February 11, 2018
Last Words: Today, You Will Be with Me in Paradise
Luke 23:32-43 is an amazing story of the two men who were also crucified with Jesus. They were both criminals, guilty of an offense that, according to the Romans at least, was deserving of crucifixion. Despite their common guilt, however, they had two radically different responses to Jesus. The first was ignored by Jesus, but the second received the promise of paradise.
The first criminal was angry. (Let’s be honest, who among us wouldn’t be angry, or terrified, were we the ones to be crucified?) He mocked Jesus, saying, “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” In other words, he was saying, “Get me down from here!” He wasn’t necessarily interested in following Jesus; he just wanted to use his divine powers to get him out of an awful situation.
The second criminal rebuked him, saying, “Don’t you fear God? We are punished justly…but this man has done nothing wrong.” And then he turned to Jesus and gave the original sinner’s prayer: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He recognized that, despite everything going on in that moment, Jesus really was a king. And not just any king – he was the Messiah, the Son of God. This man understood that, somehow, someway, Jesus was going to get out of this. This criminal knew that Jesus would, one day, come into his kingdom.
Jesus’s response to the second man is the most comforting thing he could have heard in that painful moment. “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” This leads us to ask, what does Jesus mean when he uses the word paradise? We can safely assume that he used the word ‘paradise’ where we would typically use the word ‘heaven.’ Unfortunately, the Bible doesn’t tell us too much about heaven, though we can know that it is real, it is immediate, it is where Jesus is now, and it will be a temporary dwelling until God makes a new heaven and a new earth.