your works and start trusting in Jesuss works.

And what’s amazing about Jesus’ reply is not only that this criminal will be in paradise. Paradise is a picture of heaven. If that is all that Jesus gives to the second criminal, that is amazing already. After wasting all his life as a criminal and accepts Jesus at the brink of death, this criminal will spend eternity in heaven. This is awesome. But Jesus does not only say that. Jesus says, you will be with me in paradise.” What does it mean to be with Jesus? It means that wherever Jesus is, whenever Jesus goes, whatever Jesus experiences, he will also be there with Jesus. Everything that is true about Jesus is also true about him. Salvation is not just forgiveness from sin. Salvation also means becoming one with Jesus. Jesus’s status and position are also yours. At the cross, Jesus became sin for us so that we who trust in him may receive righteousness and blessings that belong to Jesus.


Let me give you an illustration that I stole from Tim Chester. Let’s say that you are in London and you want to meet the Queen of England. You want to meet the Queen for a chat and to see her palace. So, you make a plan to go to Buckingham Palace and to knock at the door of the palace and say, Hi, I would like to meet the Queen of England.” And you also hope you can tour around the palace and check out every room. So you order an Uber, go to the palace and knock at the door of the palace.
May I help you?”
Yes, I come all the way from Sydney, Australia, and I wish to meet the Queen of England. And it would be lovely if I can also take a tour around the palace and check out every room. And if the Queen doesnt mind I would like to stay over for a night in one of the rooms.”
May I know your name, sire?”
“ I am Yosia, son of Mr and Mrs Yusuf.”
Yusuf, I cannot find your name on the list. I am sorry but I have to ask you to leave the premise at this instant. Or else Ill have to call the security.”
They would kick me out of the palace. Agree? Don’t laugh at me because you would be kicked out of the palace as well. Your last name is not better than mine. They will kick us out of the palace, whatever our last name is.

And this truth is also once true for someone. Do you know who that is? Kate Middleton. There was a time where Kate could do exactly what we did, and she would be kicked out of the palace. Kate would not be accepted into the Buckingham Palace. But today it is very different. Today they cannot kick Kate out of the palace. Kate can say, I would like to meet the Queen of England.” Who are you?” Do you know Kate’s answer? I am with him.” You guys know who is “him” right? Prince William. Today, Kate is given the title Duchess of Cambridge.” She is called Her Royal Highness.” Why? Because Kate is with William. Every door and room that was closed to Kate before, now she has full access to enter it anytime she wants. What happened? Kate experienced a change of status. Kate is no longer an ordinary woman, but she has a special status because she is with Prince William.


Do you know that is what happened to you when you put your faith in Jesus? Jesus did not only give you paradise, but he also gives you his status. You are together with him in Paradise. This is the blessing of the gospel. And this criminal received all of this simply because he put all his hope in the mercy of Jesus. And Jesus answered that hope by giving this criminal more than he could ever hope for. The gospel is not only that you received pardon, but you will also reign with Jesus. Jesus not only remember you; Jesus also give you his status. This is the answer of the cross.




First, choose the right response today. Christianity does not believe in Universalism. Universalists believe that “love wins.” Because God is love, every person will go to heaven one way or the other. But it is clear from this story that only one of the criminals made it to Paradise. The other went to a place of eternal torment. Unless you put your faith in Jesus, you will perish. But hear the good news of the gospel. It does not matter what you have done, it does not matter what your past looks like, as long as you are still breathing, there is still a chance for you. You can receive salvation today. If you have yet to trust Jesus as your Lord and Saviour, don’t wait until it is your last breath to give your life to Jesus. Many people died so suddenly and unexpectedly without having the chance to repent of their sin and trust in Jesus. You never know what’s going to happen later. Trust in Jesus’s mercy and grace now. Look at his righteousness. Look at his goodness. Look at him died on the cross for your sins. And believe in him. Say to him, Jesus I believe in you. Please remember me.” And hear him says to you, Truly, I say to you, you will be with me in Paradise.”


Second, remember the hope of the gospel. And this hope changes the way we live our present life and the way we respond to suffering. We have hope in the face of death. What does it mean to lose $10 when you have $1 million in the bank? I’ve used this similar illustration from Spurgeon, and I will use it again. Let’s say that one day I received a phone call that tells me that I have $10 million waiting for me in CBA from an uncle I never know I have. My first thought, Is this a scam?” You’ve got that email before, right? But it turns out to be legit. So, I quickly run into my white horse in my pyjamas and make my way to the nearest CBA. And along the way, my white horse breaks down. I would not step out of the car and complains, Oh no, my white horse. My only beloved white horse. How can I live without you?” No, I would not do that. I would walk out of my car, find me a taxi, pick up my $10 million, and then buy a thousand white horse. Are you with me?

This is how Paul puts it. 1 Corinthians 15:55-57 – “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Paul is not saying that death is easy. I am not saying suffering is easy. I am not downplaying the severity of Covid-19. But I am saying that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. There is hope even in death. Because Jesus not only died for our sins, Jesus was also resurrected from the death. Jesus conquered death once and for all. Jesus has defeated the power of death and gives us the victory. And for us who trust in Jesus, we no longer fear death because death only bring us to Jesus’ kingdom and we will reign with him forever. This is the hope that Jesus gives us in the face of death. So we can confidently say, Covid-19, where is your sting? Thanks be to Christ who gives us the victory.”



Discussion questions:


  1. What is the imporant meaning behind rainbow? How does it relate to Jesus’s death at the cross?
  2. What does it mean to see Jesus as useful? Can you share specific example from your daily life?
  3. Explain why sin is first and foremost against God.
  4. What does it mean to see Jesus as beautiful? Can you share specific example from your daily life?
  5. Jesus’ saving grace toward the second criminal can be considered as a “bad investment” in the eyes of the world. What does it teach us about the value in God’s kingdom?
  6. What does it mean when Jesus said, “you will be with me in Paradise”?
  7. How does the gospel gives us hope in the face of death, especially COVID-19? Give some daily life examples.

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