An Illustrative Question

An Illustrative Question

Perry Duggar |

Questions asked by two criminals who were crucified with Christ on Calvary illustrate the spiritual state of their lives. Our questions often reveal our spiritual identities as well.

Introduction: We continue our series, called Questions from Calvary.    

Questions often reveal the inner thoughts and feelings of the person who poses the inquiry.


  1. Today, we will focus on the questions of two crucified criminals in this message titled, An Illustrative Question (because questions reveal, illustrate, the attitudes of the asker).
  2. First question: Luke 23:39 (NLT)—One of the criminals… scoffed, “So You’re the Messiah, are You? Prove it by saving Yourself—and us…”
  3. Second question (asked by the other criminal): Luke 23:40 (NLT)—But the other criminal protested, “Don’t you fear God even when you have been sentenced to die?”


Background (Luke 23:32-33; C/R: Isaiah 53:12; Galatians 3:13; Philippians 2:8):


  1. Luke 23:32 (NLT)—Two others, both criminals, were led out to be executed with Him. [fulfilled Isaiah 53:12]
  2. These men were not merely petty thieves or common burglars; they were dangerous, violent men who tormented, abused and often killed, their victims.
  3. It is possible that they were associates of Barabbas, who had been destined for the cross with them before he was released and Jesus was crucified in his place. (Luke 23:18-25)
  4. Luke 23:33a (NLT)—When they came to a place called The Skull, they nailed Him to the cross. [Philippians 2:8; Galatians 3:13] [Skull = Gk. Kranion, Latin, Calvariae, (Eng., Golgotha)]
  5. The site may have resembled a skull or perhaps it referred to executions occurring there.
  6. Luke 23:33b (NLT)—And the criminals were also crucified—one on His right and one on His left. [about 15 feet apart on a limestone hill; fulfilling Isaiah 53:12]
  7. As we reflect on the words to these three crucified men, remember, suffering does not change us, it reveals


As Jesus was crucified, He…


#1 - Expressed forgiveness. (Luke 23:34; C/R: Psalm 22:18; Luke 6:27-28,35; Acts 3:17-19; 1 Peter 2:21-24)


  1. Luke 23:34 (NLT)—Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” [fulfilled Isaiah 53:12] And the soldiers gambled for his clothes by throwing dice. [Gk. by casting lots, to know God’s will in Old Testament, gambling here; fulfilled Psalm 22:18]
  2. Jesus asked the Father to forgive the people who orchestrated His crucifixion, because all sin is against God.
  3. Jesus saying that these people “don’t know what they are doing,” does not mean that ignorance of sin is a basis for forgiveness.
  4. Certainly, these people were ignorant of the enormity of their sin—that they were killing God’s Son, the Messiah, but that did not, by itself, absolve them.
  5. Through His prayer, Jesus fulfilled His teaching about loving enemies. (Luke 6:27-28,35)
  6. Jesus’ soon-to-transpire death would provide the basis upon which those who crucified Him could be forgiven.
  7. Jesus could have said, “Leave me alone, I’m dying;” instead, He showed mercy, asked for forgiveness for others, because that was their need—and that is His nature.
  8. Jesus’ suffering didn’t change His identity and doesn’t change ours; it shows who we are.
  9. : What is your attitude toward your enemies, adversaries, competitors, irritators?
  10. : What does your treatment of adversaries reveal about your spiritual identity?


As Jesus was dying, He…


#2 - Experienced ridicule. (Luke 23:35-39; C/R: Psalm 22:7-8; 69:21; Matthew 12:34-35; Luke 6:45)


