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TWO FAMOUS CONVERSIONS CONTRASTED

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord's Day Morning, August 17, 2003


"He that believeth on me hath everlasting life" (John 6:47).


We went out to the colleges and other places where young people gather and we invited you here - and we are glad you came! Thank you for coming!

But you have come here this morning from many religious backgrounds. And the things that you learned as a child, whether you went to church or not, affect the way you think about salvation. I went to the Catholic church a number of times as a child. That affected my thinking. My relatives did not go to church, but my father's family had been Methodists and my mother's family had been Baptists. The things they said to me affected the way I thought about salvation. I had an uncle I was close to who was a member of the Masonic Lodge. The things he said about religion also affected my thinking about salvation. Another close relative believed in Science of Mind, similar to Christian Science. Her ideas also had an effect on my thinking about salvation. Another uncle became a Roman Catholic monk. He was an artist, and his paintings influenced me, and drew me to attend services at the Catholic church as a small boy.

All of these people had an influence, in one way or another, on my thoughts about religion and salvation. So, when the people next door took me to a Baptist church when I was thirteen, I came to that Baptist church with many conflicting ideas and thoughts about salvation already in my mind.

Undoubtedly you are the same. You have already formed many ideas about God, and religion, and salvation.

But I found that many of my ideas were wrong. As I studied the Bible and listened to sermons in that Baptist church, I began to understand what God Himself says in the Bible about salvation.  And I changed my way of thinking.  And I gave up the ideas I had learned from my relatives and others.    And then one day I believed on Jesus and He saved me.

Many stories are recorded in the Bible to show us how different people got saved. I believe that these stories were recorded in the Scriptures to show us the different experiences people go through when they get saved and become real Christians.

Dr. Chan read two of those accounts a moment ago, before the sermon. He read about the conversion of Zacchaeus in Luke 19, and he read about the conversion of the thief who was nailed to a cross next to Christ. And I want us to think about how these two men got saved, how these two men became real Christians. We can learn a great deal by comparing and contrasting the conversions of these two men.

I. First, let's think about some of the differences 
in the way their conversions happened.

I think that the most striking difference was regarding conviction of sin. The thief who was crucified next to Christ was deeply convicted. There were three crosses that day. Jesus was nailed to the cross in the center, and two thieves were also crucified, nailed to crosses on either side of Him. One of the thieves became a real Christian. In the story of his conversion we see that he experienced a sharp pang of conscience - a deep conviction of sin. He said to the second thief,

"Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss" (Luke 23:40-41).

He said that it was right that they should be crucified. His conscience felt painfully aware of his sin. He knew that he deserved punishment. He experienced inner conviction.

But there is no record of that in the conversion of Zacchaeus. He may have experienced some conviction, but we are not told that he did. And I think there is a reason for that.

We are simply told that a great crowd of people were following Jesus. Zacchaeus was a very short man, and he couldn't see Jesus because of the crowd. So he climbed up a tree to get a better look at Jesus as He passed by. And Jesus looked up, and saw him,

"…and said unto him, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to day I must abide at thy house. And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully" (Luke 19:5-6).

Now there's not a word in that passage about him being sorrowful. There's not a word about his heart being pricked. It simply says that Zacchaeus "received him joyfully" (Luke 19:6). "Well," you may say, "that isn't the way you're supposed to get saved." Perhaps not, but that's the way Zacchaeus got saved. Jesus said,

"This day is salvation come to this house" (Luke 19:9).

I know that this isn't the usual way people find salvation. I know that most people are disturbed in their consciences before they trust Christ. I know that the conversion of the thief on the cross is far more typical on this matter. Nevertheless, there it is on the page of Scripture.

"And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully" (Luke 19:6).

I believe this story is given to us to show that people have different experiences regarding conviction. Some people experience a sharp stab in their consciences, like the thief. Some may cry "with a loud voice," like the converts in Samaria, in Acts, chapter 8. Others may simply receive "him joyfully," like Zacchaeus. So, there are differences in the depth and strength of conviction.

This is an important point. Some of you may have been looking for deeper conviction before you trust Christ. That is a great mistake. Come to Jesus now! Believe on Him now!

If you tarry till you're better,
You will never come at all.
    ("Come, Ye Sinners" by Joseph Hart, 1712-1768).

And, then, there was a difference regarding prayer. Many people believe that you cannot be saved without praying. But notice that Zacchaeus said no prayer at all. It is not recorded that he prayed any prayer at all. He simply

"came down, and received him joyfully" (Luke 19:6).

He did not pray. He did not ask Christ to save him. He did not ask Christ to forgive his sins. He simply

"came down, and received him joyfully" (Luke 19:6).

Can a person be saved without asking Christ to save him - and even without asking Christ to forgive him? Can that happen? It happened to Zacchaeus. He was saved without praying at all. He did not confess his sins. He did not ask Jesus to forgive him. He did not ask Jesus to save him. He simply

"came down, and received him joyfully" (Luke 19:6).

