March 31, 2021 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Luke 23:39-43 (NRSV)
One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
One of the criminals crucified with Jesus cried out, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus responded, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” When we cry out to Jesus, he hears us and responds with matchless grace. We don’t have to have perfect theology or live a perfect life in order to be remembered by Jesus. He is with us, not only in the future, but also right now.
Today’s devotion is part of the series Following Jesus Today.
In yesterday’s devotion we saw that as Jesus hung on the cross, he was mocked by the leaders of Jerusalem and the Roman soldiers (Luke 23:35-37). One of the two criminals being crucified with Jesus added his own measure of derision (23:39). But the other crucified criminal sensed that Jesus was being treated unjustly. “This man has done nothing wrong,” he said. After speaking up for Jesus, he cried out, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (23:42).
Jesus responded to this criminal, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (23:43). The word “paradise,” from the Greek word paradeisos, which meant “garden,” was used in the Greek Old Testament for the Garden of Eden. In Greek-speaking Judaism of the time of Jesus, paradeisos was associated with heaven and also with the future when God would restore all things to the perfection of the Garden. Paradise was sometimes thought to be the place where righteous people went after death as they awaited resurrection in the age to come. This seems to be the way Jesus used “paradise” in today’s passage.
We have before us one of the most astounding and encouraging verses in all of Scripture. . . and also one of the most perplexing. Jesus promised that the criminal would be with him in Paradise. Yet Luke gives us no reason to believe this man had been a follower of Jesus or even a believer in him in any well-developed sense. The man might have felt sorry for his sins, but he did not obviously repent. Rather, the criminal’s cry to be remembered seems more like a desperate, last-gasp effort. If indeed Jesus was some sort of king, the man figured, then he might as well ask to be included in Jesus’s kingdom. This was indeed mustard seed faith, a tiny bit at most. Yet Jesus assured this baby believer that he would join Jesus in Paradise that very day.
Though we should make every effort to have right theology, and though we should live our lives each day as active disciples of Jesus, in the end our relationship with him comes down to simple trust, naked dependence on his grace. “Jesus, remember me,” we cry, just like the criminal in our story. And Jesus, embodying the mercy of God, says to us, “You will be with me in Paradise.” We are welcome to that place of eternal glory not because we have decent theology, and not because we are living decently, but because God is “rich in mercy” and wants to show us “the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:4,7).
Indeed, Jesus will remember you when he comes into his kingdom. But you don’t have to wait to be remembered by Jesus. In a matter of speaking, he “remembers” you right now. Through the Spirit, he is present in your life. When you serve others in his name, you are serving Jesus. You don’t even have to wait for Paradise in order to know that Jesus is with you. When you face the uncertainties and fears of this life, when you endure suffering and loss, when you wonder if God is there for you, know that Jesus has not forgotten you. He is with you. He remembers you . . . even right now!
Have you staked your life on Jesus? Have you put your ultimate trust in him? If so, why? If not, why not?
Do you have confidence that, when your time comes, you will be with Jesus in Paradise? If so, why? If not, why not?
How do you respond to the idea that Jesus “remembers” you right now?
Take time to ponder the fact that Jesus will remember you and is remembering you at this moment. Talk to him about this, expressing your thanks. Let Jesus know how you need him in this very moment.
Lord Jesus, how I wonder at your grace and mercy! When we cry out to you, you hear us. When we ask you to remember us when you come into your kingdom, you offer the promise of Paradise. Your mercy, dear Lord, exceeds anything we might imagine. It embraces us, encourages us, heals us.
O Lord, though my situation is so different from the criminal who cried out to you, I am nevertheless quite like him. Today I live trusting you and you alone. My life, both now and in the age to come, is in your hands.
And so I pray: Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom! Jesus, remember me today as I seek to live in your kingdom in all I do! Amen.
P.S. from Mark
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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: The Eleventh Station: Jesus Promises His Kingdom to the Good Thief
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.