Tonight I want you to turn with me to the 23rd chapter of the gospel according to Luke, beginning at the 39th verse. How many have your Bibles? Lift them up. Wonderful! Bring your Bible every night. I begin to read from the 39th verse.
"And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us. But the other answering rebuked him, saying, 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. And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise" [verses 39-43].
I want to speak tonight on the subject: the forgetfulness of God. Our passage tonight is taken from this scene as Jesus Christ was dying on the cross. You remember the story of how Jesus had gone about the country making the blind to see and the deaf to hear, the dumb to speak, and the lame to walk [see Matthew 15:30]. He had gone about doing good. And "He taught . . . as one having authority" [see Matthew 7:29].
Jesus never did say "if" or "I think this is the way" or "I hope this is the way." Jesus was always emphatic and, if you please, He was dogmatic. On many things Jesus was the most tolerant man who ever lived. On other things, He was the most intolerant man. He was intolerant toward sin. He was intolerant when it came to the rule and the direction of getting to heaven.
There are many people who say, "Well, if you are sincere, will that not get you to heaven?" I saw a man pick up a football once at the Rose Bowl, run sixty-five yards, and ninety thousand people cheered. But he ran the wrong way and lost the game. He was the most sincere man I think I have ever seen. I had him right in my field glasses. Boy, he had sincerity on his face as he went down that field. But he was wrong.
There are many people who say, "You do the best you can, and will that not get you to heaven?" No, that will not get you to heaven.
You may give up a thousand dollars a week to charity. You may belong to a Baptist, a Methodist, a Presbyterian, and a Catholic, and a Jewish church--all at the same time. But that alone will not get you to heaven. You may be baptized backward and forward, and splashed on and poured on; but that alone will not get you to heaven.
Jesus spells it out. He indicated that no one will come to the Father but by Him [see John 14:6]. It may seem narrow, and Jesus calls it a narrow road. Jesus said it is a narrow road that leads to heaven. Jesus said there are not many roads to heaven. There are only two roads in life. One is a broad road, and that leads to destruction. The other is a narrow road, and that leads to eternal life. Then He said something that frightens me. He said, "Few there be that find it." Few there be that find the road of life, few there be that are going to be in heaven--only a few, only a handful. [See Matthew 7:13,14.] Because, you see, everyone whom you think is going to be in heaven is not going to be there at all.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus Christ said this: "Many will say to me in that day, Lord . . . , have we not prophesied in thy name?" [Matthew 7:22]. "Lord, we have gone to Sunday school. We have prophesied in thy name. Lord, we have even stood in the pulpit and preached. Lord, we have declared thy name, and in thy name we have cast out devils. We have even won souls. We have been evangelists. And in thy name we have done many wonderful works. We built a great university in thy name, Lord. We built a college in thy name. Why, Lord, we endowed a church in thy name. We have founded many social societies in thy name."
Do you know what He says? He says, "And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity" [Matthew 7:23]. In other words, Jesus said there are thousands of people who serve Him with their lips, but their hearts are far from Him [see Matthew 15:8]. They sit in church on Sunday and sing, "Oh, how I love Jesus," but their hearts are on the material things of life. Their hearts are not with Him. How many thousands of people in Charlotte are just that way? They serve Him with their lips, but their hearts are far from Him.
Now we find Jesus is on the cross. They have taken Him outside of Jerusalem. They have stripped Him of all His clothes, because Jesus was crucified naked. They have taken long leather whips with steel pellets on the end, and they have beaten Him across the back. His back is cut to ribbons. They have taken a crown of thorns and put it on His brow, and His face is bleeding. They plucked His beard until His face is bleeding. All over His body is the spittle of the people as they have spat on Him. [See Matthew 27:26-30.] He was the King of kings and the Lord of lords. He was the Master of the universe. He is God, the mighty God, who fills all of space.
