What would paradise look like to you? I’m picturing clear water, sand, maybe a lagoon with tropical plants, horses and dolphins and lots of sun. A beautiful, serene and playful place, like nothing imaginable in this world. The Greek meaning for the word paradise is a royal enclosed park. In the Bible, Jesus used this word to tell the man who hung next to Him on a cross, where they would both be at the end of the day. “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:43
This thought suddenly came to me recently while driving home from work one day. The picture of Jesus hanging on the cross, after being whipped and flogged for committing no crime. He had just suffered greatly at the hands of the Roman soldiers who treated Jesus like a criminal though He was not. Crucifixion was considered the most horrific way to die, and reserved for those who were considered the least in society. But Jesus was not a criminal, He did nothing to deserve what He was getting, unlike the two men who were being crucified with Him. Yet, in that moment of intense suffering, when the man hanging next to Him asked to be remembered in Jesus’ Kingdom, Jesus responds with, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Grace was given. How?
We need to look at the conversation that just took place between Jesus and the two men that were just crucified with Him. Verse 39 says, ‘One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”’ But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” It is clear that in the presence of Jesus, this man was aware of and sorry for his own sin, while the first may have been aware of it but not sorrowful at all. Then when the repentant criminal asked Jesus to remember him when He would come into His kingdom, he was acknowledging who Jesus is. He knew that Jesus was from heaven and that His suffering was not because of His own doing, but because of the sins of others, like his.
Jesus knew where He was going, because He had already been there, before He left to come to earth to be born as a baby. He not only knew paradise, it was His home. It is right that He would return there. His suffering had a purpose. Mark 1:15 says it like this. ‘Jesus came to Galilee preaching the Gospel of the kingdom of God and saying, "The time is fulfilled , and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel.’ The other criminal did just that. He repented for his sin and believed. As a result, Jesus not only said He would remember him, but be with Him in paradise today and forever. God made a way for you and I to be forgiven and His way is Jesus....