Today you will be with me in paradiseLuke 23:43
For the six Sunday’s in Lent, our 10:45am congregation will be looking at the seven statements of Jesus from the cross. This week we look at Jesus’ second saying from the cross, “Today you will be with me in paradise”
Series: Seven Saying of Jesus from the Cross
Bible Reading: Luke 23:32-43
Preacher: Phil Swain
Last week we began our Lent journey and I shared that for the six Sunday’s of Lent we are going to explore the words that Jesus spoke from the cross. In these last moments before Jesus died on Good Friday, Jesus spoke seven sayings from the cross. These sayings cover the breadth of what is important to us and to God. We are going in this traditional service look at one of these sayings each Sunday in Lent culminating with the last statement from the cross on Good Friday.
Last week we looked at the first saying of Jesus from the cross “Father forgive them for they do not know what they do”. Today we explore the second, “Today you will be with me in paradise”. The first saying of Jesus was a prayer of forgiveness. The second saying of Jesus on the cross is a promise.
We aren’t sure of the exact time between these two statements – but I am sure that even a few hours must have seemed like days to those who were enduring the torments of the cross. Christ was suffering physically but He also was suffering mockery from the soldiers and crowd at the foot of the cross.
A sign had been placed over His head which read, THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS. The mob that was there yelled at Him. They told Him to come down from the cross – if He really was the King of the Jews. They laughed at Him. They mocked Him.
From our reading we have the picture that Three men died that day. They were crucified side by side. Two of them were criminals. One of them was innocent. With a criminal on His left – and a criminal on His right – Jesus hangs in the middle.
Where were these criminals from? We do not know. What were their names? We do not know. What crimes had they committed? We do not know. We would not know them at all except for this – they were crucified along with Christ – one on His left – one on His right.
It may appear that these two men were exactly alike. They were both criminals. They both were sentenced to die for their crimes. They would die on the same day and in the same place.
But in reality, no two men could be more different. They differed on one major point – how they viewed the man in the middle. One hurled insults at Jesus – the other asked to be remembered. One man wanted freedom from his pain – the other wanted freedom from his sin. One decided that this Jesus could give no help, provide no answers, and so he threw insults at Jesus. “If you really are the Messiah, then save yourself … and me.” The other decided that Jesus was different and calls out to him for mercy. The second thief saw in Jesus a possibility that even at this moment just before his death, to be made right with God, to be reconciled with God.
I think that this story is included in the Easter Narrative to highlight one of the greatest gifts that God gives us … the gift of choice.
The bible uses many images to talk about the choice we have…
- a narrow gate or a wide gate
- a narrow road or a wide road
- we can build on rock or sand
- be counted with the sheep or the goats
Maybe the two crosses beside Jesus is another image to describe the choice that we have.
In this season of Lent as we reflect on the cross, we too are faced with a similar choice. The choice to receive what Jesus did on the cross, or the choice not to. The choice to be reconciled with God or not.
God will not force us into receiving forgiveness. Jesus didn’t make the first criminal understand who he was and what he could offer. He allowed the criminal to choose. Jesus still allows us to choose.
God through this enormous love for us desires a relationship with us. To overcome the problem of our waywardness, Jesus took the punishment that we deserved and died on the cross. Now God, through what Jesus did, is offering us total forgiveness, reconciliation and restoration of the relationship that God intends for us.
But the bottom line is that we get to choose if that is what we want. The deal has already been done. We are offered this free gift of grace – forgiveness, love, acceptance. All freely given to us, God still lets us choose.
And this is where the words of Jesus from the cross brings us great hope. When the thief heard Jesus saying the words “father forgive them” … he wondered whether these words could be for him. The thief had a glimpse of the forgiveness that Jesus was offering, and with humility he reached out to Jesus and said, “Jesus remember me”
I am not sure what sort of response the thief was expecting, or hoping for, but I am sure that these second words of Jesus from the cross exceeded all hope or expectation: “Today you will be with me in paradise”.
The thief was dying, there was no escape from his punishment of death … and yet there is hope. Jesus is hinting that death is not the end. Even dying on the cross, Jesus is affirming that there is more. That there will be resurrection!
Jesus is saying that death is not the end and that the suffering and trials of this world will come to an end, and there is a place – a paradise – awaiting for us where, as Revelation 21:4 tells us, that every tear will be wiped from our eyes and that there will be “There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain”. A place where we will live with God and God will welcome us as his beloved children. Sounds like Paradise to me. “Today you will be with me in paradise”.
As I said, I think that this passage is all about Choice, and we are faced with the same choice as the two thieves.
The same offer of forgiveness and grace that Jesus made on the cross, he makes to us today … The choice is yours.
God loves you and wants to be a part of your life.
Through the cross God is offering forgiveness.
It does not matter what you have done or still doing
It can be forgiven. Jesus himself pleads on our behalf, “Father Forgive them”
All you need to do is cry out to Jesus, just like the thief did … and accept his love and grace and forgiveness
And then you will hear the words from Jesus
“You will be with me, forever, in paradise”. Amen.