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One of the criminals hanging beside him scoffed, “So you’re the Messiah, are you? Prove it by saving yourself—and us, too, while you’re at it!” But the other criminal protested, “Don’t you fear God even when you have been sentenced to die? We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.” - Luke 23:39-43 (NLT)
The scene is astounding. Jesus is moments away from taking his final breath on the cross when a verbal exchange happens between Him and two other men on either side of Him also sentenced to die that day. One mocked Jesus. The other repented. The repentant criminal admitted his wrongdoings and asked Jesus to remember him. And Jesus responded. Can you imagine the weight lifted off the soul of this man while the weight of his body was causing him to suffocate as he hung on the cross? He was forgiven. Somehow he knew enough about Jesus that he wanted to go where He was going.
Sadly, many Christians live their lives questioning whether or not they’re truly forgiven or if they’ll go to Heaven when they die. As a pastor, I have frequent conversations with people who have been obedient through repentance and baptism but think they should be baptized again... just in case. Others say, “I have some work to do to get myself ready for baptism.” Consider this: How much time did the criminal have to get himself ready to be forgiven? Satan knows that, by sowing small seeds of doubt, he can create a harvest of fear in us.
This week we’re going to spend some time with the beautiful promise Jesus made to the criminal on the cross beside him. Eleven words. All we need to know about our Father’s love and the certainty of forgiveness and the invitation to live with him forever are found there.
2 Timothy 2:11 says, “This is a trustworthy saying: If we die with Him, we will also live with Him."
Take some time today to focus on the first three words Jesus said to the criminal, “I assure you”. With these words, Jesus is highlighting every other promise of redemption we find in scripture. Do you believe Him? Do you believe in that assurance? Do you struggle with doubt about that promise? Have you told Him?Share Tweet
Anyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. - Romans 10:14 (NLT)
In the final moments of His life, consumed with agonizing pain, Jesus was still caring, forgiving, and pointing the way to where He was going. His eleven-word response to a repentant criminal, hanging on a cross next to His, should provide certainty as to the extent of our forgiveness as well.
In yesterday’s devotion there was an invitation to consider Jesus’ choice to begin His response to the criminal with the phrase, “I assure you”. The criminal had confessed his sin and followed with the acknowledgment that Jesus was Lord. Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Let’s move along through Jesus’ response and focus now on “today”.
There has been some theological debate about what happens to forgiven people seconds after they take their last breath. Some traditions would assert that we’re in a holding pattern until Jesus returns, but there’s nothing in scripture to support this. I’m going to take Jesus at His word. When He told the criminal today He was confirming the promise that when we surrender to the love and forgiveness of Jesus, our salvation is immediate upon receiving Him and our reward is immediate at the moment we finish this life. The forgiveness of the Father is complete. That’s great news! We have nothing to strive for or prove!
My role at Southland gives me the opportunity to walk alongside people who are thinking about baptism. I always remind people: Baptism isn’t the finish line, it’s the starting line. Yes, the work of forgiveness is finished because of what Jesus did for us on the cross, but a growing relationship and adventure with the Father is still ahead! Our response should be to please Him, not to seek His approval (we already have that!), but out of a longing to know Him more.
Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life. - John 6:47 (NASB)
We’re spending time this week stepping through the response Jesus gave to the contrite criminal who was dying alongside him on a cross. Jesus responded in kind to this man who humbly acknowledged how he had made mistakes in his life and simply asked Jesus to remember him. “I assure you,” Jesus said, “today you will be with me in paradise.”
Making our way through this promise, let’s look today at the next three words: “you will be”. Did you notice that Jesus chose to say again what He had already made clear from the beginning? He began with “I assure you” only to double-down with a reiteration of His promise by saying, “you will be with me in paradise”. Not, “There’s a chance it could happen,” or, “Maybe if you’re good enough.” He knew we would need the reminder that forgiveness and reward are the Father’s to give, not ours to earn. He wanted to leave no room for doubt that this was true.
