Friday, September 10, 2010

Today you will be with me in Paradise


“Today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43)

We should all be familiar with these words from Jesus’ mouth uttered to one of the thieves next to him on the cross. To dwell upon the scene and read these words Jesus spoke ought to blow our minds when we see God’s love for his people. We should instantly be reminded of grace. If you are a follower of Jesus Christ at some point in your life you had the words, “Today you will be with me in Paradise”, spoken to you.

The thief: Here was a man who had spent the majority of his life terrorizing people. Violent, unkind, unloving, and hard-hearted and now he was paying his earthly punishment by execution on a cross. This type of execution was saved for those who were the most violent of criminals. Now his time had come. He was placed upon a cross probably resisting every step of the way trying to avoid his just punishment; but nonetheless his time had come. The last few hours of his life were going to be spent suspended on a cross to die slow and painfully.

We get a glimpse into his wicked heart when he is hoisted up before the public with another criminal and next to him, Jesus. Most of the time the public was present to say whatever they wanted to these dying criminals but this day the focus of everyone was on Jesus. As the public taunted and reviled Jesus the criminals next to him joined the party. Matthew tells us, “And the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way” (27:44) and Mark says, “Those who were crucified with him also reviled him” (12:32). It is amazing to read about these men who were being punished for crimes they had actually committed were reviling Jesus who was innocent. But somewhere in the hours of death one criminal’s heart is changed.

Luke tells us, “One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, ‘Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us’” (23:39)! Matthew and Mark tells us both criminals are reviling Jesus but now in Luke we read of only one criminal railing at Christ. What happened to the other criminal? “But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man [Jesus] has done nothing wrong’” (23:40-41). What? Just hours or minutes ago this man is cursing and reviling Jesus but now he is rebuking the other criminal, confessing that they are being executed justly. Then he proceeds to confess with is mouth Jesus “has done nothing wrong.”

All his life has been spent violently terrorizing others along with his first moments of execution but now we see a change of heart. We see this man compassionately rebuking his friend and humbly confessing the innocence of Jesus. Surely this is not real. Could Jesus possibly show this man compassion? “And he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom’” (23:42). Remarkable, now this man is confessing Jesus as a king humbly asking Jesus to remember him when he goes into his kingdom.

We know that Christ’s kingdom is a perfect place where sin will be no more and the saints will dwell forever worshipping Jesus upon his throne. This is no place for a criminal, right? Sinners like this cannot possibly dwell in God’s kingdom, right? Jesus lovingly answers, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” That's not fair! I’ve thought it and you’ve thought it. How could this man be reconciled to God when he never did anything moral or upright his entire life? The answer is simple: Grace. This criminal got exactly what he did not deserve. If you are a Christian than you too have received God’s grace which is not fair at all. You do not deserve it and you certainly have never done anything to earn it because it is a gift from God. We are all criminals in our heart but God has lavished his grace upon some not because we deserved it but because of his love and for his great glory. The cross triumphs over sin. Forgiveness for the worst of sinners is found in the blood of Jesus Christ. Christian, be reminded of grace when you hear the words, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Grace upon grace,
JRL

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