April 3, 2020 • Life for Leaders
“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Today is the second devotion in a series called “Holy Week Devotions on the Seven Last Words of Christ.” Though Holy Week doesn’t start officially for a couple of days, I have begun this series to help you prepare for a deeper experience of God’s grace as we approach the death and resurrection of Christ. Each devotion in this series will focus on one of the seven statements of Christ from the cross. If you missed my introduction to this series, you can find it at the beginning of yesterday’s Life for Leaders devotion.
As Jesus hung on the cross, he was mocked by the leaders of Jerusalem and the Roman soldiers. One of the two criminals being crucified with him added his own measure of scorn. But the other crucified criminal sensed that Jesus was being treated unjustly. After speaking up for Jesus, he cried out, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42).
Jesus responded to this criminal, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 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. This seems to be the way Jesus uses “paradise” in today’s passage.
We have encountered 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 the text of 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.
Though we should make every effort to have the best theology we can understand, 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 there not because we have perfect theology, and not because we are living perfectly, but because God is perfectly merciful and we have put our trust in Jesus, the Savior of the world.
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 have to wait for Paradise in order to know that Jesus is with you. When you face the uncertainties and fears associated with the novel coronavirus, don’t forget that Jesus hasn’t forgotten you. He is with you . . . even right now!
Something to Think About:
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?
Something to Do:
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.
Dear 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 world 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 within your kingdom! Amen.
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.