We don’t know much about the other two men crucified with Jesus that day. While some biblical translations have often referred to them as thieves, scholars have suggested that common criminals wouldn’t have necessarily been sentenced to death. These men were more likely a threat to Imperial Rome, as was Jesus. They may have been rebels attempting to start an uprising. We have no indication as to whether either of them had even heard of Jesus before that day. One thing is clear from the text, the criminal who engaged Jesus humbly knew enough to be fearful about facing God outside of grace and forgiveness. “Don’t you fear God even when you have been sentenced to die?” he said to the other criminal who had hurled insults at Jesus. “We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong.”
On the cross, Jesus was trying to emphatically say, as He was simultaneously showing us, that forgiveness is ours for the asking.
Although Jesus made two declarations of promise in such a short sentence, is there still doubt in your mind about your worth to the Father? What else can Jesus say or do to demonstrate that the work He did on the cross was enough? It’s okay to ask for the Father’s help as you learn to trust and believe. Let me know if I can help!Share Tweet
“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. And you know the way to where I am going.” - John 14:1-4 (NLT)
A beautiful summation of the assurance we have in our salvation comes in the response Jesus offered a criminal being executed next to Him. We’ve been looking this week at Jesus’ promise: “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
Today, I want you to think about the words “with me”. Here, Jesus is inviting the criminal, and us, not just into forgiveness, but into life with Him! Life with Jesus in the here and now is the only way to make sense of this life. But that’s not all. He also promised that life in Him now means life with Him forever. It’s about being in community with Him. We should remember that Jesus didn’t come to just make us all into a bunch of Christians. He came with a very simple invitation: “Follow me.” Following Jesus informs the steps we take as we live and breathe and also promises that we will one day arrive at a destination far better than we could ever hope for or imagine. Why? Because that’s where He’ll be!
I often reference Paul’s words from Romans chapter 8 at funerals. Paul magnificently articulates the unbreakable bond between God and His people. It’s refreshing today to share this truth again, not just with those who are grieving, but as a reminder to all who are living:
“And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)
What a promise!
As you sit quietly for just a moment, I want you to hear Jesus saying to His Father, “He’s with me.” “She’s with me.” Reflect on Paul’s words in Romans 8 and be very aware that nothing can separate you from your relationship with the Father. Consider taking a risk and sharing that truth with someone in your life who could also use that good news today.Share Tweet
He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever. - Revelation 21:4 (NLT)
We’ve been looking this week at some of the final words Jesus gave before He died on the cross. Interacting with another man being executed at the same time, Jesus extended a promise and a pathway. One eleven-word sentence offered to a repentant criminal still stands as an invitation to all of humanity: “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
Yesterday, we focused on the words “with me”. Accepting Jesus means to be in a relationship with Him. We now move to the words, “in paradise.” Saying this, Jesus lets us know where He’s going. Paradise is often used in scripture interchangeably with Heaven. And let’s face it, as I once heard pastor Rick Warren say, most of us would really like for this world to be Heaven. We want heaven now. We would love a world with no sickness or tragedy, disappointment or death. But this world is not heaven. Jon Weece talks about the tension we’re in between what is now (on this Earth) and what is yet to come (a new Heaven and new Earth).
I’ve always considered whatever beauty or goodness we experience in this life to be a tiny glimpse of what’s to come. The Bible tells us in the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes that God “has planted eternity in the human heart.” That means we’re made to long for Heaven. We long for something more than what this world can offer us. Rest assured, Heaven will be far more than anything we could dream. I like the way Father Rohr puts it, “Everything will be all right in the end. If it’s not all right, it is not yet the end.”
Jon’s message last Sunday as part of the Gestures teaching series was about how we can know where we’re going when we die. We don’t have to cross our fingers because of any doubt about God’s promises. My hope is that you’ll be able to uncross your fingers. The life we’re invited into isn’t about luck or chance. It’s simply about acknowledging and receiving: acknowledging our need for forgiveness and receiving the extravagant gift of a relationship with the Father forever.
Spend some time paying attention to what comes to mind after reading today’s devo. Are you embracing your salvation with certainty? Do you live each day with the confidence that all will one day be made right? As a Christ-follower, the Holy Spirit gives you the power to renounce Satan’s attempt to discourage you. Tell Satan, not today! And let me know if there’s any way I can encourage you.Share Tweet