You may say, "That's not right." Perhaps, but nonetheless that is the way Zacchaeus got saved according to the Bible. He did not pray at all.

The thief on the cross next to Christ did pray when he was converted - but it was a rather unusual prayer.

"…he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom" (Luke 23:42).

He did not confess his sins in this prayer. He did not ask Jesus to forgive his sins. He didn't even ask Jesus to save him. He simply asked Jesus to remember him.

I don't think this man knew enough Bible to understand much about the plan of salvation. All he knew was that he was a sinner and that no one would remember him. He wanted someone to remember him. He must have been very surprised when Jesus answered him by saying,

"To day shalt thou be with me in paradise" (Luke 23:43).

Both Jesus and the thief were in Paradise, in Heaven, before the day ended. Both of them died before the sun went down. Both of their spirits went to Heaven. They were

"absent from the body…to be present with the Lord"
      (II Corinthians 5:8).

"But the thief's prayer was wrong," you may say. "He should have asked Christ to wash his sins away with His Blood. He should at least have asked Christ to save him." You are doctrinally correct. Indeed, he should have prayed better. But I don't think this man knew much about prayer. I don't think he knew the "right words" to say.

Ah, but here is a lesson for us to learn. We are not saved by saying the right words! We are saved by believing in Jesus! Which brings us back to our main text. Jesus said,

"He that believeth on me hath everlasting life" (John 6:47).

This thief believed on Jesus - even though the form of his prayer was rather unorthodox and inadequate.

In every Catholic Mass they pray, "Christ, have mercy. Lord have mercy." That is a better prayer than the one the thief prayed. But the Catholics only say the words! Saying the right words by memory will not save you. "Christ have mercy. Lord, have mercy." They are only memorized words!

When I went to the Baptist church at 13, I learned what is called, "The sinner's prayer." The Baptists taught me to say a form of this prayer similar to the one Billy Graham has people recite in his crusades:

O God, I am a sinner. I am sorry for my sin. I am willing to turn from my sin. I receive Jesus as my Saviour; I confess Him as my Lord. From now on, I want to follow Him in the fellowship of His church. In Jesus' name, Amen. (Decision magazine, August 2003, p. 5).

I prayed a "sinner's prayer" like that many, many times. But I remained lost. The day I got saved I did not pray any prayer at all! I simply believed on Jesus - for the first time in my life. I didn't pray at all! I believed on Jesus, and He saved me. Now, if I ask inquiring sinners to pray at all (which I sometimes do not), but if I have them pray at all, it is a much simpler prayer, "Jesus, I come to you. Wash my sins away with your Blood." That is now the only prayer I ask sinners to pray - if that. And if I do ask them to pray this simplified prayer, I am very careful to tell them that this prayer will not save them. Why? Because we are not saved by prayer. We are saved by believing on Jesus! Jesus said,

"He that believeth on me hath everlasting life" (John 6:47).

These, then, are the two main differences in the conversions of Zacchaeus and the thief. The thief was deeply convicted of sin. Zacchaeus received Him joyfully. The thief prayed a stumbling prayer, but Zacchaeus prayed no prayer at all. Those are the basic differences in these two men's conversions. This shows us that we are not saved by the amount of conviction we have, and we are not saved by the prayers we pray. We are saved by believing on Jesus. Jesus said,

"He that believeth on me hath everlasting life" (John 6:47).

Conviction of sin never saved anyone. Prayers, even good ones, never saved anyone.

"Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved"
      (Acts 16:31).

Salvation comes by believing on Christ - not by being convicted of sin and praying for forgiveness!

So, those are two of the ways the conversion of Zacchaeus and the conversion of the thief were different.

II. But, second, let us think of two ways that their conversions are the same.

Our text says,

"He that believeth on me hath everlasting life" (John 6:47).

Both men did that - and so both men got saved. And here are two ways that their salvation was exactly the same.

They were both instant conversions. Neither of these men went through a long process before they were saved. Some people do go through a long process. Nebuchadnezzar did. Manasseh did, some of the disciples of John did, and Nicodemus struggled for at least several hours. The Apostle Paul went through a struggle of several days. John Bunyan was under conviction for months before his conversion. So were the great evangelists George Whitefield and John Wesley, and C. H. Spurgeon experienced a long and crushing period of conviction before he found salvation in Christ. On the other hand, my wife Ileana had only a few moments of conviction.

But even those who struggle long under conviction always have "instant conversions." That means that the conversion itself comes rushing in, and God accomplishes the finished work of conversion very quickly when it does finally come.

