“Today You will be with Me in Paradise”
We are now in the Lenten season, the forty -day period before Easter, where the Church has traditionally remembered Christ in His sufferings and death on the cross for our sins. During this Lenten time, we will spend some time remembering the seven last statements of Jesus as He hung on the cross.
Christs’ first statement from the cross was a prayer: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) Even as He was dying He was thinking and praying for mercy for His enemies. Jesus was praying for the soldiers who were crucifying Him and He was praying for the crowds around Him who were mocking Him as He hung there dying. And perhaps Jesus, our Savior was also praying for all of humanity, for you and me, because Scripture says: “the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.” (Luke 19:10)
On the cross Jesus was doing what He had done throughout His life on earth. He was caring for the people who society did not valued. As He went about preaching and healing people, He seemed to be drawn to the least, the last and the lost. Scripture tells us that Jesus was humble, meek and lowly!
Jesus was born in a stable with a feeding trough for a baby bed. During His life-time Jesus broke all the social rules and associated with sinners. In Jesus ‘day religious people felt like they were too good to associate with non-religious people. But Jesus also broke the religious rules and ate with sinners. Eating with someone in the Middle East in biblical times meant that you were friends with that person. Jewish people back then were careful not to eat with Gentiles or sinners. So Jesus was severely criticized by the religious community for spending time with these nobodies
As Jesus lived, He also died. Jesus died on the cross between two criminals, one on either side of His cross.The Bible calls these two men who died with Jesus by the Greek words “kakourgoi” which means “those who do evil works” and “lestai” which means the kind of thief who would” use violence to take what he wanted.” Even in His death Jesus was with the marginal people in society. Reaching lost people was all important to Jesus. In his dying on the cross,He saved the human race from sin.
Reaching those who are lost was the driving mission of Jesus, and it is meant to be the driving mission of His followers. Do we follow Jesus and reach out to those who are lost and love them in Jesus’ name? .
The two thieves who were crucified on either side of Jesus were two men who gave two different responses to Jesus. Both thieves died along-side Jesus that terrible day. And both knew that Jesus had healed many people in their country, Israel. And both knew thieves that Jesus claimed to be the Messiah and the Savior.
One of the thieves’ hearts was hardened against Jesus. As this thief was dying next to Jesus, he joined in with the crowd in mocking Him. This man hurled insults at Jesus and asked Him: “Are you not the Messiah? If so, save yourself and us!” (Luke 23:39)
But the other thief dying with Jesus had a different response to Jesus and he opened his heart to Him The second thief answered the first one this way: “Do you not fear God, since you and I are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our bad deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” (Luke 23:40-41) After the second thief said this to the other one, he turned to Jesus and asked Jesus to remember him. Here are his words: “Jesus, remember me when You come into your kingdom.” (Luke 23:42)
Jesus was touched by the second thief’s plea to remember him and Jesus answered him with these words: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43) We can learn several truths from this statement of Jesus made while He was on the cross. It would seem by this statement that when we die, we are immediately raised to life and enter heaven, because Jesus promised the thief that “today” he would be with Jesus in Paradise. Jesus didn’t promise the thief that “someday” he would be with Him, but surprised us by using the word “today.”
We humans have lived in our little world that is totally run by time. That’s all we have ever known. But Jesus Christ, the King of kings and Lord of lords, transcends time. And when we die, perhaps we will step outside of time and into eternity! I don’t know! Eternity is a mystery that is impossible for us humans to comprehend. All we do know is that this thief was with Jesus on the other side of death the very day that he died! We know it because Jesus said it! “TODAY, you will be with Me in Paradise.”
And the second truth Jesus’ words to the thief teach us is that Jesus shows great mercy to the thief who asks Him for help. If Jesus shows mercy to the thief who asks to be remembered, I believe that He will also show mercy to us if we ask! This thief who was reaching out to Jesus had the faith the size of a mustard seed, and that was enough for Jesus to promise him Paradise! So if we long to be with Jesus and put our trust in Him, that will be enough! Scripture says: “For by grace we are saved through faith, and that not of ourselves, it is a gift of God, not of works, lest any human should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)
In this world, there are some who reject Jesus, like the first thief, and these ones harden their hearts and are never able to see Him as their Savior and Lord. And then there are others who are like the second thief, they open their hearts and can see Jesus and believe that He can save them. They call out to Him: “Remember me.” And Jesus always hears and answers us when we call to Him. There were two thieves. And two responses. And there will always be two responses we can choose to make to Jesus. We can either accept Jesus or reject Him. We are either for Him or against Him. (Matthew 12:30, Luke 11:23) The most important decision we can ever make is the decision we make about what we do with Jesus! Which will it be for you?
Many of the teachings in this blog were taken from Adam Hamilton's book, "Final Words from the Cross"