Today You Will Be With Me In Paradise

Bible Book: Luke  23 : 29-43
Subject: Cross Of Christ; Paradise; Heaven; Deathbed Repentance

This is the second time that Jesus spoke from the cross. When Jesus was crucified, two other men were crucified with Him, one to His left and the other on His right. The fact that Jesus was crucified on the middle cross is no accident, for his position points to His centrality in history and eternity. Jesus splits history into two parts.

We measure time either before Christ (B.C.) or after Christ (A.D.) Jesus also splits eternity in half. He said to His disciples, "No man comes to the Father except through me." He is the dividing line between those who spend eternity with God or eternity separated from God.

The conversion of the man who died on the cross to the right of our Lord reveals some very important truths to us. Here we see that no human works were possible for the dying thief to perform in order to make himself acceptable to God; yet, Jesus promised the dying criminal a place in paradise. This is proof positive that salvation is by grace through faith and that not of ourselves, not of works least any person should boast.

We can ascertain through this incident that is no such thing as universal salvation. Only one thief was saved that day, and he was redeemed because of his personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

The first words of Jesus from the cross were, "Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing." Some have tried to assert that this proves universal salvation for everyone through the death of our Lord. Yet, we see here that Jesus promised life in paradise to only one man and that man placed faith in Christ. Jesus did not promise such a home to any other person at the cross, and he certainly did not promise a place in heaven to the man on His left who lacked faith to believe upon Him.

This event also disproves the doctrine of purgatory, or the idea that a person goes somewhere after death to have his sins purged so that he can then enter heaven. The thief who trusted Jesus was not told that he was being sent to some half-way house for the dead and that there he was going to experience some kind of flaming removal of his sins. No, he was promised by Jesus that he was going to go from his death on the cross directly to paradise and that there this man was going to be with Jesus. There was no waiting period, no suffering after death, but immediate transport into the presence of Christ in paradise.

i. One Man Who Died in Sin

At the cross we see "One Man Who Died In Sin - Rebellion," for the man on the left of Jesus wanted rescue without redemption.

ii. One Man Who Died From Sin

We see also "One Man Who Died From Sin - Receiving," for the man on the right of Jesus in faith and sighted the eternal liberty from suffering and not just a short term immediate relief from suffering.

iii. One Man Who Died for Sin

Thirdly, we see "One Man Who Died For Sin - Redeeming." Jesus bore the sin of the believing thief and the sins of all who would believe upon Him as well. He took our tribulation for us by identifying with us. Jesus was bearing the sins of the murderer, the adulterer, the thief, the liar, and all other sinful people! He was the greatest sinner of all, because he was bearing the sins of the world. He who knew no sin had become sin for us - Hallelujah, what a Savior!

Today we shall look at two important elements surrounding the words of Jesus when He said, "Today you will be with Me in paradise."

I. The Sinners Requests

A. The Sad Request of One Sinner

There were two sinners on the crosses that day and the one on the left asked Jesus to save him from that terrible moment of suffering. This was actually a sad request, because it is apparent that this thief was only interested in the temporal removal of his current bitter circumstances. He measured everything by the immediate. This had been his problem all his life. He looked at life from the perspective of getting what he wanted in regard to his own temporal benefit. He thought little of eternity and greatly of the momentary. Sadly, this is the state of many people today. They think in terms of immediate gratification. They ask about almost every decision with these words: "What's in it for me?" Such an attitude kept the thief on the left side of Jesus from understanding his plight, seeing who Jesus really was and it kept him from forgiveness and heaven!

The thief on the left of our Lord reveals that he was not capable of thinking for himself. He was influenced by others and lived his life to fit in with the crowd of his day. He was simply repeating words he had heard others say. If you study the situation around the cross that day, you discover that the crowd was yelling at Jesus saying, "If you are the Christ, save yourself, come down from the cross." Later we see the thief on the left saying the same words.

Sadly, many people are like that lost thief. They think that rejecting Christ makes them appear to be independent thinkers, but nothing can be further from the truth. The populist caves in to the thinking of the world system which is a system totally influenced by Satan. The people around the cross were anti-Christ, just as they are today. When you echo the words of the world against faith in Christ, you are a twin to the thief on the cross. No, you may not be a thief, but you are a sinner. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23).