When they spit on Jesus the first time, the angels of heaven drew their swords. And Jesus said, "I have seventy-two thousand angels standing yonder ready to come." And one of those angels could have swept the whole earth into oblivion. [See Matthew 26:53.] But Jesus said, "No, I won't let them come. I am going to die. I am going to bear the sins of many. I am going to save men and women out of the human race. Those who will repent of their sins, and those who will come to me, a Savior, those who are willing to come under my shed blood, I will save them by my death on this cross."
Jesus stayed on the cross because He loved you. "God [commended] his love [towards] us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." That is what we read in the Bible in Romans 5:8. While He was dying between two thieves, one of those thieves mocked Him, laughed at Him, and said, "You have saved others, why don't you save yourself? Save us and then yourself, if you are the Son of God." [See Luke 23:39.]
But the other thief rebuked him and said, "Don't say that to Him. We deserve to die, but He has done nothing amiss." Then he suddenly turned to Christ and said, "Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom." [See Luke 23:40-42.] This thief was a murderer, he was a thief, he was a robber. He deserved to die. He turned to Jesus in that last moment, because in that last moment he recognized that here was the Son of God. He recognized that here was the Lord of glory. He recognized here was the King of kings; here was the Savior dying for him. And the very fact that he admitted his sins indicated he was repentant of his sins. He was sorry for his sins. And in that moment he said, "Lord." That Greek word carries with it the idea, "My very own Master." He said, "My Master, I believe. Remember me."
Can Jesus remember a man who, in a few minutes, is going to be in hell? A man that deserves hell, a man that is dying and deserves to be executed--can Jesus remember him? In that moment Jesus Christ stopped dying long enough to turn and say, "Today shalt thou be with me in paradise" [Luke 23:43]. He was the first man saved this side of the cross, saved by the blood that was being shed, saved by the death of the Son on that cross. This thief was saved because Jesus remembered him.
You say, "Billy, can a man go through life, live any kind of life, and then on his deathbed be saved?" No. You say, "I am startled that you would say that." If you have an opportunity to receive Jesus Christ throughout your life, and you refuse, and you reject, then your heart becomes harder and harder and harder. And I believe that nine times out of ten you will not have an opportunity on your deathbed to give your life to Jesus Christ.
This man never had an opportunity, so far as we know. He had never known the way. He had never met the Savior. And on his deathbed, for the first time, he met the Savior.
I tell you, don't you be presumptuous enough to let it wait. There are thousands of you who have gone through evangelistic meeting after evangelistic meeting. You have gone to church for years. You have had an opportunity to give your life to Christ. You have had an opportunity to deny yourself. You have had an opportunity to take up the cross and follow Christ; and you have neglected it, or you have refused it. Now, I tell you, God holds you accountable. And I do not believe there will be an opportunity for people like you to make a deathbed repentance.
I can hardly believe that in one month I will be forty years of age. It seems to me that I am still a boy, walking around the streets of the city. Where have those twenty-four years gone since I left this city? I don't know! I met people with whom I went to school, and they have gray hair. And I wonder where the years have gone. In ten years from now, one out of every four in this audience will be dead. One-fourth of this great audience tonight will be dead in ten years. Where does it go?
Every heartbeat is a funeral dirge, a moment that you will never relive. You have lived today, October 1st, 1958, and you'll never relive this day. You will never have the opportunity to live this day again. It's gone forever! It can never be recalled. And you are rushing madly toward the day you will stand before God. You had better give your life to Christ tonight--now, while there's time. You can only come to Christ when the Spirit of Christ draws you. Oh, you can come to Christ in your church. You can give your life to Christ anywhere, any time, but your heart may not be quite as open. It may not be quite as prepared as it is tonight.
People come up to me all the time and say, "Don't you remember me?" A man grabbed me last night and said, "Don't you remember me?" I said, "Well, I think I do. You have a nose and two ears. You look like other human beings." He said, "Think!" Well, I stood there and thought and thought, and found out I had not seen that man in twenty-two years. I couldn't remember. We forget. I remember faces fairly well, but I can't get the names.
I'll never forget one of the most embarrassing times I had in New York. I was introducing one man to another, and I could not remember his name. I said, "How do you spell your name again?" He said, "S-m-i-t-h." We forget.
