Yours in Christ: Pastoral Letters from Resurrection, State College

Today You Will Be With Me

Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.

Dear Resurrection,

“Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). Jesus spoke these words from the cross to one of the two criminals who were crucified with him. One of them had started railing at Jesus, saying that if He really was the Christ, He should save himself and the two of them. The other criminal admitted that he had been justly condemned, that he was receiving what his crimes deserved, but that for Jesus it was different—Jesus had done nothing wrong. Then he turned to Jesus and said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Jesus’ reply tells us five very important things. First, it tells us that there is life after death. Death is not the end of anyone’s conscious existence. Death rends the soul from the body, but your soul will then experience immediately either the glory of Christ’s gracious presence or the torment of His just judgment. What Jesus promised this man is inconsistent, for example, with the Adventist doctrine of “soul sleep”; “today,” Jesus said, “you will be with me in Paradise.”

Second, this episode illustrates what makes the difference in this life between a future in heaven or hell. It’s the same for you as for those two criminals: your attitude towards Christ. The first criminal was selfish, arrogant, and defiant. The second was humble, trusting, and repentant. And humble, trusting repentance is what Jesus still is looking for today.

Third, Jesus’ promise tells us that there is hope for the worst of sinners. The sin of the repenting criminal did not disqualify him from the grace of Jesus. Jesus underwent the most debasing kind of death alongside the most contemptible of felons so that no sinner might ever be driven to despair, thinking, “My sin is too bad or too big for Jesus to forgive.”

The dying thief rejoiced to see that fountain in his day
and there have I, as vile as he, washed all my sins away.
(William Cowper, “There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood,” TPH #340)

Fourth, Jesus’ reply tells us that on the cross, Jesus’ heart was tender toward sinners—ready to forgive, ready to receive, ready to welcome sinners to join with Him in the glory He was about to enjoy. Jesus’ suffering did not embitter Him towards sinners like that man. It did not embitter Him towards you. It only deepened His love for you.

Finally, this scene reminds us that the best part of heaven is being with Jesus. The best part of the promise Jesus gave that man was not that “today you will be in paradise,” but that “today you will be with me.”

Grace-Based Action Point

Sometimes people use the story of the thief on the cross as an excuse to put off trusting in Christ. You must never do that. Death comes suddenly, and if you’re counting on getting serious about turning to Christ later, you almost certainly never will. Today is not too late for you, but tomorrow may be. Now is the time to humble yourself in trusting repentance, and embrace in faith the hope that for those who die in Christ, death is the gateway to being “with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8).

Yours in Christ,

Pastor Simmons