“I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” ~Luke 23:43
There were three crosses on Calvary. Jesus was crucified in between two criminals. As Isaiah prophesied, “He was numbered with the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12). At first both of those condemned criminals joined with the crowd in taunting Jesus. But on that dreadful day as time passed and one of those crucified men observed how the innocent Jesus willingly endured the injustice of vicious words and atrocious deeds, a great change took place in his heart. When the other thief continued to taunt Jesus, he rebuked him: “Don’t you fear God since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong” (Luke 23:40-41).
The condemned man openly confessed that he was guilty of the crimes he committed and justly deserved the punishment he was receiving. As he faced an imminent death, his spirit must have shuddered to think of standing before God whose holy judgment would condemn him to a death far worse than crucifixion. But there was Jesus right next to him. Jesus, his Savior! “Remember me,” he pleaded for Jesus to rescue him from the death he deserved from God. The repentant man placed his full trust in Jesus to save him from the judgment of eternal punishment, from hell itself.
Oh, what sweet words came from the lips of Jesus: “Today you will be with me in paradise.” Jesus comforted the man that when his eyes closed in death that very day, he would not stand before God fearing his wrath. Instead, he would walk with God as his friend sharing in the joy of his eternal blessings. The man would have life eternal with his Savior and all believers in the glory of heaven.
These words of Jesus from the cross bring us great comfort, too. Guilty of sin, we deserve the judgment of God to be separated from him in the everlasting suffering of hell. But that is why the center cross on Calvary is so important. God laid our eternal punishment on his Son. Trusting in him as our Savior, we have the assurance of eternal life with him in the glory of heaven! He will remember us and fulfill his promise to take us there.
(Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal – 588):
Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.
Heav’n’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me!