The Cross’s First Convert
Pastor David Scudder
“And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”” (Luke 23:43).
When we think about a text of Scripture, sometimes we can learn almost as much from what it doesn’t say as from what it does say. So, let’s look at some of the things that Jesus did not say.
First, the words that Jesus spoke in Luke 23:43 were not directed to any of His disciples, or anyone in the crowd who was watching Him die. Jesus said those words when He was writhing in agony on the Cross and He said them only to a man who was also dying in anguish on a cross right next to Him.
Next, notice that Jesus only directed His exclusive invitation into Paradise after that man confessed that he was a sinner who deserved his punishment, and he cried out to Jesus to save his soul. “But the other answered, and rebuking him said, ‘Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.’ And he was saying, ‘Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!’ And He said to him, ‘Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise’” (Luke 23:40–43).
Note that the promise of Paradise was going to be realized that very day. Jesus did NOT say, “You have sinned greatly so I’m sending you to purgatory for a thousand years.” (We also know that Jesus didn’t say that because purgatory doesn’t exist!) That man had been a wicked sinner all of his life, but he received a full pardon just a short time before his life ended. Jesus completely paid for his trip into Paradise. The dying criminal did not, and could not, do anything to deserve eternal life.
Lastly, Jesus did NOT send this sinner into Paradise alone. Jesus could have promised to send this criminal into heaven, and that would be a wonderful display of God’s grace, but instead Jesus said He would be there with him personally: “you shall be with Me in Paradise.” That reminds us that Jesus loves His own so deeply that He wants them to experience eternal glory with Him. Earlier when Jesus was praying, He said “Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24). Or, as He put it in John 12:26 “If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.”
If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, then you find excitement in the knowledge that Jesus longs to have you in His eternal and glorious presence.
The two criminals who were crucified with Jesus point to the fact that there are only two kinds of people in the world. Those who remain enemies of Jesus “Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest” (Ephesians 2:3). The other kind of person is the one who repents of their sin and becomes more concerned about the state of their eternal soul than their life in this world so that they cry out to Jesus for salvation.
“Therefore, He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25).
It has been said that there are two appointments you will not miss or be late to: death and judgment. Which of the two criminals on the Cross represents you?