Commentary on Luke 23:32-43


Reflecting on the commentary of my sermon preached as a part of an assignment at Spurgeon College on 12 May 2014. I will be taking into account and reflecting on the hermeneutical and homiletically issues that came up both in the preparation and after the sermon. Taking a closer look at the preparation, the sermon and comments from both lecturers and fellow students, I will want to start with discussing how I came to decide on the title of sermon “The three men on the cross at Calvary”. As part of my commentary, I will be reflecting on how different Bible commentaries were access and utilized in the preparation for the sermon. In addition, I will be discussing on how I picked the particular structure I employed, in addition I will be reflecting on the delivery of the sermon and what I learnt from my delivery. Finally, I will reflect on what I might do differently in the future.

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Whenever I have the privilege of preaching to others either in a short sermon or to a large congregation, my aim as always been to be able to take my listener to a journey of connecting to the love of Christ and their rediscovery of the path that is lay before them; the path of perseverance, faith, mercy and kindness. Paul speaking to the Galatians summaries it like this, “let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary”[1] For an effective preaching, I believe it must come from the leading of the Holy Spirit who is also the Godhead. He inspires, teaches and guides us in the way of God the father. The aim of any preaching is to show the audience the mind of God as regarding his love and justice[2], which further passes on to the community then back to God in thanksgiving and adoration.


The passage was to preach on was Luke 23:32-43, a very popular passage of the bible with very great event story. I took time to read the text from several other synoptic to help in understanding other writers’ view of the event. I took time to reflect carefully on all the other writers’ writings on the event. Ordinarily when looking at the passage, very strong topic will easily come to mind, which is about the sacrifice and suffering of Jesus but I believe that the Holy Spirit did not want me to take that route of preaching the sermon at this instance rather consider other importance of the event on the cross. Most of the sermons on this passage always focus on the Jesus death on cross, a very significant event that form the core of our faith but there are other lessons I believe God wants us to learn from the cross at Calvary.[3] These shape my reading in preparation for the sermon.

Although the cross is the main centre of our Christianity, the cross is at the heart of the Christian faith. That is why it isthesymbol of the church. Buddhism has the lotus flower a symbol of beauty and harmony. Islam has a crescent an ancient symbol of sovereignty and power. Marxism had the hammer and sickle a symbol of industry and agriculture. Christianity has the cross. The bible is always interested in all other things of life but more important than beauty, power or the economy is the death (and then the resurrection) of Jesus. This is at the heart of everything.[4] However, God always wants to show us much more on his mysteries, he always want us to learn more about his readiness to answer our requests even at the heart of our storms and pain like the cross where three men with different situation were hanged hence the topic for the sermon, “the three men on the cross at Calvary”. I felt that speaking on this topic I would be more able to speak on something I am familiar with and a deep reflection of what I personally has experienced as relating to God’s love and answer to prayer in the face of deep pain and trials,[5] Robinson stated that the ‘preacher cannot be separated from the message’.[6]

Finally, considering my audience in the instance of this sermon (fellow students and lecturers), I sensed that the topic will be relevant having listened to some of the students challenges and struggles during several of our pastoral group discussions. Clifford quoted Kelly saying, ‘our present hope in the face of all challenges of life, suffering and death, is an effect of the resurrection’[7] (the cross, death and resurrection of Jesus. He further said, if resurrection had not happened, hope would be best be a repressive optimism, or an accommodation to routine despair.[8] In a setting like our school, a theological college, sometimes the concept of God can be very technical and distant through many lectures and lot of discussions. However, focusing on my topic on the God of love who answered in desperate situation if we will look up to him in our hours of needs can be of great encouragement to my hearers and remind they that all hope is not lost regardless of the cross they are bearing in live, family or ministry.

