‘I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.’ (Luke 23:43)
This is Christ’ second statement from the cross. It is the spontaneous and gracious response of mercy that readily falls from the lips of a loving Redeemer to a seeking soul. This man was a career criminal, a thief, who had plied his dishonest trade all his life. He now faced the embodiment of truth. He was in the full glare and beam of its light and exposure, and his own honesty compelled him to admit the innocence of the Saviour. Jesus boldly told him that what he was about to hear was the most authentic, life-changing, and honest truth that he had ever heard in his life.
As the criminals heard the prayer of Jesus’ forgiveness for His murderers, something touched their hearts. One retorted angrily. The other responded with humility and penitent desire. Despite the agony of His own pain, Jesus responded to the penitent heart immediately. Life, eternal life, would be imparted here, and now to this needy soul. Jesus had declared, ‘I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full’ (John 10:10). Even in his moment of death this man would receive abundant life.
This is the immediacy of the gospel: whoever calls on the name of the Lord in humility and repentance – at whatever time and whatever place – will be saved. The writer to the Hebrews says, ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts…’(Hebrew 3:7-8). That day two men responded to the Saviour; one hardened his heart the other received the hope and certainty of heaven. That very day the latter would be in the eternal presence of his Saviour. Today means the here and now, not tomorrow but the present, the day of opportunity – for you.
Jesus had responded to this man’s act of faith and the sincere intentions and expressions of his heart. With this word of uncompromising, assurance, Jesus settles the matter with absolutely no room for doubt.
At once, the spirit moves into the eternal presence of Christ. The apostle Paul describes death as a departing to be with Christ, and says that ‘to be away from the body’ is to be ‘at home with the Lord’ (2Cor. 5:8). We may not know all there is to know about heaven, but there is one thing we do know – we will be with Christ. ‘In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you’ (John 14:2). Heaven is what it is because Jesus is there.
Did the criminal, realise the full meaning of his words or know what kingdom it was to which he sought admission? What he did know was that the nail-scarred hands of the Saviour held the keys to the kingdom that would open the gates of heaven to allow a penitent soul to enter paradise. Jesus assured him that day that his name would join the countless people through the ages ‘…whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life’ (Rev.21:27), and that he could rejoice that his name was now on the honour roll of heaven (Luke 10:20). What had begun for him on a cross on earth, would end for him in a home in heaven, and assurance of the reality of eternal glory and a permanent home in heaven.
The prayer was from a dying sinner to a dying Saviour. He not only received pardon from sin, but a place in paradise with God. He had taken him from a sinner to a saint, from hell to heaven, and from a cross to a crown. It was unlikely that the thief thought his prayer would be answered so soon as his request was focused on a future Kingdom, when the Messiah would rise or return again. To his astonishment Jesus met him there and then, at the point of his need. It doesn’t matter what your need is today – you may be caught in the web of sin, you may be experiencing some personal hell, or you may be carrying some cross that is too heavy to bear alone. Come to Christ today, call out to Him, and receive afresh His grace and mercy.
Read: Luke 23:26-43