February 28, 2021

Today You Will Be With Me In Paradise

Passage: Luke 23:39-43

As we come to the second word of Jesus from the cross, we meditate on an extraordinary conversation that took place.  It was a deathbed conversation like never before.  Three men were about to die and what lived in their hearts surfaced.  One became very angry about the situation he found himself in and spoke in a derogatory manner to the One Who was innocent; the second acknowledge his own guilt and took responsibility for his actions.  He expressed that he didn't deserve any pardon and requested from Jesus to think of him when He arrived in His heavenly paradise.  The third man demonstrated that He was more than a man – He was and is forever God, Who spoke words of forgiveness, peace and assurance –    “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” 

After Jesus gave the penitent criminal the assurance that what He was about to share was the truth and not an empty promise, He said, 1 “Today...”  By mentioning the word “today”  Jesus expressed to the remorseful man, “When you die today, you will taste my glory.”  Through the ages there have been many interpretations about the “today” in this second word.  Some say that what Jesus meant was, “I’m telling you this today.”  Others say it was impossible for the criminal to be in heaven on that day.  The new heaven and earth as described in Revelation 21: 1 hasn't been established yet.  First this world has to pass before that can happen.  A few Christian groups teach a doctrine known as "soul sleep."  Essentially, the doctrine holds that at death the soul sleeps and isn't conscious until the resurrection.  Indeed, there are a number of times when "sleep" is used as an expression for death.  But three passages from Scripture make it quite clear that the soul is not unconscious until the resurrection.  The first is our text this morning – "Today you will be with me in paradise."  Then we read in 2 Corinthians 5: 8, "We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord."  And then we recall what St. Paul said in Philippians 1: 23“I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far."  Perhaps the best is to look at the meaning of the Greek word for today – “semeron.”  From Luke 23: 43 it literally has the meaning – “This day will not pass.”  In other words, Jesus said to the criminal, “This day will not pass before you are with me in paradise.”   When the criminal died, he immediately joined Jesus in His Kingdom.  That day.  His desire was granted.  When Jesus expressed what we will later consider, “Into Your hands I commit my spirit”, the penitent criminal was there with Him in His glory.  You know, this doctrine is so complex and we don't know exactly how to explain it.  But the point is, when we die in the Lord, we will be in His presence the moment we make the transition.  That was the great comfort for many who confessed on their deathbeds, “I am now going to be with Jesus.”

What a great comfort it must have been to the criminal as he was gasping for air to hear,
2 “You will be with me...”  One of the worst things in life is to be left out or to be unwanted.  I think we can say that the penitent criminal experienced that on his cross.  He received what he deserved for his crimes and there would not have been a group of people to support him there at Golgotha.  He was alone and felt rejection.  No one wants to experience what he went through.  But you know, it's far worse in afterlife what those will experience who rejected Christ.  And that was what awaited that criminal, until He found Jesus.  It wasn't too late for him.  With love and compassion, He heard from the cross in the middle – “You will be with me.”  What can ever be better to hear than what Jesus spoke to that man?  The wonder of it all is that those words are spoken again to all of Jesus' followers – “When you die you will be in my presence.”  My friends, if that wasn't true there was nothing for us to live for; then we didn't have anything to hope for.  Can you say with confidence – “I'm not afraid to die, for Jesus is waiting for me.”  Twelve year old Mark was in a cancer ward of a children’s hospital and his parents knew that they had little time with him.  As tears ran over his mother’s face, he took her hand and said, “Mom, don’t cry.  Soon I will be with Jesus and I will be waiting for all of you.”  A twelve year old boy understood the concept of what it means to be in heaven with our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.  And now...we all have to affirm that we have the same peace of mind – “When I die, Jesus will be with me in heaven.”

That brings us to the last phrase of the second word, 3 “In paradise.”  Have you ever wondered what heaven will be like?  Exactly where it will be, what it will look like, what we will do all day, whether we will recognize those who went before us?  There are so many questions we have about heaven.  Most people want it to be like what Jesus described in John 14 – the Father's house.  The word paradise in our text has been used very rarely in the bible to describe afterlife.  It's actually a Persian word that means “park” or “enclosure” or “garden.”  I think when the word “garden” is mentioned we immediately think of a beautiful hymn we love to sing – “I come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses...”  We can use so many metaphors to describe heaven, but think about it, they all will come down to one word – blessedness.  That was what Jesus promised the criminal after his death.  What he was going to experience was far beyond any human comprehension.  CS Lewis described heaven as a glorious, beautiful and exciting place of unlimited adventure and unlimited security where you can swim up waterfalls and play with wild animals without ever being afraid.  Heaven to Lewis is a place of re-union with the people you loved on earth and it's a place where good things never end and each adventure is better than the one before.  He concludes that heaven is a place where every creature is in the prime of life, in the best possible physical shape, and free from the constraints of time and the bondage of sin.  I think we all can write our essays about what “paradise” in the presence of Jesus will be like.  In Revelation 7 from verse 9 John described the vision he received on the island Patmos about heaven.  He mentioned a multitude before God's throne with white robes and the Lamb in the centre of the throne Who will be their Shepherd.  You know my friends, life is a wonderful gift God gave us – we appreciate our families and friends, we appreciate the places we can visit and the opportunities that come to us.  There are just too many things to mention what we are grateful for.  But then, nothing will ever compare to the life to come.  We have to live in anticipation for that.  Like Mary, a devout Christian who always told people at church suppers as she removed their dirty plates, “Keep your forks, for the best is to come.”  She was referring to dessert that was going to be served.  The best was to come.  She became very ill and before she passed she requested that all people she knew would come to the viewing of her body.  When they went they saw what Mary had the funeral director placed in her hand – a fork.  Her final message to all those who knew her was, “The life in the presence of Jesus in heaven is the one to look forward to and to prepare for.”

On this second Sunday in Lent we are grateful for what Jesus spoke, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”  It was spoken not just to a man with a bad past, but every single person to find salvation.  We bring ourselves to Jesus and we confess, “I accept Your promise and I commit myself again to You.”