Today You Will Be with Me in Paradise
Topic: Biblical Verse: Luke 23:42–43
Midweek Lenten Meditation
March 16, 2022
“’Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ Jesus replied, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.’”
Epitaphs – carved into stone, wood or metal – they offer a lasting message long after loved ones die and memories fade. Through poetry, Scripture, and prose, epitaphs seek to sum up in one last message the life and purpose of those for whom they stand. But Jesus had no epitaph. Instead, during the final hours of his life, Jesus mapped out his way of suffering with seven last words, remembered and recited throughout the ages; touchstones along his way of sorrow. The meditations for these midweek Lenten services will focus on Jesus’ seven last words as found in the Gospels. They provide glimpses into his suffering and loving final thoughts. And so we listen to them as Jesus speaks to us even now. Today we focus on the second of Jesus’ final words: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).
Two criminals were there with Jesus; crucified on either side of him. One railed at Jesus in his desperation and pain, but the other said: “Jesus, remember me.” It was a prayer. There was a time in the paradise of Eden when our first parents hoped that God would, in fact, not remember, but forget, as they hid themselves from the presence of the Lord after eating the forbidden fruit. Their sin and rebellion had broken relationship with God, and now they lived in fear. They were afraid, because of their sin, to have God with them, but isn’t it far worse not to have God with us? To be alone? To be lost and abandoned? To be without God is to be without hope. Ever since Adam and Eve’s sin, like them, we, too, have been outside the gates of paradise, longing to return. And this is what Jesus assures the penitent thief on the cross. In repentant faith, he turns to Jesus and asks to be remembered. And that is faith; simple, child-like, trusting faith. In response, Jesus assures him of a homecoming. He assures him that he will not be alone or abandoned: Today you will be with me in paradise! What Adam and Eve had lost, Jesus has regained, and he freely shares what he has gained, first with the penitent thief and then with all who cry out in faith and trust to Jesus: “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
The good news of great joy is that God does indeed remember. He remembers, not to condemn, but to save, as the psalmist writes: “God has remembered us in our low estate” (Psalm 136:23). “He has remembered his mercy and his truth toward the house of Israel.” “The Lord knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:14). In Jesus, who hung upon the cross in unspeakable agony, surrounded by two criminals crucified with him, abandoned by his friends, rejected by his own people, God remembers us. As God himself revealed through his servant, Jeremiah: “For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah 31:34b). It is through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, who suffered and died in our place, that God does indeed remember our sin no more, assuring us that we, too, will be with Jesus in paradise.
Even in his excruciating suffering on the cross, when it would have been very easy to shut out everything and everyone around him, Jesus responds to the penitent thief. He responds with compassion and mercy, and so he does with every penitent person who comes to him today. In Jesus, there is mercy and grace to help in time of need. The sin of Adam and Eve in the paradise of Eden, together with all the sins of every individual since then, were all laid upon Jesus. That crushing burden was all borne for us by Jesus, as Paul the apostle writes: “For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). And because of this, we are blessed to hear what the penitent thief also heard: “Today you will be with me in paradise.” Thanks be to God. Amen.
O holy Jesus, who of your infinite mercy, accepted the faith of the penitent thief on the cross: open your eyes of mercy to all who know your love, yet delay giving themselves to you in full devotion. Hasten the day when we will no longer walk by faith, but by sight, and by your grace, be with you in the paradise of your eternal kingdom. Amen.