Scripture: One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, 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.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:39-43 ESV
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Observation: Recapping Yesterday’s Daily Focus, we learn that many followed Jesus as he labored toward Golgatha, battered and beaten. Among the crowd that followed him were the faithful women who served him the past three years, and many, being deeply sorrowful, wailed over him. Yet, in his weakened state, Jesus manages to turn and address them and warn them of Jerusalem’s looming fate. Eluding to his earlier prediction (21:20-24), Jesus warns of a day of reckoning, where women will wish they had not borne children to see and experience such horrendous persecution. And they will desire to end the suffering, beckoning the mountains that otherwise symbolize protection to fall on them. His final warning, a cryptic metaphor, points to how worse life will be when Jerusalem faces the consequences of crucifying their Messiah (the living Word that is green wood) and continues suppressing God’s word, which becomes highly combustible dry wood in their hearts.
Today’s devotion takes us to the cross, where Jesus hangs in agony. Flanked by two criminals who were likely partners in crime with Barabas (see my June 22 Daily Focus for further explanation), Matthew tells us that both initially deride Jesus. But as time passes and they hear Jesus pray to the Father to forgive all who sought his death (v.34) while remaining silent to the taunts (vv.35-36), Luke tells us one comes under conviction and rebukes the other, who continues to ridicule Jesus. The repentant man challenges his partner in crime to consider that they are receiving due justice and insists that “this man has done nothing wrong” (v.41). He then turns and asks Jesus to remember him when Jesus enters his kingdom. And true to his Gospel message proclaimed these last three years, Jesus promises the repentant man that he will be present with Jesus in paradise (his heavenly kingdom) this day.
Takeaway: The Greek word for paradise, paradeisō, is of Persian origin and means a park or garden, symbolizing a place of beauty and delight. Indeed, the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible) uses this same word to describe the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:8) and Israel’s future comfort in the garden of the Lord, where there will be joy and gladness and songs of thanksgiving (Isaiah 51:3). The same Greek word also appears in John’s revelation, where Jesus promises that those who rise above the trials of the Tribulation will eat from the tree of life, which will be in the paradise of God (Revelation 2:7). And the focal point of this heavenly kingdom is Christ. In him, we find no sin (v.41). In him, we receive forgiveness (v.34). And in him, we enter paradise (v.43), where there is intimate fellowship and eternal bliss.
So what’s our part? Believe, repent, receive, commit, and stay focused on the finish line:
- Believe Jesus is the Son of God who made the great exchange, substituting his sinless life for our sin-marred lives to reconcile us to God (2 Corinthians 5:22).
- Repent, confessing that we have selfishly lived according to our wants and desires and are incapable of fixing ourselves (Acts 17:30-31).
- Receive his forgiveness with humility and gratitude (Acts 26:18)—and keep doing it.
- Commit to obeying Jesus’ commands (Hebrews 5:9) through the sanctifying work of his Holy Spirit, who will guide us in all truth (John 16:13), convicting us when we sin and confirming when we act rightly (John 16:8), and who will provide escape routes from our temptations (1 Corinthians 10:13).
- Stay focused on the finish line, for paradise awaits us with our Triune God and the great cloud of witnesses who arrived before us (Hebrews 12:1).
And, like the criminal hanging next to Jesus, it’s never too late.
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for your son in whom there is no sin. And we thank you that he has reconciled us to you. We are also grateful for the gift of the Holy Spirit, who helps us stay on track with our faith journey. Still, we have moments where we lose sight of our blessings and slip back into bad habits. So would you please help us keep believing, repenting, receiving, committing, and focusing on the finish line in paradise with you? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling