Despite the current state of the world, and life here in the UK, I actually quite enjoyed the Easter celebrations. Of course, I was disappointed not to have been able to meet with family or friends, or to gather as a church, but we made the best of it.
I have been thinking about the two criminals who were crucified with Christ – well, one of them in particular.
As I mentioned on Good Friday’s post – Seven Sayings of Jesus at the Cross– we learn that one of the criminals turned in faith to Jesus in his dying moments. Yet Matthew’s Gospel records both of the criminals having hurled insults at Him. This is quite the turnaround for one man, and look at the reward Christ offers him.
Jesus said to him, “Assuredly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Luke 23:43 (WEB)
I know that I said this on Friday, but it is worth repeating. It is never too late to turn to Jesus. No matter what you have done, and no matter how far short you fall, God will never turn you away if you sincerely surrender yourself to His Son.
Yesterday I heard of a family friend who sadly passed away from COVID-19. The man was not old, nor particularly unhealthy (although he did have a condition which made him more vulnerable to this virus). The illness started off rather mildly but has now led to his death. It is very sad, but a reminder that none of us know how long we have on this Earth. Whether COVID or not, we must all die some day and we must make sure we are ready to face God.
I’ve digressed slightly, but hopefully that is an important reminder for us all.
So, the criminal turns to Jesus and Jesus says these words: “Assuredly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
English Bibles are translations of the original language. For the New Testament, that was mostly Greek. To emphasise a point, sometimes we read a repetition such as “Truly, truly…” or “Mary, Mary…” This is to catch our attention such that we really take in what Jesus is about to say.
Likewise, here, Jesus says “Assuredly…” Assuredly. Absolutely. Definitely. I guarantee… Jesus is assuring this man in no uncertain terms that he will join Christ in Paradise. Comforting this criminal in his last moments, Jesus confirms on him salvation and a place in eternal life.
Scholars have debated what Jesus meant by “today” here. Does it imply that at Jesus’ and the criminal’s death, they both entered straight into Paradise? Some suggest that Jesus descended into the abode of the dead – Sheol in Hebrew – and still others say into hell itself. If so, how could He or the criminal be in Paradise “today?”
Let me give you my thoughts, for what they are worth!
Today is a subjective term. If I say to you, “I’ll meet you later today,” then we both have a reasonable idea of what I mean. But what if I am in a different time zone? Then “Today” becomes slightly more blurred.
It boils down to physics, and what Einstein called “relativity.” Time is relative to your perspective. It is a physical property dependent on gravity and so when we leave these physical bodies, time no longer applies to us.
God is infinite. This doesn’t mean He has lots of time on His hands, but rather that He is outside of time. The criminal arrived at Paradise that same day to him, but from our point of view, time has carried on as before. It may even be that when each of us die, we all arrive in eternity at the same “moment” because there are no moments on the other side.
Anyway, I don’t want to get bogged down in this, but just want to point out that “today” is a relative thing.
Moe important are Christ’s words after “today” – “…you will be with Me…”
There is no greater thing than being with Christ. There are so many blessings to being a part of God’s family, and yet all pale in comparison to actually knowing Jesus.
Yes most certainly, and I count all things to be a loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus, my Lord, for whom I suffered the loss of all things, and count them nothing but refuse, that I may gain Christ
Philippians 3:8 (WEB)
These words are truly, truly humbling to me. I love the Bible, and thirst for knowledge of it. I love being part of a church, and certainly love knowing that I will go to heaven when I die. But can I really say, as Paul does above, that I count everything else as refuse (sometimes rendered “dung”) in comparison to knowing Jesus? Not nearly enough.
Let’s spend our isolation doing fruitful things. Let’s make the most of this time. Let’s spend it getting to know Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour.
What will you do “today?”