Friday, March 29, 2024

You will be with me in paradise

Luke 23:32, 39–43 (NIV)

32 Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. 39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

What an interesting exchange we have here. Three men on a cross. All of them probably gasping for breath but still able to speak. One insults Jesus. One sees his innocence. One taunts him. One begs for mercy.

That’s what the cross does – it either turns you into a cynical skeptic or a penitent believer. It’s just like Paul says:  1 Corinthians 1:18 (NIV) — 18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

So today, Good Friday, we are come to the cross. What is our reaction? What is your reaction? Is the cross foolishness or power? Do you mock Jesus or do you come in penitence? What is your reaction? Because our reaction to the cross makes all the difference in the world. We can get what we deserve or we can beg for mercy and find forgiveness.

I find it quite amazing that Jesus says anything at this point. When I am in pain I just want to be left alone. I don’t want to talk to people. I especially don’t want to mediate a dispute between people. I probably would have just remained silent or told them both to just be quiet. If I said anything it might have been something like, “Can’t you see I’m dying here. Leave me alone.”

But isn’t this just like Jesus. He never ignores the genuine cry of mercy. When the leper called out to be healed, Jesus responded. When the apostles cried out in the storm, Jesus calmed the sea. When the hemorrhaging woman touched the hem of his garment, Jesus stopped. Jesus never ignores a cry of mercy.

What is your cry? He hears. He cares. He responds.

And isn’t his response so beautiful – Today you will be with me in paradise.

Paradise. Even on the cross paradise is on Jesus’s mind. I think it was always on Jesus’s mind. And that thought, the thought of Paradise powered him through difficult times. "For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame." (Hebrews 12:2) Jesus was obsessed with Paradise even in the pain. Am I? Are you? Is paradise always on our mind?

You see, Jesus doesn’t miraculously free the criminal from the cross but he urges him to look forward. All your pain, all your guilt, all your worry, all your fear, all your unmet needs will soon be a distant memory because you will be with me in paradise.

What is your cry? He hears. He cares. He responds. Hear him say to you today, from the cross and because of the cross – you will be with me in paradise.

The pain may not go away but the promise of paradise – it is more than we deserve and it is more than we can imagine.

Jesus says the same to you as he said to the penitent thief – you will be with me in paradise!

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