Reading couple of commentaries and books related to the cross, I was assure that going the path I was taking regarding the cross was a possibility and it will serve as either warming or encouragement to people. Howard Marshall writes, ‘The story contrasts the two attitudes which lead to condemnation and salvation, although it is improbable that they are meant to mirror the attitudes of Jews and pagans respectively to Jesus.’[9] Crysdale writes, ‘there is a drama as it plays itself out in the life of Christians, who confronted with Jesus crucified, finds all the evil in crete for him in a man on the cross.’[10] The central focuses of the sermon are the three men on the cross representing the Christian who is going through challenges because of the faith, the two criminals on the cross and the cross. Crysdale further explains that the process of acknowledging our own self-destruction, mediated through the crucified Jesus, leads to insights into how we are not only crucifiers but also the crucified. The more we can see the ways in which we sabotage our own flourishing, the more we are able to see how we ourselves are victims, are objects of crucifixion.’[11]

Luke 23:32-43 highlights numerous themes such as Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary (Luke 23:32), the forgiving Saviour (Luke 23:34), the sinner’s advocate (Luke 23:34), the crucified king of the Jews (Luke 23:38), A prayer of remembrance on the cross (Luke 23:43) and many more. Due to the short time given, I felt it was appropriate to focus on one rather than several. However, I am aware that Jesus Christ went to the cross to redeem the world, as Paul puts it, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him”[12] (1 Cor 5:21). I felt that naturally everyone would expect a sermon on such a very crucial topic because that is the core of our faith. In preparation for the sermon, I came up with different titles for the sermon.[13] In the end I resolved to give a title that will help my audience to listen, carefully in order to discover what is the main theme of the sermon themselves.

All through the process of the preparation, I regularly remind myself to make sure I do not give the wrong meaning to the passage.[14] Base on my understanding of the passage through consultation of commentaries, reading of scholarship articles, journals and books on Luke 23:32-43 in general, I felt very confident that choosing my topic for the sermon, and by speaking on it , I should do justice to the passage.


Having decided on what I am communicating across, I then reflected on how to deliver the sermon. I am very much aware that sermons are present in different ways.[15] My aim was that my hearers would take away God as a loving God who can answer prayers if we come to him regardless of the state and time of the challenge. (Luke 23:43). My aim is to filled them with ideas and images that paint a picture of God, that answers in desperate time and desperate situation if one looks up to him and not shift the blame on others.[16] This I do, using dramatic narrative preaching with some inductive method of sermon preaching.[17] I hoped achieve this by starting with the story of betrayer of friendship, ingratitude and the pain associated with it.[18] I tried to make my hearers to look at when they were letdown, the disappointment and pain they went through. This was to get to look at Jesus though God yet a man with all the emotions and disappointment of been letdown by friends and neighbours. The motivation was that the sermon would be pastoral sermon that is communicating the essence of the subject effectively.[19] After brief introduction on Jesus journey to Calvary with the cross and pain, I went back to the main passage (Luke 23:32-43) to lay a foundation on historical context using contemporary description of the event. Brindley states that the pastor preacher ‘moves from hearer to the Scripture’.[20] Getting to the end of my sermon, I related the sermon to our contemporary day with additional illustration and description using Matthew 7:1-4 and Hebrew 12:2. I tried not to allow the sermon to be too pastoral in other to avoid making it individualistic, which could conflict with the passage itself. Luke 23:32-43 is a message for the church today and the text can be applicable to both corporate and individual setting both back to the day of the event and to our contemporary day.


From feedback from both lecturers and fellow students, I felt the preaching went well because the feedbacks were positive. I was confident that I will strive in the delivery but was less confident looking at the importance of the passage and the angle of approach. I know the passage was so important that the hearers would be expecting so much particularly relating to deity of Jesus Christ on the cross instead of his human nature. I know I could stay within my text but going by the time limit, I was not sure I could stay within the allocated time given for the message. As I did not want to be rushed or be in a hurry, I decided to cut down my sermon significantly. Reflecting on how I felt it went, the feedback of both the lecturers and students, I believe that the message was well communicated to the hearers.

Based on the lectures of this module as well as this particular preaching opportunity, I have learned the importance of spending time in preparing myself considering the various preaching methods accessible to me as a preacher. Reflecting on who I am preaching the sermon to, I need to be more ready to give good exegesis to the congregation I speak to in order to make the message more applicable and relevant to them. Just as in this exercise of reflecting on the sermon I gave at Spurgeon’s College, I have learnt that giving time to reflect on every of my sermon preach is very important and essential. Doing this helps to improve my skill of preaching and communication.


It is a wonderful speaking to lecturers and students who themselves are preachers. The experience I had strengthen my confidence especially speaking to a multicultural group of different denominations. The three men on the cross of Calvary is a very wonderful and passionate message that cut across all groups of people both in the church and in world at large. In conclusion, I hope to be able to apply what I learnt both in the module and the preaching exercise constantly to my regularly preaching in my ministry.


