Bishop Eric Menees
“Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
The last words of Jesus are some of the most powerful ever spoken. They have resounded throughout the last two thousand years, and will continue doing so until our Lord returns. In the first week of Lent we concentrated on Jesus' statement: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) This week we see Jesus put those words into action as he responds to the plea of a criminal. Allow me to set the scene.
Jesus has been falsely accused and convicted. He has been beaten and scourged, nailed to a cross, and hoisted aloft between two criminals - one on his right and one on his left. The religious officials and Roman soldiers were mocking Jesus. They divided his garments, and even one of the criminals berated Jesus saying: “Are you not the Christ? 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 justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Luke 23:39-42)
It was the plea of the criminal to be remembered that caught Jesus' attention. Jesus' response had to have been the sweetest words imaginable: "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise." (Luke 23:43) The Greek term that Jesus used for "Paradise" (paradeisos) is the same term used in the Greek Old Testament to mean “garden” - specifically the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:8). In addition, in the first century "Paradise" was also used to refer to the place one went following death while awaiting the coming of the Messiah, or “Heaven." In other words, Jesus promised the criminal, whose heart called out to Jesus, that he would be with Jesus in Heaven that very day. Whether Heaven was the Garden of Eden restored or the great wedding banquet that Jesus spoke of to his disciples, is academic. The Good News - the Gospel - for this criminal is that Jesus would have mercy upon him - not saving him from the consequences of his action that led to crucifixion, but showing him the ultimate mercy of saving him from banishment to hell.
It is important to note that this criminal was not a disciple of Jesus, nor did he live a virtuous life. He simply recognized who Jesus really was and asked with a contrite heart, "...remember me when you come into your kingdom."
Salvation really is that simple. It comes with the recognition of who Jesus really is and who we really are, and with pleas for mercy and grace.
Of course, the criminal was actively dying, and in fact shortly would have his legs broken by the Roman solider in order to hasten his death. 99.99% of the rest of us who come to that knowledge of who Jesus really is need to follow up that plea for mercy with the humble invitation for Jesus to be Lord of our lives. Have you made that plea for mercy? Do you know in your heart of hearts what awaits you the very next second after you take your last breath on earth? If in any way you are unsure, I encourage you to take this moment to make the same plea that the criminal made, and to invite Jesus into your life as Lord.
This Lent I would like to invite you to meditate upon the mercy of the Father for us, granted through His Son - mercy which is given not because we deserve it or have in any way merited it. God's mercy is simply given through love. Having received God's love and mercy, what in your life reflects your response to God? Have you put your full trust in Jesus?
I pray you a blessed Lord's Day and a Holy Lent!
Catechism Questions 79 - 81
79. How do you judge yourself?
With the help of the Holy Spirit, I judge myself by examining my conscience. I may use the Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount, or other equivalent Scriptures, as well as godly counsel, to help me see my sins. (Exodus 20:1-17, Matthew 5:1-11)
80. How does the Church exercise its authority to judge?
A priest, acting under the authority of the bishop, may bar a person from receiving communion because of unrepented sin, or because of enmity with another member of the congregation, until there is clear proof of repentance and amendment of life. But the authority Christ gave to his Church is more often exercised by declaring God's forgiveness in absolution. (Matthew 16:19)
81. Who is the Holy Spirit?
God the Holy Spirit is the third Person in the one Being of the Holy Trinity, co-equal and co-eternal with God the Father and God the Son, and equally worthy of our honor and worship. (Luke 11:13; John 14:26; 16:7)