We also forget our promises. We forget the pledges we make one to another. We forget our marriage vows. You promised at the marriage vows--you promised at the marriage altar that you would live with your wife according to God's holy ordinance, that you would love, comfort, honor, and keep her in sickness and in health, so long as you both should live. But you have not always been loving. You have not always been faithful. You have not always been loyal. And you have forgotten your marriage vows. We forget.
We forget vows that we make to God. Remember during the war, when you were on the battlefield? You said, "O God, if you will get me out of the trouble I'm in now, I'll serve you." And He got you out, and you forgot your vow. Remember when you were sick in the hospital? You said, "O God, if you will get me well, I'll serve you." And you forgot. Remember when God answered prayer, after you had made a deal with God, and you forgot your vow? The Bible says in Numbers 30:2, "If a man vow a vow unto the Lord, or swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond; he shall not break his word, he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth."
We also forget those we love. Your mother has looked eagerly day after day for a letter from you, or a phone call. Your wife's heart is aching for a little bit of appreciation, but you forget. Your husband is hungering for something of the tender thoughtfulness of the old days, and you forget. We forget even our closest friends, and we forget and take them for granted.
We forget God. We forget to thank God for the rain which the earth so badly needed. How many of you plan to go home tonight and thank God for the rain? Why, practically nobody! You just take it for granted. Suppose God forgets to send the rain.
How many of us thank God for the sunshine? How many of us thank God for the formula of air, or water? Suppose God just changed it a little bit. Suppose He cooled off the sun a few degrees. We would freeze to death. Suppose He heated up the sun a little bit. We would burn up. We never thank Him. We never stop to remember to thank God for our daily blessings.
Then we forget to pray. Here God is waiting for an audience with us. The great God in His throne room who says, "At 8:15 tomorrow morning I would like to see Billy Graham." And I forget to show up.
The president of the United States called for a day of prayer today. It was not played up in the press throughout the nation. Very few paid any attention to it. Very few churches paid any attention to it. The president of the United States felt that the United States needed a day of prayer, and today was a day of prayer. How many of us spent any time in prayer? Yet, we wonder why America is losing prestige all over the world. We are so interested in our materialism. Why, if the president had called for a nationwide barbecue, we would all have been there! If the president had called for a nationwide cocktail party, thousands would have been there. But he called for prayer. And very few of us were in prayer today.
You see how we put value on different things. We put the value on the material things, and God puts them on the spiritual things. God is going to judge us because we forget Him. What does God forget? God never forgets His universe. His stars and His solar system are in perfect precision tonight because He has not forgotten. God remembers you. He knows all your problems, and your difficulties, and your burdens. And He loves you and is interested in you, and He does not forget you.
Others may forget, but God doesn't forget. The Bible says that He has the hairs of your head numbered; He sees the sparrow fall [see Matthew 10:29,30]. He clothed the lily in all of its beauty; He makes the grass to grow [see Matthew 6:28-30]. And He feeds you, He blesses you, and He helps you.
We are living in a prosperous time, because we here in Charlotte are the wealthiest people in the world. There are no more wealthy people than right here in Charlotte. The poorest man in here is a wealthy person when you compare him to the rest of the world. I've been in parts of the world where half the world goes to bed hungry at night. You have some shoes on, have you not? You have a suit of clothes. You had a meal today. Well, that is more than millions had today in India.
We're rich, and yet we are grumbling and griping. We are the most discontented group of gripers in history--griping about this, and griping about that. And nobody is satisfied with what he has. We are griping, instead of thanking God and praising God for His blessings--for the freedoms and the liberties that we enjoy, for the opportunity of worshiping Him according to the dictates of our own conscience, for living in a wonderful country like this, for the clothes that we have and the food that we eat, and all the other things that we have. Instead of thanking Him, we spend our time grumbling.
That was one of the great sins of the children of Israel in the tramp through the desert. God fed them, but they got sick of God's food [see Numbers 11:4-6]. God judged them because of their murmuring and their griping [see Numbers 11:33]. Yet, we forget. But God remembers us, and God never forgets our sins.