The lost thief looked out upon the crowd and saw that being against Jesus was popular. The greatest number of people there that day called for Jesus to be crucified. The majority of the people cursed Him or spat on Him. Surely the majority is right! Isn’t that what we do today? Most people are afraid to stand on their own and make an individual, unpopular decision. It is easier by far to say what the crowd says than it is to stand on your own two feet.

The poor, lost, unbelieving thief! He had the same opportunity as the thief who trusted Christ and went to paradise, but he didn’t have the courage to open his heart to trust Christ. Many people are lost and separated from God because they are too concerned with what others think of a decision for Christ.

To be quite honest, the reason Jesus was dying on the cross was because Pilate did not have the courage to resist the crowd and release Christ. Pilate went with the opinion of the masses. Even though Pilate found no fault in Christ, he allowed the Savior to suffer death on the cross. The Scripture tells us that Pilate did it to satisfy the crowd! Untold numbers of people will go to hell to satisfy the opinion of the crowd. So the thief on the left just repeated what he heard the crowd say, he had no mind of his own.

B. The Saving Request of One Sinner

Then there is another appeal coming from the man on the right side of Jesus. In Matthew 27:44, we read that the thieves, plural, mocked Jesus. The second thief was apparently following the poor and sad influence of the thief on the left. Perhaps that is why he ended up on the cross to start with. He had lived his life being influenced by the wrong crowd. He had often found himself falling in with those who influenced him to take the wrong path and now his life was ebbing away on a cruel, Roman cross.

Something wonderful happened to the thief on the right side of Jesus that day. Finally, after all these years, he decided to make a decision for himself. At last, he opened his heart to do what he knew was right rather than simply going along with others. At that moment, faith born in his heart. Right there on the cross beside Jesus he saw the Lord in a different light - he believed on Him as Lord and as Savior!

You have to imagine what it was like for the thief on the right of Jesus. The night before he died on the cross, no doubt, he had experienced nightmares. If he was able to sleep at all, he likely had horrible dreams of his death on the cross. When he was awake, he kept thinking about what his death would be like. Where was he going when he died? It was an awful night unlike anything we can imagine.

Then the morning came, and he was marched out of his cell toward Golgatha. His heart must have  pounded within his chest and he likely heard it like a drum reverberating in his ears. Fear and dread gripped his mind. As he made his way toward the place of death, he must have overheard the crowd speaking to and yelling at this man, Jesus. When the Lord went up to Calvary, women wept for Jesus. The thief must have thought, "Is there anybody to weep for me? Does anyone care about me at all?" Perhaps he had lived such a life of crime that no one cared for him and he was dying alone. Perhaps no family member even showed up at his hour of death. All his friends were probably criminals and were in hiding. All alone! All alone to die!

But he did have one Friend, though he didn’t know it till it was almost too late. On the cross in the middle was Jesus, the Friend of Sinners! Just then, he heard Jesus say to the women who were weeping, “Do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for you children.” What did that mean? The thief must have wondered what kind of man could be facing such a horrible death and have concern for others rather than for Himself. Perhaps this was the first moment when he began to see Jesus in a special way.

When Jesus was lifted up on the cross, the thief must have observed the Lord speaking no words of cursing, no reviling, and no disdain toward his crucifiers. Then he surely heard Jesus say, "Father forgive them for they do not know what they do." In almost every case of crucifixion, the dying cursed their tormentors, but Jesus was silent – like a lamb before the shearers. This could not have gone unnoticed by the thief. Suddenly, faith rose up in his heart and he realized that Jesus was no ordinary man. He had a spark of faith born in his heart, and he believed on Jesus Christ right then and right there!

Look at how the thief on the right began to speak. First he said to the other thief, "Don't you fear God?" This is amazing. For the thief on the right a reverence for God had suddenly been established in his heart.