  1. Luke 23:35a (NLT)—The crowd watched…
  2. The common people watched, apparently silenced by guilt, since they had called for His death (Matthew 27:20-23), after first cheering Him as the Messiah when He entered the city riding on a donkey, the previous Sunday. (Matthew 27:39-40, says passerbys did insult.)
  3. Luke 23:35b (NLT)—…and the leaders scoffed. “He saved others,” they said, “let Him save Himself if He is really God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.”
  4. Israel’s religious leaders sarcastically insulted Jesus, but not directly; they turned to each other as they mocked Him, as cowards always do. (Fulfilled Psalm 22:7-8.)
  5. Luke 23:36 (NLT)—36 The soldiers mocked Him, too, by offering Him a drink of sour wine. (fulfilled Psalm 69:21)
  6. This sour wine, or wine vinegar, was the ordinary soldier’s drink, which they shared as a form of mockery, since quenching the thirst of a man who was lashed with a lead-tipped whip (Mark 15:15), crowned with thorns pressed into His scalp, and impaled by spikes through wrists and feet, was ironic because He would soon be dead.
  7. Luke 23:37 (NLT)—37 They called out to Him, “If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself!”
  8. They challenged Him to step down from the cross if He was the King of the Jews.
  9. Luke 23:38 (NLT)—A sign was fastened above Him with these words: “This is the King of the Jews.” [Claiming to be king was the political crime for which He was executed.]
  10. Then, one of the criminals, who likely heard the mockery of the religious leaders, repeated their ridicule, and expressed his own contempt for Jesus with a question!
  11. Luke 23:39 (NLT)—One of the criminals hanging beside Him scoffed, “So You’re the Messiah, are You? Prove it by saving Yourself—and us, too, while You’re at it!”
  12. This cruel sarcasm reveals (illustrates) the true character of this criminal, because suffering doesn’t change us; it reveals who we truly are. (Matthew 15:18-20; Luke 6:45)
  13. The criminals’ lives had been motivated by anger and resentment; they were lacking in remorse or sympathy for anyone, at the time of their deaths, they would be no different.
  14. Matthew 27:44 says that both of these criminals ridiculed Jesus.
  15. But something supernatural happened to one of the criminals!


As Jesus was suffering, He…


#3 - Extended grace. (Luke 23:40; C/R: Acts 15:11; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5; 1 Peter 1:3-4)


  1. When one criminal experienced a change of heart and mind, he questioned the other.
  2. Luke 23:40 (NLT)—But the other criminal protested, “Don’t you fear God even when you have been sentenced to die?” [Question illustrated that a change had occurred.]
  3. This change of perspective, what the Bible calls transformation, caused this condemned criminal to see the situation with different eyes.
  4. His question implies his understanding that Jesus was connected to God, and that their mockery was offending God, who they would face very soon. (Luke 12:4-5)
  5. Perhaps he was even expressing concern for the other criminal, warning him not to incur greater judgment—these words would have surprised, even angered. the other criminal.
  6. How could this happen? Only by grace (Ephesians 2:8-9), since this criminal merited no mercy, but neither do we; it’s the way all of us are saved. (Acts 15:11; Titus 3:5;1 Peter 1:3-4)
  7. When this criminal was converted, he displayed clear…


Evidence of salvation: (even in his brief remaining life while hung on the cross)


The criminal…


Recognized his sins. (Luke 23:41; C/R: 1 John 1:8-9)


  1. Luke 23:41 (NLT)—“We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong.”
  2. Not many people will admit their wrongs, especially when they have lived a life marked by rebellion and wrong-doing.
  3. They have justified, blamed and excused their evil actions for so long, that they think they are innocent—or, at least no more guilty than others by comparison.
  4. The Holy Spirit convicted this criminal of his wrongs—and confirmed Jesus’ innocence—which he couldn’t have known without revelation.
  5. When the Spirit gives us new birth, we can recognize truth and see our sin—which forces us to confess our sins, repent, and seek forgiveness. (1 John 1:9)


Another evidence of the criminal’s salvation was he…


Realized Jesus’ identity. (Luke 23:42; C/R: Matthew 16:15-17)


  1. Luke 23:42 (NLT)—Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your Kingdom.”
  2. Why would he say that? How could he know? Jesus didn’t look like a divine Being; He looked like a man on the verge of death.
  3. In fact, Jesus was more exhausted, more depleted, than most crucified men; He would die after six hours on the cross, though many victims lived for days.
  4. The true identity of Jesus as God’s Son has to be revealed supernaturally from One who know—the Spirit of God. (Matthew 16:15-17; 1 Corinthians 2:14-15)


A third evidence of the criminal’s salvation was he…


Received eternal life. (Luke 23:43; C/R: John 3:16; Romans 6:23; 10:13)


  1. Luke 23:43 (NLT)—And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with Me in paradise.” [What wonderful words! Imagine how this criminal felt!]
  2. Theologians debate whether paradise is another name for heaven or some intermediate holding place. (Not pergatory, a place of suffering for a limited time.)
  3. This passage says Jesus will be in paradise, so that’s where I want to be.
  4. This saved criminal had done nothing, and could do nothing, to deserve forgiveness.
  5. He qualified for forgiveness only because he recognized his need.
  6. There are no hopeless cases; we can all be forgiven and spend eternity with Jesus.
  7. : Have you been saved? Do you display the evidence?
  8. Romans 10:13 (NLT)—For “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” [Recognize your sins, realize Jesus’ identity, receive eternal life!]
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