He sees all the panoramic scope of history just as if it were a cinemascope screen. It is all enacted before God at once. He doesn't see it as yesterday. He doesn't see it as tomorrow. It is all today with God. He sees it now, and He remembers. Every sin that we've ever committed will find us out.
You see, the Bible says that God hates sin. The Bible says that God is a holy and righteous God, and no sin can stand in His presence. The Bible indicates that God hates it, and His wrath is going to explode on sin [see Psalm 79:6]. Every one of us is going to be judged by Him and banished from His presence. "Be sure," He says, "[that] your sin will find you out" [Numbers 32:23]. Every lie will find you out. Every evil thought will find you out. Every hypocrisy will find you out. Everything that you have ever done that is wrong will find you out. God remembers. He doesn't forget.
"Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap" [Galatians 6:7]. "For God shall bring every work into judgment, [and] every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil" [Ecclesiastes 12:14]. God will judge and punish sin. Yes, judgment is coming and every sin will find you out.
However, the Bible does teach that God can forget. I can't forget, but God can forget. Now, over here somewhere--I don't know where--we have a booth, and we transcribe everything I say. Wherever I go to speak, anywhere, we transcribe it. So if somebody comes to me and says, "You said this," well, we just start the tape recording and listen to it, and see if I said that. Nine times out of ten, they heard wrong. And we get it all corrected that way. Or if I'm misquoted sometime in the press, it's all down here. Anybody can take it and listen to it. Because everything I say we transcribe, and that saves us a lot of difficulty and a lot of trouble.
I remember one time when I was preaching in Germany, the press had misquoted me. And by the time I got to Paris, they were ready to put me to the guillotine. Because it had been interpreted that I had said something against the French people. Well, we just happened to have it recorded, and I let the French reporters listen to it. And they were all satisfied that I hadn't said it the way it sounded in the press.
I heard about a bishop who came over from London to the United States. He landed in New York. And he had been warned that the American press might ask him some trick questions, so he was waiting for them. And one of them said, "Sir, do you expect to attend nightclubs while you are here in New York?" He didn't want to offend anybody; he wanted to be tactful. So he asked them, "Are there any nightclubs in New York?" The next day a tabloid came out and said, "The first question the bishop asked when he got here was, 'Are there any nightclubs in New York?'" Sometimes one can be misunderstood.
I don't know any reporters who would deliberately misquote anybody, but sometimes--and we're all human--it can get a little bit confused. So we record. But we have a device on that recording machine which can erase anything that we have said. In other words, you can erase it and it can never be recalled. Just push a button and it plays over it, and it erases what has already been said.
Now, if I may speak reverently, God in His mind can push a button and erase what He wills to forget. When you come with all of your sins, the Bible says that our sins will find us out. The Bible says that our sins will damn us; the Bible says that our sins will take us to hell [see Romans 6:23]. But when you come by repentance of your sins and receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, the Bible indicates that God wills to forget [see Isaiah 43:25]. God can erase our sins! Why? Because Jesus Christ has borne our sins on the cross [see Hebrews 9:26-28]. The Bible says, "The wages of sin is death" [Romans 6:23].
Now, there are three kinds of death spoken of in the Bible. There is physical death, when my body goes to the grave. There is spiritual death, when I am separated from God. There are thousands of you here tonight who are alive physically, but who are spiritually dead. That means you're dead toward God. You have no contact with God. You're separated from God. You're spiritually dead!
Then, thirdly, there is eternal death. That is called the second death, that is called by Jesus "hell" [see Revelation 20:14]. That means that the spiritual death is continued after physical death, and throughout eternity. We are separated from God, and God is the source of life. And death is the absence of life. When you are separated from God, that is death. "The wages of sin is death." The penalty of sin is death. I am a sinner. I have broken God's laws. I have failed to live up to the Sermon on the Mount. I deserve death. I deserve separation from God.
Now, Jesus volunteered because He loves me. I don't understand why He loves me; I don't understand why He loves you. But He volunteered to take my death. He volunteered to take my judgment. He volunteered to take my sins. He volunteered to take my hell. And Jesus, out of love for us, went to that cross and suffered and bled and died.