The Bible states, "The fear of God is the beginning of Wisdom." No wonder so few people have any fear or respect for God any longer in our society. It is popular to mock God, to make fun of Christians and joke about Jesus. Yet, no one can be saved without a reverence for God. While the people mocked Jesus that day, and the thief on the left cursed at Jesus, the thief on the right experienced faith in the holiness of Jesus and the authority of God.

Also, this man expressed a belief in the justice of judgment. He stated from the cross that judgment was proper for him and the thief on the left side of Jesus. He admitted that he deserved to die and that the other thief deserved to die. He pointed out that Jesus had done nothing worthy of death. It is amazing how faith in Christ opens the heart to the truth.

We need a generation today that will stop trying to explain away sinful behavior and will accept the fact that we are simply and universally sinners! So many people today cry out for their rights. Friend, if we got our rights, we would spend eternity in hell. No, we need to cry out to God for mercy. We need grace. We need the unmerited favor of God. It is apparent that the thief on the right had an awareness that there is justice in the judgment of God.

Furthermore, this thief saw that he was a sinner. He admitted that he was getting what he deserved. He saw that he was a sinner and had need of a Savior. Our society has lost its consciousness of the reality of sin. This thief was like the prodigal who felt unworthy. He was like the repentant publican who beat upon on breast and cried, "God be merciful to me, a sinner."

Most importantly, this thief believed that Jesus was sinless. He stated clearly that Jesus had done nothing amiss. He believed in the perfect, holiness of Jesus.

Finally, the thief on the right made his appeal to Jesus. "Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom." Look how simple was the appeal.

i. Look at the Personal Nature of It

It was a personal matter between the thief and the Lord Jesus Christ. It didn’t matter who else was around or what they thought, this was something to be settled between Jesus and the thief. Every person must be saved personally.

ii. Look at the Passionate Nature of It

Note that he offers this request in the imperfect tense. He did not just ask once. He cried out. He asked with repeating rapidity, “Lord remember me, Lord remember me, Lord remember me!”

iii. Look at the Public Nature of It

The thief makes his request and statement of faith in front of everyone. You can’t be saved privately! If you are ashamed of Jesus before people, Jesus will be ashamed of you in heaven. Faith must be expressed openly and freely. The thief did not care who heard him or what they thought of him. He believed in Jesus, and he was ashamed to express it.

II. The Savior's Response

Jesus never replied to the man of the cross to His left. The thief on the left was asking for a temporal, physical salvation, but Jesus was dying on the cross for an eternal and spiritual salvation. Jesus was on the cross to pay for the sins of the soul. Jesus was on the cross to open up the way to heaven.

On the cross Jesus died and the veil of the Temple, which was a symbol of the barrier between God and man, was torn in two from the top to the bottom. The veil was not torn from bottom to top, as if man could by his own effort open the way to God. The veil was torn from top to bottom, for it was a divine work to open way for man to come to God. The opening of the way to God was a work paid for with the blood of Jesus. Jesus died and broke down the partition between God and man. The poor sinner on the left missed the truth of this and missed the blessing of heaven because of it. He was so close and yet so far away.

Someone in this room today is a step from forgiveness, a step from being saved, a step from receiving Christ and the promise of heaven, but you might as well be a million miles away. Why? Because you don't have the faith and the courage to open your heart and accept Jesus Christ. Oh, but you can - yes, you can. I pray that you will!

The thief on the left of Jesus asked Him to come down from the cross and that is something Jesus could have done. Jesus could have called angels to rescue Him from the cross and they were certainly ready to do so. In fact, Jesus could have answered the appeal of the thief on the left who prayed for Jesus to come down from the cross and rescue him as well. Why not provide a temporary rescue for the thief on the left?

Jesus did not come to this earth to reward arrogance and evil. He came to save those who admit their sins and cry out for forgiveness. He came to save us, not just from a temporal situation which our sins have created, but to redeem us from a horrible eternity our sins deserve. Jesus had to decide to answer the request of one thief or the other. One appeal was for a temporary, earthly, selfish answer; the other request was for an eternal, spiritual, selfless answer. Let’s look at His answer.

