Saturday, February 23, 2013
Luke 23:43 – “And Jesus said to him, ‘Truly I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.'”
We are concerned with fairness aren’t we? How many of us have ever said, “well that’s just not fair,” or perhaps we said to someone who was struggling, “sometimes life is just not fair.” How about as a little child? Have you ever yelled, “no fair, no fair.” You have and I have, we are concerned with fairness.
That brings us to the cross, specifically it brings us to one of Jesus’ final words from the cross, “Truly I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” Those are beautiful words aren’t they? Spoken by Jesus on the cross to another man who was also dying this horrible death. “Today you will be with Me in paradise.” Beautiful words, lovely words, to be sure, but they aren’t fair words are they? At least they don’t seem to be upon closer inspection.
Jesus is talking to a man who is a thief and not only a thief but presumably a life time criminal. A man who hasn’t done right, a man who has taken from other people, a man who has broken the 10 commandments (at least two of them – he had stolen, and earlier he was mocking Jesus, so he has not only stolen things but he has also taken God’s name in vain.) He is not a good man. He has spent 99.99% of his life doing his own thing and living life only for himself. Even just a few minutes earlier he is mocking Jesus and now with only minutes to live he cries out for Jesus to remember him when He comes in His kingdom.
He lived the entirety of his life for himself, all but the last few minutes. He was a ruthless lawbreaker, that was what he was known for. That was what he was arrested and killed for. That was his identity at least until the waning moments of his life.
And it was in those waning moments that he just simply cried out to Jesus and placed his faith in Him. There was no doing good things, no trying to undo bad things, no going to church, no giving to the poor, no reading his Bible, not even a whole lot of prayer. He did nothing good, and yet Jesus says to him, “today you will be with Me in paradise.”
When you really look at that it doesn’t seem fair does it? In fact its anything but fair. He didn’t deserve heaven but he is given heaven. He doesn’t deserve it but he is given the promise of God. It wasn’t fair, he certainly didn’t deserve it, he certainly didn’t earn it.
What did he deserve? What did he earn? The Bible says, “the wages of sin is death.” What he deserved was death and hell. After all he had lived almost all of his life totally ignoring God, he had done anything good, he was a lawbreaker and a thief. He certainly didn’t deserve heaven, but that is what he got.
God didn’t deal with him fairly, and I’m glad that He didn’t. Because it means that He doesn’t deal with us fairly either. If He did guess what we would get? We too would get death and hell. But because of His grace He gives us the same promise that He gave the thief on the cross. When we cry out to Him our sins are forgiven and we too are given the promise of eternal life.
It wasn’t about the good works that the thief did, and it’s not about the good works that we do. It wasn’t about the religious actions that the thief did, and it’s not about those religious works that we do either. It’s not about the thief, it’s not about us, it’s about the grace of God.
God was punishing the sins of the world (the thief’s and ours) in Jesus. So sin was punished. God who is a God of justice and righteousness and holiness did not turn His eyes away and permit sin. No God hates sin, and sin always must be punished. So Jesus willingly went to the cross and God punished sin on that cross. He punished sin by punishing Jesus. It was there that your sins, my sins, and the sins of a thief who lived 99.99% of life against God were punished. And it was there that your sins, my sins, and the thief’s sins were forgiven. It was there that gave Jesus the ability to say to that thief “Today you will be with me in paradise.”
Through the cross God fairly punished sin. Through the cross God reached out in love to us, to offer us His forgiveness. Through the cross God says to us, “you can be with me in paradise.” The cross is where the righteousness and the love of God meet. His holiness and His grace are on display, and we are the beneficiaries. Our sins are punished, but we are forgiven. “Today we can be with Him in paradise.” That is grace.