“43 And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”
I don’t have all the answers. I know; take a big gasp. Breathe in and breathe out. While it must come as a shock (insert sarcasm here and know I am joking) that I don’t have all the answers- I do know one thing. I have learned one thing abundantly well from scripture: No one is beyond redemption and salvation and the unfailing and unwavering love of God- not even the criminal Jesus was set to die with that he just met on the cross.
It can be easy for us to get caught up in the legalese of our faith. We can easily focus on the jargon while completely disregarding the nuance but scripture continues to remind us, remind me, that faith in Jesus is enough. “…for whoever shall believe in him will not perish but will have the promise of eternal life.” (John 3:16)
In our scripture today we read about Jesus on the cross suffering alongside these men who were also being crucified. Just as the accuser was tempting Jesus in the wilderness, so too one of the criminals taunted him “save us and save yourself if you are the son of God.” We can read in the lines of this scripture the desperation and frustration to be dying next to the one person that you believe could save you. The second criminal however, understood that it wasn’t being taken off the cross that was the promise but that he could be truly saved with eternal life that day.
Like the woman fighting the crowd to just touch Jesus’ robe, the criminal realizes that his hope lies not in this world but in the faith and promise of new life-faith in Jesus Christ.
What does Jesus do? Jesus doesn’t launch into a new membership class. Jesus doesn’t even teach him how to pray the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus doesn’t even call down rain to order to baptize him.
Jesus simply says “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” That’s it. His faith was enough!
Imagine the weight pulled off that man’s shoulders.
Don’t misunderstand me though-he still suffered.
The criminal was still going to lose this life on that cross but he was gaining something so much more important-the gift and the promise of eternal life.
While we don’t know his back story- there is a potential that this criminal never went to temple. Was not a person of faith at all. If this is true then his faith was only hours old before he died; never set foot in a church or read a single scripture. Jesus, regardless of this, says “today you join me in heaven”.
You’ve heard it said before probably: Jesus doesn’t call the qualified; Jesus qualifies the called.
GOD’S AMAZING GRACE! God’s abundant and amazing Grace is available to everyone. No one is too far gone for God to save them. We aren’t always lifted out of our current situations-that isn’t the promise-but we ARE lifted INTO the promise of eternal life.
May we take but a simple step back from the drama, the seeking of unattainable perfection, unrealistic hopes and aspirations that can so quickly cloud who God designed us to be-and like the criminal on the cross- may we only see Jesus Christ beside us offering us the kingdom of God. May we not see heartbreak and disappointment but may we only see Jesus Christ walking beside us- our Lord and Savior.
May it be so,
Rev. Lou Ward
Summer Bible Studies:
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La Junta United Methodist Church
601 San Juan Ave
La Junta, CO 81050
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