The Second Word
"I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise."
The Seven Last Words of Christ for Holy Week
As Jesus hung on the cross, he was mocked by the religious leaders and the Roman soldiers. One of the criminals being crucified with him added his own measure of scorn. But the other crucified criminal sensed that Jesus was being treated unjustly. After speaking up for Jesus, he cried out, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom" (v. 42).
Jesus responded to this criminal, "I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise" (v. 43). The word "paradise," from the Greek word paradeisos, which meant "garden," was used in the Greek Old Testament for the Garden of Eden. In Judaism during the time of Jesus, it was associated with heaven, as well as with the future when God would restore all things to the perfection of the first Garden. Paradise was sometimes thought to be the place where righteous people went after death. This seems to be the sense of paradise in Luke 23:43.
Here we encounter one of the most astounding and encouraging verses in all of Scripture. Jesus promised that the criminal would be with him in paradise. Yet the text of Luke gives us no reason to believe this man had been a follower of Jesus, or even a believer in him in any well-developed sense. He might have felt sorry for his sins, but he did not obviously repent. Rather, the criminal's cry to be remembered seems more like a desperate, last-gasp effort. He believed in Jesus just enough to shout: “Jesus, remember me!” And that's exactly what Jesus promised to do.
Though we should make every effort to have right theology, and though we should live our lives each day as disciples of Jesus, in the end, our relationship with him comes down to simple trust. "Jesus, remember me," we cry, not unlike the desperate criminal on the cross next to Jesus. And Jesus, both communicating and embodying the mercy of God, says to us, "You will be with me in paradise." We are welcome there not because we have figured out all of the answers, and not because we are living perfectly, but because God is merciful and we have put our trust in Jesus, the Savior, the one who will remember us. Thanks be to God!
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: Have you staked your life on Jesus? Have you put your ultimate trust in him? Do you know that, when your time comes, you will be with him in paradise?
PRAYER: Dear Lord Jesus, how I wonder at your grace and mercy! When we cry out to you, you hear us. When we ask you to remember us when you come into your kingdom, you offer the promise of paradise. Your mercy, dear Lord, exceeds anything we might imagine. It embraces us, encourages us, heals us, saves us.
O Lord, though my situation is different from the criminal who cried out to you, I am in many ways quite like him. Today I live, trusting you and you alone. My life, both now and in the world to come, is in your hands. And so I pray:
Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom! Jesus, remember me today as I seek to live within your kingdom! Amen.
On Sunday morning, we wave our palms and sing Hosanna in the Highest. It is not hard to get caught up in the celebration and wonder if the stones are indeed crying out. Yet in the midst of this great joy there is a chilling stillness.
Thus begins the journey to the cross. A week of little deaths, that’s what Holy Week is for us. Celebration and mourning take turns to stir deep places.
During Holy Week at The High Calling, we invite you to focus solely on the story of our faith. May your eyes be opened to the truth: we cannot follow Christ and remain unchanged.
Image above courtesy of Laity Lodge, one of our sister programs in The H. E. Butt Family Foundation.