A few years ago, the book Heaven is For Real rocketed to the top of the New York Times best seller list, and its popularity peaked last year with the release of a 12 million dollar feature length drama that drew audiences searching for confident assurance that the promise in the title was definitely a fact. The fascination with this tale (and other stories like it) just proves the obsession with the subject of what happens after we die continues to be as common today as it has been throughout history.
It was this natural human desire to know what lies beyond the veil of death that birthed the plea that one of the condemned criminals posed to Jesus as they both hung painfully on their crosses outside Jerusalem.
Seeing that something was obviously different about the innocent rabbi suffering next to him, this man silenced the insults of the third convict saying, “Don’t you fear God, since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” (Luke 23:41) He then turned to Jesus with his last request on Earth. “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Luke 23:42)
Jesus responded with words that can salve the internal longing for eternity that exists within each of us. “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Isn’t it amazing that Christ’s last words about the way to heaven were spoken to a helpless prisoner? Humanly speaking, it might be a little more expected for them to be delivered to John the Beloved, Joseph of Arimathea, or even His own mother. Certainly, these devout followers would be more likely to be worthy of this kind of assurance since they were among Christ’s disciples.
But when you think about it in light of Christ’s mission and ministry, the fact that the promise was delivered to a hopeless sinner trapped by the guilt of his own actions was the whole point!
In speaking to this particular man, Jesus not only assured him that heaven is indeed real, but that the way to get there isn’t dependent on anything a person does. Faith in who Christ is and asking for deliverance was all that was needed to grant the dying man access to the eternal heaven… and don’t miss this fact… we can be assured also, that faith in Christ is all that is needed to give us access too.
So be encouraged by these last words from the Lord! While each of us is a rightfully condemned sinner just like that man on the cross, the good news is that grace and mercy are just as available to you as they were to him! So look to the cross, recognize Who Jesus is, what He has done, and ask Him to remember you too! Your expression of faith and plea for mercy will guarantee that one day you, too, “will be with (Jesus) in paradise!”