Today, You Will Be With Me In Paradise

This evening, we’re going to take a look at an interesting event that occurred in the midst of the painful and sorrowful account of Christ’s death.

Luke 23:32-43
 32 Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. 33 When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. 34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.
35 The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.”
36 The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar 37 and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”
38 There was a written notice above him, which read: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.
39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”
40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Wow!  Let’s pray together and see what God reveals to us through this account.

*Pray – for God to give us eyes to see and ears to hear His word and that He would speak to our hearts *

One of the first things that always amazes me about this event is the incredible amount of doubt that seems to be present during Christ’s crucifixion.  Rulers, soldiers, another criminal being crucified, and the crowds all seemed to unite crying out ‘IF’ you are God’s messiah, ‘IF’ you are the king of the jews, ‘IF’ you are the chosen one, then save yourself; they doubted!
They saw only what their natural eyes revealed to them and would not look any further despite all of the evidence and testimonies of the miracles of Christ and the fact that neither Herod or Pilate could find fault in Him and that even the Sanhedrin had to find false evidence against Him (Matthew 26:59-60).  The only thing that they could find against Him is that he agreed with their claim that He was the Messiah and the son of God.  They doubted that He was the savior because they nailed Him to a cross and He did not refuse it or fight it.  Little did they realize that by doing so, they were fulfilling the will of God and that they were watching with their own eyes the God of all of the universe paying the penalty for their own sins.
In the midst of such incredible doubt we see, however, that Jesus and the one criminal saw beyond their circumstances.  They saw with eyes of faith and knew that the crosses which they were bearing were not the end.  This faith, however, shines brightly like a star in the midst of such darkness.
Hebrews 11:1
Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
Sure, the criminal and Christ alike saw the same physical circumstances that they were in that the crowds were seeing and knew that their deaths were certain.  What faith enabled them to do, however, is to see beyond their circumstances to the hope that they were sure of and to be certain of what they could not yet see.
The one criminal in faith saw Jesus for who he truly was – not only the King of the Jews as the sign on his cross mocked, but the King of Kings and Lord of Lords – the chosen Messiah.  That criminal knew that the Kingdom of God was near as he asked Jesus in faith to remember him when it came.  Just as for us, that criminal and Jesus alike knew that ‘today’ was the day of salvation and that they both would soon enter an eternal paradise.
That same criminal spoke, I believe not just to the jeering criminal on the other side of Christ, but also to us today when he stated ‘since you are under the same sentence’.  The truth is that we are all under the same sentence – we’ve all sinned and fallen short of His glory.
Romans 3:22-25
22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith.
We know with certainty that Christ is the only one through whom which we can find atonement for our sins.  The question for us, however, becomes ‘What is our motive for calling out to Christ?’  Is it us calling out in surrender and abandonment of ourselves to Him and His will, or is it so that we can have our will met by Christ delivering us from our circumstances?  The two criminals on either side of Jesus reveal these two desires.  One realized that his circumstances were the natural consequence for bad decisions that he had previously made and asked only that Christ would remember him in the midst of them.  The other, however, jeered at Jesus and said that IF He was the Messiah, to save Himself and the criminal.  He wanted a savior only for the sake of getting himself out of the mess that he had gotten himself into.
I have to admit that we have probably all been guilty of this at one time or another.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s not necessarily wrong to cry out for God’s help in the midst of our circumstances!  After all, who else do we have to turn to who is able?  The question is what our heart and motive is – are we crying out to Him in order to prevent ourselves from looking bad or is it to glorify Him for His ability to deliver us from those circumstances?  We need to seek Him in all things and ask Him if there is something that He desires to accomplish by allowing the circumstances in our lives?  He’ll frequently use difficult circumstances to draw us closer to Him, to grow fruit in our lives, and to shape our character.  Sometimes God’s plan for us to get out of these difficult circumstances is to go through them – trusting that He knows and desires what is best for our lives even if we don’t see or understand it immediately.
On Christ’s way to his crucifixion, He made an interesting comment.
Luke 23:27-31
27 A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. 28 Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the childless women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ 30 Then
   “‘they will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!”
   and to the hills, “Cover us!”’
   31 For if people do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”
If they are doing this to Jesus who was perfect when things were going well, what will the do when things are going rough in future generations?  When I think of a green tree, I think of refreshing and fruitful times of prosperity.  When I think of a dry tree, I think of drought, lack, and need.  So what I believe Jesus was saying is “If people act like this now when life is good, what will happen when bad times come?”
Too often, in the midst of bad times, we choose to try and find someone to blame and attach all of the bad stuff that is happening to them – just as they did to Christ.  In our pride, we try to justify our own actions and prove to everyone that we’re right and have little or no responsibility for our circumstances.
The mindset of Christ, however, is that of humility.  He, being all righteous – right in every way and in everything that He does – chose to humble Himself and pay the price for our wrongdoing as to restore our relationship to Him.  He knew that being right Himself and proving that we were wrong did nothing more than to keep us out of a relationship with Him.  It does the same thing to our spiritual relationship with God as it does to our physical relationships here – it keeps them separated.
Philippians 2:5-11
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

6 Who, being in very nature God,
   did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
   by taking the very nature of a servant,
   being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
   he humbled himself
   by becoming obedient to death—
      even death on a cross!

9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
   and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
   in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
   to the glory of God the Father.
On the cross, Christ knew what awaited Him – he told the criminal that today, he would be with Christ in paradise.  Our circumstances are temporary and will pass; eternity, however, is forever!  We should keep such an attitude and mindset as we live our lives.  Making the most of every opportunity and keeping our eyes fixed on Christ as to never grow weary as we run the race that He’s called us to.
Revelation 21:2-6

2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”

Christ is the only way to salvation; the only way to paradise.  The only way to restore our relationship with God and to boldly come before His throne and dwell in His presence forever.
I can only begin to imagine what paradise will be like, but I can’t wait to get there and to take as many as I can with me!  I pray that God would give us a desire and a hunger to share the good news that we have in our world of doubt that Jesus indeed is whom He claimed to be:
  • God’s only perfect Son
  • Messiah
  • The Chosen One
  • King of Kings
  • Lord of Lords
  • Our ONLY way to eternal paradise