In Paradise, 02APR
I appreciate that this bible story (in the devotion section of Michael Card’s email newsletter) is cropping up so many many times lately for me – it is the story of the criminals on the crosses with Jesus – it is also one of our “Shipwrecked” VBS stories this year… Michael Card says the criminal is the ONLY person in the bible who called Jesus by His own name – interesting… I like the thought that Jesus so much wants to be on a first name basis with each of us – that we are supposed to be close enough to reach to Him without hesitation, NOT JUST when we sink, but when we are running in JOY too…
It was a kinship of pain for those two – Jesus could appreciate that the criminal was in such physical pain but yet still took the time to teach and rebuke the evil from the other criminal – every little bit of rebuke helps – like in James 5:20 “he who converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death and shall hide a multitude of sins” – perhaps it was just so they could have some “peace and quiet” (?) if only for a little bit… I would appreciate that and maybe (?) Jesus did too… taunting on top of pain – tough… Jesus was human and was God at the same time – He humanly enters the next phase of death (and everlasting life) with someone who understood the physical human pain too…
(Of course none of us could imagine Jesus’s and God’s God-sized pain looking at all the lost people – I feel only a fraction of that loss every time I go to a packed store just after church – the packed store has multitudes of lost folks, can you even imagine the scale of God’s pain? Nope I can’t. )
Of course the most pleasing likely is the sinner’s repentance – “Remember me Jesus” – Like the repentant criminal, we should want relief, and we should ask, not expect but ask… to enter the next phase of life with someone who would welcome us too… Jesus will welcome us…
Jesus’ humanness that day also hinted to the fulfillment of Jesus’s own suggestion that everyone travel in pairs for mission work while teaching and comforting… Jesus as God is also forever with God His Father – but in this instance Jesus was very human and while hanging there, and realized that others felt his pain, that repentant criminal maybe understood Him – humanly… We all want someone to understand us…. that’s an emotion Jesus shares with us.
The criminal as a “last” became a “first” – and the “first” self-righteous crowd folks became “last”… I bet the other non-repentant criminal was alone and was probably a “none” – even though he also was surrounded by multitudes of similarly hateful people, he was alone – and those people were alone too – they were separated from God’s comfort by their own sinfulness of ignorance… but Jesus even extended an amazing grace request to His Father – our Father – for them all… “forgive them for they know not what they do”…
All the one repentant criminal had to do was admit his guilt – and ask forgiveness…. as we remember that we all are sinners of equal sin weight, we all need to do this: simply ask IN SPIRIT AND TRUTH – ask Jesus in our own confessional way – and ask Him by His name – we speak by the spirit to the spirit – and we KNOW that He is the one who will give us that HOPE – of paradise… None other than Jesus can bring us back to paradise…
Yup… died for the lost…. paradise is lost until it is found by reconnecting with Jesus….
———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Michael Card
Date: Sat, Mar 31, 2018
Subject: The Card Community Newsletter – March 2018
From A Violent Grace p. 103-109
He poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. Isaiah 53:12B
He had always been a troublemaker, it seems – a criminal, a rebel, an unwanted specimen of humanity. And two thousand years later, the repentant thief who died with Jesus is still making trouble. Some people – especially very religious ones – protest that Jesus was too soft on him, too forgiving, as He was with the woman taken in adultery. Others have used the story of the thief to argue about baptism. I once heard a preacher say that regardless of what Jesus said about being with Him in paradise, the repentant thief could not have been saved since he “never got wet.”
But then, it is in the nature of criminals to make trouble.
Exactly who were the two thieves who died with Jesus? In the absence of personal information in the Gospels, ancient manuscripts have filled in the gaps with names like Dysmas and Gestas, Joathas and Maggatras, Capnatas and Gamatras, Zoathem and Camma. But these are most likely guesswork or fiction.
We don’t know the details of their crimes, either, since we find no mention of titular inscriptions above their heads. John refers to the simply and perhaps generously as “two others.”
From Matthew and Mark, we learn that they were robbers or bandits. Yet because in Roman law robbery was not punishable by death, the charge that brought them to Golgotha must have been more serious than an incident or two of lawbreaking. Perhaps they had been bandits by profession. Or perhaps they had been jailed along with Barabbas for taking part in the insurrection mentioned in Mark 15:7.
Luke’s account of the two thieves is his longest and most significant addition to the crucifixion narrative. As concerned as he was to emphasize Jesus’ innocence, Luke may have chosen to portray the two guilty men in more detail in order to highlight the contrast between them and Jesus.