Now, God says, "I will appropriate the death of Christ to you. I will give you the righteousness of Christ, and clothe you in His righteousness so that, when you come before me, you will be just as if you had never sinned." That is called in the Bible, "justification." [See Romans 4:22-25.] In other words, God declares me sinless, not because I am sinless, not because I deserve it by some good works that I have done, but because of the death of Christ [see Ephesians 2:8,9].
Don't ask me to explain it all, because there is a mystery about the atonement that none of us understands. I only know that Christ died for me in some mysterious way in my place, and that I can come to that cross and have all my sins removed. The Bible says in Hebrews 10:17 that our sins are remembered no more. God forgets them. And I want to tell you something else. You can know, here and now, that your sins are remembered no more.
I know there are some people who say you cannot know whether you are saved or not, that you cannot know whether you are going to heaven or not. Well, I want to tell you tonight without boasting, I want to tell you only to the glory of Christ, I want to tell you that I do know that my sins are forgiven. I have accepted it by faith. Because He said in Hebrews 1:3 that our sins are purged. He says in Isaiah 43:25 that our sins are blotted out. He says in Psalms 103:12 that our sins are put away. In Isaiah 38:17, they are behind His back. In Micah 7:19, they are cast into the sea. Our sins are gone when we are in Christ.
But God demands something from us. He demands repentance of our sins. Jesus said, "Except [you] repent, [you] shall ... perish" [Luke 13:5]. Repentance means that you come to Christ and acknowledge that you are a sinner. Now, that is not easy to do. It takes humility. We are all proud. We all have a certain amount of ego. And we don't like to come out of our seats and stand here, as it were, and say, "I am a sinner." That's hard, but that's not all. You must be willing to renounce your sins. I said "willing."
There was a man at one time in the Middle Ages who had a servant. The old lord of the manor was dying, and he called his servant to him. And he said, "Jim, they tell me I am dying, and I want to know how to get to heaven. What will I have to do?" The wise old servant said, "Sir, you will have to go to the pigpen, and get down on your knees in the mud, and tell God you are a sinner." "Why, I can't do that! I am the lord of the manor. The people would laugh." "That is what you will have to do, sir." A week later he was getting worse, and in desperation he called him back. And he said, "Jim, what did you say I had to do?" Jim said, "You will have to get on your knees in the pigpen and tell God that you are a sinner." He said, "All right, I'm willing." He was slowly getting out of the bed when the old servant said, "Sir, you don't really have to go to the pigpen. You just have to be willing."
God wants you to be willing, willing to give up your sins. You may not have the strength to give up your sins. You may not know how to give up your sins. You may not have the ability to give up your sins. But you must be willing. If you are willing, that is enough. Because God can take a broken will and use it to give strength to resist the temptations of tomorrow. That's repentance. Have you repented?
Secondly, by faith you must receive Christ Jesus as your Savior and Lord. Now, everybody here, I presume, believes on God. You believe in the Bible. You believe in the church. You believe in Christ. But that is not enough. That word "faith" means that you must receive; but as many as received Him--that can act as your will. "But as many as received him, to them gave he [the] power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name" [John 1:12]. Have you received Him?
I can offer you this book. I offer this book to this lady right here. And I can stand up here all night and say, "Will you receive it? Will you take it?" She says, "I believe in it." But that's not enough. She says, "It's a nice book." But that's not enough. She must come and receive by an act of her will.
That's the reason I ask people to get up out of their seats. It's an act of their will, in which they receive Christ. Have you done that? Has there been a moment when you have received Him as your own personal Lord and Savior? He, tonight--the resurrected Christ--will come to live in you, to give you a resurrection from within, to give you a new power and a new dynamic, and new dimension to live again. It's all yours tonight, plus the knowledge that your sins are gone. Do you know it? If there is a doubt about it tonight, settle it on this night, this October 1st. Make it the "red letter day" on which you give your life to Christ and settle it with Him.