The Power of the Cross: 161st Edition, December 13th, 2020

Mike Cleveland

The Power of the Cross: 161st Edition, December 13th, 2020

Greetings friends,


Welcome, new subscribers! This weekly newsletter shares short gospel teachings and testimonies from Setting Captives Free students. We hope you will find it helpful and encouraging.




God has blessed Setting Captives Free with godly and dedicated board members; one of these is Bill Miller. In recent months, Bill has suffered several losses, most significantly the murder of his son Shawn and also his sister-in-law's death from cancer. It has been a challenging and heart-rending season for Bill and his family. 

Bill is preaching the memorial service for his son, and I wanted to share his message in this newsletter for two reasons: first, to invite you to unite with us in prayer for Bill and his wife, Diane. Second, Bill's message for his son's memorial is focused on the message of power and freedom, as he compares the two thieves on the crosses next to Jesus.

Here is Bill's message, that he delivered at the memorial for his son, Shawn, on December 12, 2020:

Dear Ones, there is only one place to go when we need encouragement – the Gospel. There as we consider the Cross, we find our hope and comfort in the finished work Jesus completed on the Cross. 

I have been thinking a lot about the memorial service that will take place on December 12 for my son Shawn. The following are the thoughts that I will be sharing at the service. 

Looking at the two robbers has been helpful during this time of grieving. 


The Two Robbers

Each of the Gospel writers talks about the two robbers who were crucified that day with Jesus at Calvary. 

Matthew writes about the two robbers as Jesus is crucified:

"Then two robbers were crucified with Him, one on the right and another on the left. (39) And those who passed by blasphemed Jesus, wagging their heads (40) and saying, "You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross." (41) Likewise, the chief priests also, mocking with the scribes and elders, said, (42) "He saved others; Himself He cannot save. If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him. (43) "He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now if He will have Him; for He said, 'I am the Son of God.'" (44) Even the robbers who were crucified with Him reviled Him with the same thing." (Matthew 27:38-44 NKJV) 

Matthew points out that these robbers were on either side of Jesus. As people passed by to look at Jesus – the people and the religious leaders blasphemed, mocked, and reviled Jesus.  Even the robbers were saying the same things. 

Mark's account gives us a few more details: 

"With Him, they also crucified two robbers, one on His right and the other on His left. (28) So, the Scripture was fulfilled, which says, "And He was numbered with the transgressors." (29) And those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads and saying, "Aha! You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, (30) "save Yourself, and come down from the cross!" (31) Likewise, the chief priests also, mocking among themselves with the scribes, said, "He saved others; Himself He cannot save. (32) "Let the Christ, the King of Israel, descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe." Even those who were crucified with Him reviled Him." (Mark 15:27-32 NKJV)

Mark points out that the two robbers were there to fulfill an Old Testament prophecy.  

"Therefore, I will divide Him a portion with the great, And He shall divide the spoil with the strong, Because He poured out His soul unto death, And He was numbered with the transgressors, And He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors." (Isaiah 53:12 NKJV)

Luke added details as to what the two robbers said: 

"Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, "If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us." (40) But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, "Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? (41) "And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong." (42) Then he said to Jesus, "Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom." (43) And Jesus said to him, "Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise." (Luke 23:39-43 NKJV)

Luke shares how one robber continued to blaspheme Jesus by saying "IF…" while the other one came to realize that Jesus was innocent, and he was guilty. As the second robber did not say "IF…" and called Jesus, "Lord." The robber asked, "remember me as You come into Your kingdom." – Jesus promised him that he would be with Jesus in Paradise. 

John adds the last detail of the death of the two robbers: 

"Therefore, because it was the Preparation Day, that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. (32) Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who was crucified with Him. (33) But when they came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. (34) But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out." (John 19:31-34 NKJV)

 Both criminals who were crucified with Jesus were guilty of their crimes. Both criminals blasphemed Jesus along with the religious leaders and those who passed by. They were mocking Jesus, taunting Jesus to come off the Cross. 

