It would have been cruel if not true. The worst thing that could have been spoken if, in fact, it wasn’t the best. Only adding to the suffering, if it had no substance.
And he said, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” And He said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”
(Luke 23:42-43 ESV)
They had just met but would end up spending the rest of their earthly lives together. Not much in common, save for their current circumstance, yet they would enter into an eternal relationship. Through the course of a brief conversation–and that as they both hung on a cross–a mere criminal and the magnificent Christ would soon walk together in a beautiful garden experiencing an indescribable communion.
Today you will be with Me in Paradise.
I’ve read those words before . . . many times. Very familiar with the story of the two thieves who were crucified with Jesus. Aware of many of the lessons implied through this brief encounter of the divine kind: that salvation doesn’t require baptism; that saving works can’t factor into a certain eternity as the thief had no opportunity to do anything but demonstrate saving faith; that while the body may sleep after death, the soul doesn’t–for “today” the thief would be aware of walking with the Savior in a land of bliss; that one thief was saved at the eleventh hour so that none may despair, but that only one was saved so that none might presume; and that what makes Paradise paradise is being up close and personal with Jesus.
But this morning those words, “Today you will be with Me in Paradise” hits me like a ton of bricks. A ton of wonder-invoking, awe-infusing, worship-resulting bricks.
Not just because of the grace shown, but also because of the place to be known. Paradise.
Only mentioned three times in the New Testament. The place where Paul was taken up to, also referred to as the third heaven, where he was tutored one-on-one by the risen Savior who had commissioned him, hearing “inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter” (2Cor. 12:2-4). The Eden-like garden which is home to the tree of life, from which those who hold fast to their first love will be given to eat of fruit found only “in the Paradise of God.” And the place, where the thief awoke after death, with Christ. Absent from the body, but present with the Lord (2Cor. 5:6-8).
A last-minute mustard seed of faith sown, “Remember me when You come into your kingdom”, bears the eternal harvest of being forever in the presence of God.
What amazing grace. What unfathomable, unbounded, undeserved grace.
What assurance of faith. That the finished work of the cross is fully sufficient to secure my place in His kingdom.
What unwavering hope. That though death separates us from the places and people of this world, we will always be with the Lord (1Thess. 4:17).
What steadfast love. That He who bought me with His blood, desires to be with Me as His bride.
Paradise. What will it be like? I can only imagine.
By His grace. For His glory.