I was sent soul winning with a young seminary student. The young man said later that he was afraid to go soul winning with me because, he said, "I knew I was lost." As he drove along in the car, he said, "I think I am lost." I said, "Pull over to the curb." I asked him a few questions and found that he came from a Roman Catholic background, and thought that Christ was angry at him for his sin - as so many from a Catholic background do. I showed him from the Bible that Jesus was not angry at him, that Jesus loved him, and wanted  to  save  him.   I  opened  the  Bible  to  Jeremiah  31:3,  where  the  preincarnate Christ  said,

"Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love"
      (Jeremiah 31:3).

Those words of our Lord melted his heart. Tears streamed down his face. He had been trying to obey an angry Christ, so often portrayed that way in the Catholic church. He saw that this wasn't the Jesus of the Bible at all - that Jesus loved a sinner like him. With great weeping, this missionary candidate believed on the loving Jesus, the Saviour of mankind. Thank God he trusted the real Jesus - the one who loves sinners. He has been preaching the love of Jesus on the mission field for several years now.

But this missionary candidate was converted instantly when he believed on the loving Saviour!

The Bible gives one story after the other of people being saved instantly when they trusted Jesus. The history of Christianity also gives us many famous conversions that happened instantly.

John Wesley was an ordained minister in the Church of England. By the time he was thirty-five years old, he was still struggling with conviction of sin. He was miserable. Then in his journal he wrote,

In the evening I went very unwillingly to a [Bible study group] in Aldersgate [London], where one was reading Luther's preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine [he could remember the exact time and date]…about a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change, which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust Christ, Christ alone for salvation. And an assurance was given me, that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death (John Wesley, The Works of John Wesley, Third Edition, Baker Book House, 1971 reprint, p. 103).

John Wesley went through a long period of conviction, but when the moment of his salvation arrived he was converted instantly, in a matter of a few minutes.

The actual moment of conversion is always instantaneous in the testimonies of those who are converted, whether they have little conviction or much conviction. Dr. Cagan, our deacon, struggled under conviction for nearly two years. But when he was finally converted, the whole thing took place in a matter of a very few minutes. This is true in nearly all real conversions.

That is a similarity between the conversion of Zacchaeus and the thief. Both of them were converted instantly.

You do not grow slowly into conversion. That doesn't happen. The Bible teaches what we call "crisis conversion." Conversion happens in a crisis situation - in a few moments of time. Both Zacchaeus and the thief were saved instantly - in a few minutes of time. My wife came to a wedding in our church as a teenager. I preached a gospel message. She was converted and went home to her mother rejoicing in Christ! That could happen to you this morning.

And, then, the last thing that was similar in the conversion of Zacchaeus and the thief was that they were both saved by believing in Jesus. Neither one of them "came forward" in a meeting like this. Neither one of them were baptized [though I am sure Zacchaeus was baptized later]. But neither of these men were baptized when they got saved. The thief never was baptized. He died on his cross before he could be baptized. So baptism, or "coming forward" had no part in the salvation of these two men. They were both saved by simple faith in Jesus Christ.

You see, Jesus has done all the work of salvation already. He already died on the Cross to pay the penalty for your sin. He already rose from the dead. He already ascended to sit at the right hand of God up in Heaven. The whole work of your salvation is already prepared. All you have to do is receive Christ by faith.

God calls you to partake of Christ. He says, "Come; for all things are now ready" (Luke 14:17; John 21:12). Christ has prepared everything already. As my old hillbilly grandmother used to say when dinner was ready, "Come and get it!" I can still hear her sweet old country voice calling us to the dinner table. Will you come and take Christ? Will you come to Him and trust Him? Will you come to Him and believe on Him?

If you want Christ to wash your sins away by His Blood, and save you, remember our text,

"He that believeth on me hath everlasting life" (John 6:47).

Dr. Cagan is walking to the back of the auditorium now. If you would like to speak to him about salvation through Christ, I want you to get up and follow him to the back of the room in just a moment, while the rest of us sing a chorus. Then Dr. Cagan will take you up to my office, and answer your questions, and guide you to believe savingly on Christ. Just slip out of your seat and go to the back of the room while the rest of us sing a little chorus, "Why Not Now? Why Not Now?" You slip out of your seat and go to the back of the auditorium while we sing.


(END OF SERMON)

Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan:

Luke 19:1-19; Luke 23:33, 39-43.

Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:

"Now I Belong to Jesus" (by Norman J. Clayton, born 1903).

THE OUTLINE OF

TWO FAMOUS CONVERSIONS CONTRASTED

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.


"He that believeth on me hath everlasting life" (John 6:47).

I.   The differences between the conversions of Zacchaeus and
the thief on the cross, Luke 23:40-41; 19:5-6, 9; 23:42-43;
II Corinthians 5:8; Acts 16:31.

II.  The ways that the conversions of Zacchaeus and the thief
on the cross are the same, Jeremiah 31:3; Luke 14:17; 
John 21:12.

You can read Dr. Hymers' sermons each week on the Internet
at www.rlhymersjr.com. Click on "Sermon Manuscripts."