While most people would agree that our world is broken, they may not agree about how to fix it. In the following clip, Alistair looks to the unique experience of the thief on the cross as a reminder that the only solution to brokenness is found in the execution of an innocent man: Jesus, the Son of God.
This clip is from the sermon “The Power and Message of the Cross,” which was preached at Baylor University’s inaugural National Preaching Conference in 2019.
Without the preaching of the cross, without preaching the cross to ourselves all day and every day, we will very, very quickly revert to faith plus works as the ground of our salvation; so that, to go to the old Fort Lauderdale question—“If you were to die tonight and you were getting entry into heaven, what would you say?”—if you answer that, and if I answer it, in the first person, we’ve immediately gone wrong. “Because I…” “Because I believed. Because I have faith. Because I am this. Because I am continuing.” Loved ones, the only proper answer’s in the third person: “Because He…” “Because He…””
Think about the thief on the cross. What an immense… I can’t wait to find that fellow one day to ask him, “How did that shake out for you? Because you were cussing the guy out with your friend. You’d never been in a Bible study. You’d never got baptized. You didn’t know a thing about church membership. And yet—and yet, you made it! You made it! How did you make it?”
That’s what the angel must have said—you know, like, “What are you doing here?”
“Well, I don’t know.”
“What do you mean, you don’t know?”
“Well, ’cause I don’t know.”
“Well, you know… Excuse me. Let me get my supervisor.”
They go get the supervisor angel: “So, we’ve just a few questions for you. First of all, are you clear on the doctrine of justification by faith?”
The guy says, “I’ve never heard of it in my life.”
“And what about… Let’s just go to the doctrine of Scripture immediately.”
This guy’s just staring.
And eventually, in frustration, he says, “On what basis are you here?”
And he said, “The man on the middle cross said I can come.”
Now, that is the only answer. That is the only answer. And if I don’t preach the Gospel to myself all day and every day, then I will find myself beginning to trust myself, trust my experience, which is part of my fallenness as a man. If I take my eyes off the cross, I can then give only lip service to its efficacy while at the same time living as if my salvation depends upon me. And as soon as you go there, it will lead you either to abject despair or a horrible kind of arrogance. And it is only the cross of Christ that deals both with the dreadful depths of despair and the pretentious arrogance of the pride of man that says, “You know, I can figure this out, and I’m doing wonderfully well.” No.
Because the sinless Savior died,
My sinful soul is counted free;
For God the just is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me.1
That’s why Luther says most of your Christian life is outside of you, in this sense: that we know that we’re not saved by good works, we’re not saved as a result of our professions, but we’re saved as a result of what Christ has achieved.
Charitie L. Bancroft, “Before the Throne of God Above” (1863). ↩︎
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