Notice the word "IF" in the blasphemy. 

"If You are the Son of God…"

"If He is the King of Israel…"

"If You are the Christ…" 

Then the mockings

"He saved others…"

"He trusted in God…"

"He said, 'I am the Son of God.'"

"Let the Christ, the King of Israel, descend from the Cross…"

"You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself!"

We need to remember that there is a day appointed that we will all die: 

"And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, (28) so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him, He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation." (Hebrews 9:27-28 NKJV)

This first robber was only thinking about himself – "save us!" 

When you are about to die – two ways to be thinking: 

1)    Thinking about yourself – I don't want to die!  Get me out of this mess that I find myself in. I don't want to die like this! 

This first robber is not taking responsibility for the situation he got himself in.  I can imagine that he gets caught stealing and blames the owner for turning him in. He blames the authorities for arresting him. He blames the judge, he blames the jury, he blames, blames, blames – but he did nothing wrong. I only took what I wanted. "If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us." Get me out of here!

But the other robber also was thinking about himself. 

2)  Think about yourself – Yes, I am here because I have sinned. I deserve what is happening, but Jesus is without sin or fault. Jesus shouldn't be here. Then he turns his thinking to Jesus, "Lord, remember me." 

Something "clicked" in the second robber's heart, and he took away the "Ifs…"

Notice when we take away the "IF" in the blasphemy. 

"If You are the Son of God…"  "You are the Son of God!"

"If He is the King of Israel…" "He is the King of Israel!"

"If You are the Christ…"          "You are the Christ!"

Then the mockings turned into statements of fact:

"He saved others…"

"He trusted in God…"

"He said, 'I am the Son of God.'"

"He is the Christ, the King of Israel. 

And the robber sees Jesus hanging on the Cross next to him.

"You who destroy the temple (in dying) and build it (that is raised from the dead) in three days. 

The second robber understood the Gospel and called Jesus, "Lord…"

We are all going to die. But do you die with the idea – I just want to avoid this death and pain.  Or do you die with the knowledge that I have sinned and have cried out to the only sinless person who ever lived? The second robber died with a promise of hope in his suffering. 

There was a third group that was there that day, the "religious." Those who would claim that they believe in God are followers of God's way. They have been faithful in their prayers, worship, giving – they exceeded beyond what was expected. Jesus spoke to these "religious" folks early in His ministry. At the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, (what I think are the scariest verses in the Bible): Matthew 7:21-23 – 

"Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. (22) "Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' (23) "And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!' (Matthew 7:21-23 NKJV)

This religious group was no better off than the first robber. They, too, watched and looked at Jesus hanging from the Cross, bleeding out His life blood. 

These robbers were on their crosses at eye level with Jesus. For at least six hours, they looked down at the crowds mocking Jesus, taunting Jesus, blaspheming Jesus' sonship to the Father.  One robber was only thinking about himself without any repentance of his crimes and sins. He joined in those mockings, tauntings, and blaspheming with the religious. 

The other robber, looking into the face of Jesus, watched Him die, listening to the mockings, they became statements of fact concerning Jesus' character and purpose – he believed. 

While hanging from the Cross, Jesus said, "Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing." This second robber asked that Jesus, his Lord, would remember him when Jesus comes into His kingdom. That robber was assured that he would be with Jesus forever. Then at noon, there was darkness over the land for three hours. 

The robber watched as Jesus cried out, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?" He heard Jesus say, "I thirst." He watched as Jesus cried out, "It is finished." He watched as Jesus said, "Father, into Your hands, I commit My spirit." He watched as Jesus died. He felt the earthquake. He heard the centurion say, "Truly, this was the Son of God."

Both robbers died a terrible death, and their legs were broken, so they could not lift themselves to catch a breath.  It has been reported that a person could take several days to die on a cross, as they lift themselves to breathe until they become so weak, they cannot lift and die of suffocation. 

As we look at these two robbers, they deserved to be punished because of their crimes. Jesus was innocent.