A. The Promise from Christ

Jesus said, "I tell you the truth." In the KJV it reads, "Verily, I say unto you." This is a word of promise. Jesus was doing the will of the Father in Heaven and he would in no way abort the redemptive plan that required His death on the cross. No pain was too great for Him to bear. No sin was too great for Him to endure. No suffering was too colossal for Him to take for us. Jesus was going to answer the need of eternity rather than the need of the temporary. Jesus was saying amen to the salvation and redemption of the sinner who had appealed to Him. So, even today for anyone who will ask for salvation, our Lord has already said, “Yes, and amen,” to your redemption and proved it by staying on the cross and enduring it for you.

B. The Provision in Christ

The provision of salvation was immediate. Jesus gave the man what he requested on the spot! Today is God's word, tomorrow is Satan's word. The Lord answers your request for forgiveness and redemption immediately upon the expression of true faith.

A Christian woman had a secret dread of having to pass through the portals of death and frequently prayed to be released from this disturbing fear. Finally one night while walking past a graveyard, she found the deliverance she sought. Seeing a little girl entering the gate, he inquired, "Don't you dread crossing the cemetery alone, especially when it is so dark?" The little girl replied, "Afraid? Oh, no, I’m not afraid! My home is just on the other side of the cemetery!" The woman thought about those words and realized that her heavenly home was just on the other side of the cemetery. At that moment she lost her fear of dying.

The thief on the cross, likewise, found peace regarding the matter of death - home was just beyond the cross.

C. The Presence with Christ

Paradise is where Jesus is. If you were separated from a loved one and were then reunited, it would not matter what the building looked like where you met that person. Your eyes would be focused on the loved one, not the surroundings. Heaven is going to be a beautiful place, but no matter how beautiful the jewels of that city are, Jesus will outshine them all. That wonderful fact was expressed by Jesus to the believing thief when our Lord said, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.” Ah, yes! With Jesus! What does paradise look like? Trying to describe it requires an experience we haven’t had, but it is enough to know that you and I, all who believe upon Jesus, will be with our Lord. That is paradise!

The songwriter sought words to express the joy the dying thief knew when he embraced Christ as his Savior. As he penned the words, he felt that he personally had as much peace and cleansing as the believing thief experience.

So he wrote:

"There is a fountain filled with blood, drawn from Immanuel's veins,
And sinners plunged beneath that flood, Lose all their guilty stains.
That dying thief rejoiced to see That fountain in his day,
And there may I though vile as he, Wash all my sins away."

Someone in this congregation today may assume that you can wait till the hour of death and in that moment make your decision for Christ. There are two reasons why you should not do that.

First, to wait is to miss the joy of living for Jesus here and now. You do not know what a joy it is because you have not experienced it, but you can know it and you will rejoice if you come to Him now. Why does any person wish to give days and years to Satan and then give the leftovers to God? No, no! You will never regret coming to Jesus, but I have talked with many who waited to accept Christ and then lived in the regret of not having a full life of service to give to the Savior. It is not right to burn the candle for the devil and then to blow the smoke in God's face in the end. The believing thief believed the first time he truly heard who Jesus was. He had not put off his decision, he had simply never been in a place to make a decision for Christ until that very moment. You must not put off your decision either.

Secondly, you might wait too long and never be saved. You see, there was one thief saved, but there was also a dying thief who refused Christ and went out into eternity with no hope and no salvation. His heart was hard and he found no peace or forgiveness. Someone has well said that there were two thieves who made a decision that day. One was saved in his last moments so that none might despair, but only one was saved in the lost moments of life so that none might presume. This is your hour, come to Christ now!

On a warm Sunday afternoon a loving father and his son went to the village cemetery to see the grave of a little baby. As they stood by the headstone, the youngster asked, "Daddy, when you die and go to heaven, will you take me along?" The father was startled by the unusual question and inquired, "Why do you ask?" The boy, gripping his father's hand and looking up with love in his eyes, said tenderly, "Because I don't want you to go alone."

For those who believe in Christ, you will not go alone! Jesus is near. He will be there for you. You can trust Him in life and in death.