Apr 27 2013 - Luke 23:13-43 – Today you will be with me in paradise
Jesus was crucified with two criminals or terrorists, one on his right and the other on his left. One of them mocked Jesus, "Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!" (Luke 23:39). But the other rebuked him saying, "Don’t you fear God, since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong" (23:40-41).
This second criminal had seen something different in Jesus – Jesus who had prayed that those who crucified him might be forgiven. He knew that he was guilty of wrongdoing not just in the eyes of the Romans, but before God. He longed that he also might be forgiven and cried out, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom" (23:42). Somehow, this man could see that Jesus, hanging upon a cross, really was the King of the Jews – the long awaited Messiah. Somehow he knew that though Jesus might be put to death he would nevertheless establish his kingdom. I don't know what answer this nameless criminal might have been expecting or hoping for, but he was surely astonished to be told, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise" (23:43).
And what an extraordinary promise it is from one dying in agony: the promise of paradise; the promise of paradise today. Taking fruit from a tree had closed the gates of paradise against humanity; one hanging on a tree now promises paradise to a repentant sinner. Angels with flaming swords had once blocked the entrance to paradise; here God has opened up a new doorway through the broken body of his Son. If this man can be promised paradise through faith in Jesus, there is no-one against whom the gates are now barred. “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame” (Romans 10:11).
I remember some years ago when I was a pastor in London. I had been knocking on doors in a certain street and talking with residents. One recently retired east ender welcomed me and over some months we had many conversations together. But the one thing he just could not accept was the grace of God. He could not get his head around the fact that bad people could have a place in paradise. For him, the matter was clear; we all get what we deserve. He felt that he wasn't too bad a character and was prepared to take his chances. I could not get him to see his own need, nor the wonder of a Saviour who have given himself to secure our redemption.
Do you rejoice in this, "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners"? The worst of people found acceptance with him – tax collectors and sinners. And the most religious came to see that they had nothing to plead before him but their need. This is what Saul the Pharisee discovered through an encounter with the risen Savour. Like the dying thief, he saw that the crucified Jesus was the promised Christ, the hope of Israel and of the whole world.
Looking to Jesus, do you have the full assurance given to that criminal, that you also will be with him in paradise? "There is life for a look at the crucified one."
Father God, we thank you for the wonder of your saving grace in the Lord Jesus. I confess that I have no more right to paradise than had that dying thief. But I ask that you would remember me, forgive me, cleanse me. I believe that you are the way, the truth and the life. I believe that you are the door that leads again into the Garden of God. Help me to walk with you in the way and to draw others to join you in the walk to paradise.