Jesus struggled to breathe as He hung on the cross. Each breath was labored and yet He forced Himself to speak seven times. The first words out of His mouth were a prayer in which He asked God the Father to forgive us for our sin and our ultimate rejection of Him.
The second time He spoke it was to one of the two criminals hanging on crosses beside Him. Luke 23:39 tells us that “one of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at Him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”’ he said.
But the second criminal rebuked the first saying: “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.” This second man then turned to Christ and asked: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom”.
We can be sure that this criminal had lived a life far from God. He was not under the illusion that he was a “good person”! He knew that he deserved judgment and he acknowledged that he deserved to die for his sins, but he also recognized that Christ, the innocent One, ruled a kingdom that surpassed death. So, casting himself on Christ’s mercy, the man appealed for the help that only Jesus could give. The Good News for all of us is that Jesus is willing to forgive and He is willing to save those who cry out to Him, irrespective of their deeds. Facing imminent death, there was no opportunity for the thief to get down from his cross to do some good works in order to “earn” God’s favor. The only thing he could do was to cast himself on the Sinless One’s mercy! In truth, that was all that was necessary, because Jesus reassured him declaring: “Truly, today you will be with me in paradise.” Each word of this sentence is important!
Christ answers the man by saying “truly”. That word was only ever used at the beginning of a sentence to emphasize the unquestionable nature of what was about to be said. The Greek word used here for “today” is “say-mer-on” meaning this very day and Jesus says that the man will be “with” Him and that they will be “in Paradise” which is used in Scripture as a description of the place where God is!
For those willing to acknowledge their sin and cast themselves on Christ’s mercy this brief sentence uttered by Jesus on the cross helps us to understand so much about what happens when we die. “Today” – means that immediately, at the very moment of our death, we will be “with” Him. Being with Him means that we will have unbroken fellowship with Christ, never to be separated from Him. Where He is, we will be. And “in Paradise” – tells us where that will be – in the beautiful home, the dwelling place of God, where He will welcome us and be with us forever.
If you have not done so already, I would invite you to acknowledge your sin before God and admit that you deserve judgment. Then place your trust in Christ, the Innocent One whose Kingdom has overcome the grave and ask Him to rescue you. Only His bloodshed on the cross can wash away the stain of your sin, and those who trust in Him will not only have immediate and unbroken fellowship with Him on that day they draw their final breath, they will be able to enjoy a relationship with Him in this life, from this time forward!
Blessings on your day!