Whoever the two men were and whatever their crime, three men received the sentence of death that day. Three were flogged. Three stumbled out of the city, carrying crosses, guarded by soldiers, and followed by tormenting crowds.
When the three arrived together at Golgotha, an awful sight might have greeted them. Earlier victims – dying or long since dead – may still have been hanging, since it was customary to display the corpses of those crucified. In the third century A.D. one witness wrote, “Punished with limbs outstretched, they are fastened and nailed to the stake in the most bitter torment, evil food for birds of prey and grim picking for dogs.”
Guilt or innocence notwithstanding, the Place of the Skull received the three men with grim indifference. The soldiers raised the mallets with the same brute force and drove the spikes through the flesh with equal finality.
When the job was done, three new crosses broke the skyline. On the left hung a criminal. On the right, another criminal. And in between, His arms spread out to each, hung the Son of God.
The three crosses have been raised and the clamor of the crowd has subsided. The earlier screams of the two dying thieves have given way to groans and curses.
Now they turn to the silent man between them, trying to find some relief from their own misery by tormenting Jesus. “Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him,” wrote Mark (Mark 15:32).
“Aren’t you the Christ?” gasps one. “Save yourself and us!” (Luke 23:39).
But somehow, one of the criminals has a sudden change of heart. Perhaps when he heard the soldiers mocking Jesus, calling him “King,” something in his heart softened and broke. Maybe the profane ranting of the other thief threw into stark relief the gulf between his own guilt and the silent man’s innocence. With his next breath, he rebukes the other criminal.
“Don’t you fear God since you are under the same sentence?” he asks. “We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong” (Luke 23:40-41).
And then a miracle happens. The thief turns to Jesus. “Jesus,” he pleads, “remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42).
With these words, an unnamed thief becomes the only one we know of to speak to Jesus on the cross without derision or mockery. An unnamed thief is the only person in the Bible who calls Jesus by His personal name, without any kind of title attached, as if their mutual suffering has placed them on an intimate, first-name basis. In so doing, he becomes the first to address Jesus the way most of us do today. And with his words, that unnamed thief becomes the first to be drawn to the crucified Christ.
Jesus answers with a guarantee. “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).
Paradise – it is one of the oldest words in our language. For centuries it has maintained its basic consonantal form, prds. In Hebrew it is pardes; in Greek, paradeisos. The best we can tell, it is an ancient Persian form that originally referred to a walled garden. The word appears two other times in the New Testament. In 2 Corinthians 12:4, Paul speaks of the vision in which, whether in his body or out of it – he is not sure – he went to paradise and heard “inexpressible things.” In the same passage he also calls this place “the third heaven.” In Revelation 2:7, John says he heard Jesus use the word to describe the place where the tree of life grows.
Was the criminal’s desire for salvation driven only by fear? Was it a pain-crazed plea from between clenched teeth? Or was it a sincere leap of faith based on sudden contrition?
We don’t know. The sentence could easily have been the first prayer of an entirely misspent life. But the thief asked only once – and needed to ask only once. The Son of God looked over at him and gave him his answer:”Today….”
A few hours later, Jesus died.
The thieves clung to life for several hours more. When the soldiers saw that they were still alive, they picked up heavy mallets and broke their legs. No longer able to lift up and draw air into their lungs, the two survivors started a grotesque dance, a losing battle with suffocation. Soon, they too hung still and lifeless against the sky.
But one of them awoke in paradise.
Those criminals perfectly represent all humankind. Like them, we have all sinned. Like them, we all deserve only death.
Like one of them, many people today will refuse hope, rejecting the possibility that Jesus could really be King. The love, mercy, forgiveness, eternal life, and paradise He offers – all will seem impossible, unbelievable, unreachable, unacceptable.
But some will receive all, simply by asking.
Jesus was stretched out on that cross between criminals so that we can know for ourselves the amazing reach of His love. From every wasted life, from every compromised motive, from every personal hell – it reaches all the way to paradise.
PRAYER: Dear Jesus, You answered in love the thief crucified beside You. Answer me, I pray. You remembered him; remember me this day. I, too, have been a rebel from birth. In my coveting I have stolen, and in my anger I have murdered. I deserve punishment no less than that dying thief. So look on the one You love and died for. Remember me in Your mercy so that I may deeply know and faithfully express Your love – and live forever with You in paradise. Amen