“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
The second word is addressed to one of the criminals that is being crucified next to Jesus. This criminal saw Jesus through a different lens than the other criminal. One criminal mocked Jesus, while this criminal saw Jesus for who He was - the Son of God. The criminal begins by chastising the derisive criminal: “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong” (Luke 23:40-41). He then turns to Jesus and says, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” It is then that the second word is uttered, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (23:43).
Here we see just how vast is the grace of God. We don't see the thief uttering the "sinner's prayer" or "asking Jesus into his heart". Rather we hear a cry of desperation, a plea for remembrance. And yet, how often, do we try to limit God's grace. We have been forgiven everything, EVERYTHING!!! The grace of God is not something that we earned or even deserve, it's a free gift offered to each and every one of us. It is greater than all our sin.
A Prayer of Reflection
How strange it must have seemed, Jesus, to hear these words coming from You as You hung on the cross. It's hard to imagine a place farther from Paradise than Golgotha, a barren, rocky hillock, a home for suffering and death. What could be farther away from the lush garden of Paradise, an oasis of refreshment and life?
Though the gospels don't record it, I can't help but imagine the sneering laughter that greeted Your promise of Paradise. There You were, horrendously suffering, vulnerably naked, helplessly dying. Yet You promised Paradise? Just who did You think You were, Jesus, to offer such hope to a dying criminal? Who gave you the keys to the Garden? By what authority did you open the gates of heaven?
And what made this crucified criminal so special? Why did You promise Paradise to him? Was it his recognition of Your innocence? Or was it his urgent request, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom"?
Nothing suggests that the man to whom You offered hope had done much to deserve Your favor. He hadn't followed You. He hadn't left everything behind to be Your disciple. He wasn't suffering for the sake of righteousness, but because of his crimes. Even he admitted that he had been justly condemned! Did he know who You really were? Did he even realize what he was asking You? I doubt it. Rather, he was merely a dying man with a desperate plea, "Jesus, remember me!"
Am I really all that different from the crucified criminal? Oh, I expect that I could run theological circles around him. And I have sought to be Your disciple for more than many years. I believe that You're the Lord and Savior. Indeed, You're my only Lord and Savior. But is this why I have the promise of being with You in Paradise? Is it mostly about me, Lord, or mostly about You?
Indeed, for all of my pretense, in the end I'm not much different from the one who cried out to You in desperation. I might not realize my sorry state. I might live as if I'm in control. But, in truth, I have nothing to offer You except my simple, childlike faith, my trust that You can save me, my fervent hope that Your mercy outweighs my sin.
Jesus, remember me! Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom!