Luke 23:43 “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
On this Good Friday, I invite you to reflect on the second word of the cross as it is found in Luke 23:43. In the first word of the cross, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do,” is a word of forgiveness. Today we come to the word of salvation.
The setting of our text was a place called Golgotha, the place of the skull, likely because the rock looked like a skull there. In Latin, it is Calvary. There our Lord walked to the place of crucifixion along with two other criminals. One was crucified on his left and the other was crucified on his right. As Isaiah said, he was numbered with the transgressors.
One of the criminals mocked Jesus. What was the mockery spoken? “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” This is the third time our Lord was pressured to save himself. Like Satan’s three temptations in the wilderness, our Saviour did not heed the words of Satan. Jesus resolved to do the Lord’s perfect will. Could Jesus have saved himself? Of course, He was the God-Man. But, by saving himself, he would have failed to save those for whom He came to earth to begin, the elect given him by the Father. After Jesus prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, we see him stand as a sheep before its shearers.
The other criminal defended Jesus. This defense ended with a request from a humble sinner. The request was to “remember me.” To remember means to save. He certainly isn’t asking Jesus to stop once in a while and think about that poor criminal who died next to him on the cross. It is to remember in the vein of Joseph telling the butler, remember when you are before Pharoah. To remember the sabbath day, doesn’t mean to think about it, it means to do something about it, observe, celebrate, rest, etc.
The criminal asked Jesus to remember him when he comes into his kingdom. What did he have in mind in this request? Did he think that Jesus would stop the crucifixion and establish a political kingdom on earth? No. The criminal is making a claim about the Lord Jesus Christ. The criminal is speaking about the future, knowing that he will die. We do not know how much this criminal actually knew of Jesus. Did he know that Jesus was the resurrection and the life? Certainly he had heard Jesus forgive those soldiers who were crucifying him in verse 34. In that statement Jesus refers to God as his father.
There is something beautifully humbling to hear a sinner deserving of hell to ask for forgiveness from the Lord. There is no demanding, there is no showiness about it. We stand like the publican.
As our Saviour hung there, difficulty and pain with each breath he took, slowly bleeding and being broken for the remission of all of our sins, the Saviour breaks his silence. Verse 43 says, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” The Saviour, in the midst of the great agony of the cross, pauses to minister to the broken and contrite heart of a sinner. What does he do? He grants him salvation.
The criminal, in his humble request of the Saviour to remember might have been surprised by the fact that Jesus said “today.” What that means is that he doesn’t have to wait for the resurrection of the dead in the time to come, the Parousia, but already now he will experience the blessedness of fellowship with Christ face to face. Jesus is telling this criminal that he would take part in the very salvation our Lord was securing at that moment.
What does our Lord mean by paradise. This is the only time he uses that word in the Bible. Originally this word refers to a garden and it could mean that sometimes. But what it begins to refer to is the place of the righteous dead. It is the abode of forgiven sinners who await the new heavens and earth. What we can conclude about this is that it is a place of consciousness. There are some who falsely teach soul-sleep, that at the point of death, the soul sleeps or hibernates until the coming resurrection where body and soul are reunited. No, paradise, or heaven as we may call it, it is a place of consciousness in the very presence of the Lord. I Thess. 4:17 says, “Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.”
Our Lord Jesus Christ here shows mercy to one of the dregs of society, a wicked criminal who even admits his own sin. At the 11th hour he turns to the Lord in faith and is saved.
The Lord shows his mercy and that is a truth we can take with us to eternity. The great astronomer Copernicus said this as his dying words and they are written on his tombstone as well, “I do not ask for the grace that you gave St. Paul, nor can I dare to ask for the grace that you granted to St. Peter; but, the mercy which you did show to the dying robber, that mercy, show to me.”
What will happen to you when you die? What will your response be when you meet your maker? The only hope a sinner has is to be found to be, in Christ. But, this is exactly what the Saviour promises to you. Maybe you find yourself today in a difficult spot. The anxieties of the world pressure in, the mind is a like a buoy tossed by the waves, and Jesus calls you to stop and look to him. He speaks the words of the salvation. Believe on the Lord and you will be saved. Turn from your sin and rest in his perfect forgiveness from sin and righteousness. There is nothing we can do to make God accept us. This is why salvation is all of grace. Trust in the Lord and look forward to the paradise promised.