Brindley David, Story, Song and Law: The Craft of Preaching in Today’s Church, (Stonehill Green: England,Bible Societies/HarperCollins, 1996)

Clifford Ross, Johnson Philip, The Cross is not Enough: Living as Witnesses to the Resurrection (Grand Rapids, Michigan: BakerBooks, 2012)

Crysdale Cynthia S.W., Embracing Travail: Retrieving the cross Today (Continuum: New York, The Continuum International Publishing Group Inc., 2001)

Marshall I. Howard, The New International Greek Testament Commentary: The Gospel of Luke (Grands Rapid, Michigan: W.B.EErdmans Publisher, 1978)

Robinson Haddon W., Expository Preaching (Leicester: IVP. 1986)

Latham Steve, Preaching Practice, Lecture at Spurgeons College, week 8 28.04.2014

Holloway David, The Two Criminals, A Sermon Preached on Luke 23:39-42, Mar 29, 1998 at Jesmond Parish Church. P. 2

Luke 23: 32 – 43

The three men on the cross at Calvary

32 Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed.

33 When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left.

34 Jesus said,“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”cAnd they divided up his clothes by casting lots.

35 The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.”

36 The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar

37 and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”

38 There was a written notice above him, which read:THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.

39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence?

41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

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

The book of Luke generally known as the Gospel according to Luke is one of the synoptic Gospel that account for Jesus birth, death, resurrection and ascension. Chapter 23:32-43 give account for the death of Jesus. Jesus after been betrayed by Judas Iscariot and concluded for crucifixion was hanged on the cross like a criminal with two thieves. The death of the cross to the Romans was a capital punishment for criminals and is likened to death sentence in today’s system. Jesus as God came to earth in form of man was subject to shameful death. 1 Peter 2: 22 said, “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” Paul further said in Phil 2:5a said He humbled Himself and lived among them, helped, fed and healed them yet he was chosen for condemnation and death instead of the criminal (Barabbas). Finally, on the cross were with Him two thieves, one on the right and the other on the left. Hence, I titled this message, “The three men on the cross at Calvary”.

In this message, it is important to understand the role played by individual on the cross. First, Jesus knew no sin yet He went through shame and humiliation to the point of praying to the Father asking why the Father had abandoned Him. As a Christian, sometimes we feel abandoned by God especially when circumstances around us are like the cross Jesus was upon. We hardly think of the reward God might be having in mind for us in such situation, Jesus after death and resurrection is now seated at the right hand of the Father. We need to understand that every good thing have a price to pay. The Father (God), paid a price for wanting to restore man back to his rightful position and the only price was to sacrifice His only begotten son (Jesus). We all have needs and wants but do not want to pay any price. Life is not all about bed of roses, obstacles are there but the truth is these obstacles are stepping stone to success in life. See any successful man today you will realise that the road towards success is not any road, very narrow and full of discouragements but only the strong get through. Jesus was betrayed, denied, rejected and despised yet in all He brought salvation to mankind. Do you want to make it in life?

You might be going through rejection by families, friends and even those that are in the same situation with you. Looking at the thief on the left hand side of the cross, it shows that people in the same situation as you can sometimes look for ways of mocking, challenging or prejudging you testing your faith instead of facing their situation. If these people will take moment to consider the fact that for every cross, there is glory if they will seek the king of glory who is the saviour regardless of their situation even if they were the cause of the situation like the thief on the right side. God’s love and kindness is always available. The thief on the right side of the cross realised that he deserved to be in the situation he found himself (to die) but saw a way of escape by grasping the opportunity of salvation without procrastination and he was saved. We might sometimes find ourselves in bad and terrible situation not because God is testing our faith but due to our sins, misdeeds or stupidity. If we will come to the redeeming grace like the thief on the right side on the cross, there is assurance of salvation, peace and joy overflowing. 1 John 1:9 says, “Butif we confess our sinsto him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness”

Regardless of your state at the cross, God is doing something even if you do not see it. It is good you look carefully within your condition. Search why God is doing what is doing, or saying in the circumstance you are in now, stop looking for the spike from others eyes neglecting with the log on yours. Then you can be sure of a ray of light at the end of your tunnel for salvation and eternal rewards as the case of the criminal who cried to Jesus for salvation.


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