“Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise”
One of the criminals hanging there threw insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” The other one, however, rebuked him, saying: “Don’t you fear God? Here we are all under the same sentence. Ours, however, is only right, for we are getting what we deserve for what we did; but he has done no wrong.” And he said to Jesus, “Remember me, Jesus, when you come as King!” Jesus said to him, “I tell you this: Today you will be in Paradise with me.” Luke 23:39-43
As we see Jesus up on the cross, we see him between two very different criminals. The first criminal is full of anger and full of hate. He desires Jesus to wave a magic wand and make all the things we have done wrong become right. Don’t we sometimes have that same mentality about God, thinking that God should come to our rescue and right the wrongs that we have caused? We cry out to God to save us and yell at God when we perceive our cries have been heard or answered.
Sometimes it is easier to disparage Christ rather than to admit and look at what we have done?
And on the other side of Christ is another criminal, this one acknowledging the thieves are getting what they deserve, but Jesus doesn’t deserve this—he has done no wrong. And even though this man knows he deserves it, he still cries out with hope, “Remember me, Jesus when you come as King.”
To this man who still saw good, to this man who tried to defend and protect the good, to this man, who even in the midst of getting his “just punishment” sought good, was given words of comfort.
“Today, you will be in paradise with me,” says Jesus. Will Willimon says, “For when Jesus speaks of ‘Paradise”, he is not talking so much of a place where they may go someday, as a relationship that the entered into today.” This entering into paradise was not when the criminal breathed his last, but the moment he recognized that “that the one who hung next to him in the agony and humiliation on the cross was none other than his Lord, the master of his life, the sovereign of the kingdom of God.”
This short conversation between the criminal and Jesus reassures us that even in the darkest times in our life, Jesus promises to be there in the here and now. As Will Willimon asks “What situation in our lives could be worse than hanging on the cross?” We believe and worship a God who gets all mixed up in the messiness of life. And when things don’t go as we planned or we take the wrong road and things go from bad to horrible, there is God hanging there with us.