Yet, Jesus forgave the second robber who acknowledged Jesus as Lord. He asked to be remembered—the one who recognized his sinful past and saw Jesus, who was innocent. 

How could Jesus promise this second robber that he would be in paradise with Him?

Jesus forgave that second robber because Jesus died as a robber that day and was judged by the Father. Jesus carried all the sins of those who believe and recognize that Jesus died for their sins. Jesus, who was innocent, became the guiltiest, the greatest sinner who ever lived.  Because all our sins were placed upon Him. 

“All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”  (Isaiah 53:6 NKJV)

"He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”  (John 3:18 NKJV)

"Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.”  (John 5:24 NKJV)

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  (Romans 5:8 NKJV)

Don't wait until you only have a few hours yet to live. If you wait until the last minute, you might find yourself like the first robber, only thinking about yourself – not ready to die, blaming others for the circumstances you find yourself in. And you will die in your sins – facing a holy God who is just and will render a fair punishment away from His presence, away from paradise, away from heaven forever. And that first robber is now spending eternity in hell. 

Believe that Jesus, the Son of God, The God/man, who came to earth to be the perfect lamb of God, to be the only sacrifice to cover and atone for your sins. The second robber did not understand much about Jesus – But he did understand that Jesus was Lord and was a King of a kingdom. He understood that Jesus was innocent, and he was not. Only those who repent and put their faith and believe in Jesus will enter into heaven. 

Shawn did not have the reputation of being a Christian. He did not have the reputation of being religious. But he did have a reputation like those of the robbers. He was guilty of many things in life. But then are not all of us? 

Shawn, in the past year, began talking about spiritual things. He was interested and listened to a few of my sermons that were online. He kept saying that he would like to come to church and listen to my Sunday School lessons. But he never made it to church.  I can only hope that he understood the Gospel, and in those last few moments of life, he called out to Jesus and called Him Lord. 

"that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. (10) For with the heart, one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth, confession is made unto salvation. (11) For the Scripture says, "Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame." (Romans 10:9-11 NKJV)

I cannot "preach" Shawn into heaven. My only comfort is that he might have believed and died with hope in those last few moments of his life. Did he? I don't know. There is only one who knows for sure now. Only Jesus can save and restore our lives. It is Jesus, who died, was buried, and rose again on the third day. Don't miss this opportunity to hear and believe. Turn away from sin and come to the Cross and see your salvation and new life with Jesus. 

"If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. (7) But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. (8) If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. (9) If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:6-9 NKJV)



After completing the Setting Captives Free Purity Bootcamp course, Andrew writes:The Cross cast into the bitter waters of impurity has cleansed me from sexual impurity. I now drink the pure, clean water of Christ. I desire to know Christ and the Power of His Resurrection and share in the sufferings of His death on the Cross by dying to my flesh. I have been crucified with Christ. I am determined to War against my flesh. To know the daily plan of God and to let Christ impart His strength and power to me. He is my total answer for living in purity. Amen.

I am learning to draw near to the Cross of Jesus for ongoing cleansing. God has given me a battle plan. I long to know more and more of an intimate walk with Jesus. I have a longing to daily walk in the Spirit, to walk in the resurrection life of Jesus. I want to grow stronger and stronger in purity and resist all the strategies the devil tries to use - shutting every door in Jesus’ Name. 

I am righteous in Christ. He is my Rock, and His Water of Life flows to me, and He is my complete satisfaction. I no longer want what the devil has because it is putrid and disgusting to me. Jesus is beautiful, and He has cleansed and healed me. I am settled inside, and the anger and rage are dissipating. Stress, anxiety, and depression are broken. The chains of darkness have been dispelled, and the Light of Jesus is shining. I love Jesus so much. Thank you, Lord.

I have already suggested to a friend I am mentoring on Covenant Eyes Challenge to take The Purity Boot Camp course. I would have no hesitation as it is based on the Cross of Jesus.”


Mike Cleveland
Volunteer for Setting Captives Free