and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Tonight we again visit our Savior as He hangs on the cross. We remember all that He has endured up to this point. Betrayed to His enemies by one of His own. Condemned by His own countrymen. Declared innocent by the ruler of the land, but sentenced to death by crucifixion anyway. Scourged to the point that He was unable to finish carrying His own cross to the hill of execution. Ridiculed by His enemies who followed His every step. Mocked even by the condemned criminals who suffered beside Him.
But as Isaiah predicted, our Savior went to His end quietly. Like a sheep led to the shearer, He was silent (Isaiah 53).
But not completely silent. Like a mother in labor pains, Jesus was focused on the task at hand, having little time for idle talk. Yet, from the dark ocean of His suffering, Jesus surfaced seven times to speak from the cross. And each time He opened His mouth it was for an important purpose.
We approach Christ’s words tonight with these things in mind. These are no idle words. These words were spoken by our Savior out of the depths of human suffering, for our great learning and comfort.
Just before the words of our text were spoken, the criminals crucified on either side of Jesus had joined the crowd below in mocking Him. But as their suffering dragged along, one of these criminals came to regret his words.
It became clear to him that this Jesus was no lawbreaker. Those on the side crosses deserved this terrible death, but the man in the middle was innocent.
Perhaps the thief on Jesus’ side remembered the silent way that Jesus had endured the path to the cross. When the weight of the cross forced His exhausted body to the ground, Jesus had uttered no curse upon the soldiers.
When the nails slid through the tender flesh at His hands still no words of hatred came from His lips. Only when Jesus was lifted up onto the cross did He use His voice. And then He had uttered a prayer for those who crucified Him.
By His preaching Jesus had brought many to trust in Him, and now in His relative silence, He had brought one more fallen sinner into the
And so we read the words of Jesus, spoken to this newly born believer. We call this word from the cross, the word of assurance.
Luke 23:39-43 (NIV)
39One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!”
40But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
42Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
43Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”
These are the words of God.
I remember my college English professor stressing the point that a good author does not waste words. A good author crafts his words in a way that every single one serves a purpose. Every single word colors some part of the message he writes.
Each of the words that Jesus spoke to the believing thief were just as carefully selected.
In the Greek, the first word Jesus spoke was, “amen.” Our translation conveys this word into English with the words, “I tell you the truth”. That’s what “amen” means. This is certain. This is true.
By leading His statement with this word, Jesus assured the dying man at his side that these were not empty words. This was no lie spoken to a dying man merely to ease his final pain.
In the movies, lies are often spoken to a dying person to ease their pain. The soldier who lies barely conscious and bleeding to death is reassured that they’re gonna make it, there’s nothing to worry about.
But Jesus would not comfort this dying man with lies, but only with certain truth. And this is why Jesus directed His word of assurance to the one man only. For the criminal on His other side Jesus had no comfort to offer. That criminal’s hurtful words showed no faith. Instead His ridicule only showed foolish unbelief. Jesus does not comfort the sinner who feels no sorrow over his sin.
But to the repentant thief, Jesus gave the word of assurance. He said, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”
In telling the man, “Today”, Jesus gave a gentle and comforting prophesy that is often overlooked. The Jews considered sundown the beginning of a new day. And truly, before the sun would set on that Good Friday, both Jesus and the thief would be dead. The death of the repentant thief would be painful, but it would not stretch out over days as death by crucifixion could. His suffering would end today.
But Jesus’ words said so much more than, “Death will soon end your suffering.” Jesus assured the man that just as he was with Jesus in suffering, he would soon be with Jesus in glory.
With Jesus. For those who have come to love Jesus as their great God and Savior, there is no greater place to be. And what was true for the repentant thief on the cross, has been true for Christians throughout the ages. No matter what suffering comes to the child of God, Jesus is there with him. And when Christians are ushered out of this world through the shadowy valley of death, Christ remains there with them. And when Jesus is done leading the way through that valley, He is still there with them in the brilliant glory of the Father’s throne room.
But, Jesus didn’t use the image of a throne room to describe heaven to the repentant thief. He used the word, “paradise”.
The word “paradise” comes from an old Persian word for a special enclosed garden. A place that is protected by a wall, and filled with life. We might picture a garden park filled with lush leafy plants. Soft paths. Bright flowers. Dazzling water fountains. Long swaths of plush thick grass on which a person might take a nap in the afternoon sun.
In the killing place called
In the book of Revelation, Jesus describes paradise by saying that the tree of life is there (Revelation 2:7). In chapter twenty two John received a vision to help him imagine the glory of heaven. I’d like to read that vision for us tonight.
“1Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. 3No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. 4They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.
6The angel said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true. The Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, sent his angel to show his servants the things that must soon take place.”
7“Behold, I am coming soon! Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy in this book.”” (Revelation 22:1-7 NIV).
For the penitent thief, it was “Today”. For us it may be today, or tomorrow, or next week or decades from now. But Jesus is coming soon, that we might be with Him in paradise.
May Jesus’ word of assurance strengthen you through any suffering that you might face. Let the forgiveness and salvation He secured for you be your life and your hope’s foundation, through whatever cross you bear in His Name.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding,
will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
-Pastor Caleb Schaller