Jump Start # 2652
Luke 23:43 “And He said, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”
Our verse today is one of the final sentences of Jesus while He was dying upon the cross. He was in a conversation with someone who also was dying. Jesus was dying for something He didn’t do. The one He was talking to was dying for something that he had done. One deserved to die, and One didn’t deserve to die.
The thief, who Jesus was talking to, had a change of heart. He saw Jesus differently. He stopped ridiculing and mocking Jesus, as he had done before. He asked Jesus to remember him. A dying man asking another dying man to remember implies that death doesn’t end things. Death doesn’t erase our memory. Death isn’t the end of the story. This thief believed that Jesus’ kingdom was real. He wanted Jesus to remember him when He came in His kingdom. I tend to doubt that this thief had followed Jesus. His choices, and the company that he ran with would not put him around moral goodness, kindness, generosity, and obedience to God. Nope. This thief spent his time violating and breaking the laws of God. The long arm of the law finally caught up with him and he was being executed as a rebel and criminal to the Roman empire. Stuff about the golden rule, turning your cheek, going the second mile, would not have caught the attention of this thief. But now, in his final hours, he sees something in Jesus. It wasn’t halos, angels, but the manner in which Jesus, even in death, conducted Himself. Forgiving His crucifiers, praying to God, no shouting back to the crowd. No cussing. No threats being uttered. An earthquake. Darkness at noon. It was enough for his thief to understand that Jesus was the Messiah. He had a kingdom. Death wasn’t going to stop Him. He wanted Jesus to remember him. He wanted to be with Jesus. He wanted to be on the right side.
Our verse is what Jesus said to this believing thief. Look at the powerful words spoken by our dying Lord:
Today: not someday…not maybe
You: nothing more personal than that
Will be with Me: Where Jesus is, he will be.
In Paradise: Abraham’s bosom. Comfort. The place for the saved and the righteous.
It wasn’t too late. He didn’t miss it. He wasn’t too far gone. He hadn’t missed the boat. He would be with Jesus. He may not have understood what Paradise meant. He may have never thought about life after death. But Jesus was going to be there and he was going to be with Jesus. That’s all that is necessary to know.
And, here, in these simple statements we find a profound thought for us:
Jesus knew where He was going. He knew that He was dying. He knew that He was going to Paradise. Jesus was certain about this. This wasn’t a wish. This wasn’t something on the Lord’s bucket list. This wasn’t a lifelong dream. Jesus knew this. Jesus knew what was next. Jesus knew where He was headed.
And, I just wonder if one of the greatest problems even among the Lord’s disciples today, is the fact that we simply do not know where we are going. Some don’t know where they are going now. You see that by the choices that they are making. Certainly, they will tell you that they want to go to Heaven, but their choices, their attitudes and their words sure make you question that. And, this could be one of the reasons why, even among believers, there is such a fear of death. We sing about Heaven. We preach about Heaven. We talk about Heaven. But when one among us passes, we carry one as if it is one of the worst things in the world. We ought to be rejoicing with tears. Certainly death hurts, but how blessed and how fortunate they are to be with the Lord. Out of this crazy world. No more troubles. No masks to wear. No bad news. Nothing to discourage, defeat or depress ever again. With the Lord, what a wonderful, wonderful place that would be.
The Lord knew where He was going. Could it be that we don’t? And, here’s why:
First, we recognize that we haven’t been good enough. And, we haven’t. We never will be. If we were perfect, we wouldn’t need Jesus. We’ve thought things that we shouldn’t have. We’ve had the wrong attitudes. We’ve said the wrong things. We’ve allowed our minds to wander in worship. There were times when we ought to have prayed, but we didn’t. There have been times when our choice has been to watch TV over opening our Bibles. Temptation has knocked on our door and we invited it in. We realize that we haven’t been what we should be. How can I expect to go to Heaven like this? You know the answer. It’s by God’s grace and our faith. The only hope that imperfect people have is in the perfect Jesus. Paul recognized that there was a crown awaiting him. Not because he preached. Not because he was an apostle. It was because of God’s wonderful grace. The same that will save you. Jesus knew where He was going. We ought to know as well.
Second, we fail to believe that God forgives us and worse, we refuse to forgive ourselves. This is a faith issue. One must believe in the promises of God. Forgiveness is not a feeling but a relationship. We have hurt others. We have disappointed others. We have let others down. But God forgives. We must believe that. And, we must forgive ourselves. “I don’t deserve to go to Heaven,” is a true statement. But, why do you continue to punish yourself for something that God has released and forgiven? Why won’t you trust God? Yes, you have a past, but it has been forgiven. Yes, you have issues and baggage, but God is working you through those things. Yes, you could do more. God wants you in Heaven. Jesus knew where He was going. Do you?
Third, we feel like there ought to be some punishment for the wrongs we have done. Our Catholic friends believe in a system like that. It’s called purgatory. That is not the paradise that Jesus was offering to the thief. The doctrine of purgatory means one has to go through some Hell before they can have Heaven. Even though one is forgiven, they must still suffer for a while because they have sinned. Everyone, except martyrs, suffer for a while in purgatory. No one knows how long one must suffer. It may be centuries. This thinking waters down the concept of forgiveness. It believes, even though you are forgiven, you must still suffer some consequences. Jesus never taught that. The woman caught in adultery was forgiven. Jesus didn’t throw a little rock at her, just to teach her a lesson. To be forgiven, is to be released from what one owes. Nothing more is required.
Without admitting that we bought into the purgatory concept, some act that way. Forgiven, but I don’t know if I’ll be in Heaven. Forgiven, but I won’t be with Jesus. Why?
Today, this day, you will be with Me. Those were the words of Jesus. Forgiving to the very end. Do you know where you are going? Do you know where you are headed? Jesus did. Maybe it’s time we put more confidence in what the Scriptures teach and less in our feelings about ourselves.
With Me—what wonderful, wonderful words.