Mar. 29, 2012
One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
It’s been said a lot can be learned by the company a person keeps. And it’s true. A lot can be known about Jesus by who he hangs around with. Most often, his company was sinners; people far from God like reprobates, crafty, ill-reputable folks. The religious leaders, well, they most often were grumbling about Jesus.
Should it be any surprise that as Jesus is dying, one of the last conversations he has is with a big-time sinner? Different gospels use various words to describe the two mean crucified with Jesus. Luke’s gospel uses criminals, some use thief. We know these guys did bad stuff. We know they used violence when committing crimes. They are the worse of the worst.
Jesus’ life mission was to seek out and save the lost. As Jesus hangs on a cross, barely able to speak, he reaches out to the worse of the worst. Up to the end, Jesus still seeks and saves the lost. He never stops his life mission.
As you are dying, would you choose to have your last conversation with the worst sinner you can imagine? This is what Jesus does. And if this is almost too much, Jesus offers him everything. He offers paradise.
When Jesus was a live, paradise in Persian terms, meant a walled garden. Kings often had beautiful walled gardens. They were considered the most beautiful places on earth, a little piece of paradise on earth.
In the Old Testament, the most famous garden is the Garden of Eden. Human beings were banished from this garden, from this paradise, because they sinned. When Jesus speaks of “paradise” with the thief, he is removing the ban that keeps human beings from paradise. As a result of his death, people will once again be able to experience paradise. The ban is lifted.
Who is the first person Jesus invites into paradise? A thief. If Jesus is willing to allow this person, who intentionally committed crimes with violence forgiveness, I pray that you see how willing he is to extend you forgiveness.
Jesus is a God of second chances. One thief asks for a second chance. Even though he knew very little of Jesus, he takes a chance. He probably had not been baptized, didn’t understand the doctrine of the Trinity or had any theological training. He simply asks Jesus to let him into his kingdom. It was the only question he knew to ask. With faith barely the size of a mustard seed, he simply says, “Jesus, remember me.” And Jesus does.
Notice Jesus’ reply, “Today.” Did the thief go to heaven that very day? I don’t know. What I do believe is the thief discovered he could experience God today. We envision having to wait until we die to experience God’s kingdom, God’s paradise. As Jesus speaks of paradise here, he’s stretching us to say that we can begin to experience God NOW. We don’t have to wait until we die to experience God. For the thief, he began feeling peace, joy and contentment immediately.
Likewise, we can experience God now. Today, you can begin to experience Jesus’ paradise, just as this thief did. Simply ask.
Let us pray: Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. Amen.