Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Second word on the cross

Yesterday we looked at the firstword spoken by Jesus on the cross. Today we turn to the second word which is something Jesus said to a dying criminal, on a nearby cross:

I tell you the truth, today, you will be with me in paradise (Luke 23:43)

“Today...                    you will be with me in paradise.”

If you’ve ever read through the Gospels one of the things that constantly surprises, is the great confidence that Jesus displays. He heals people simply by speaking a word. He tells people to stop what they are doing and to follow Him and they do. He commands the wind and the waves to calm down and just like that they oblige. Nothing in the worlds seems to faze Jesus – he has power over everything. And at one level this is to be expected. If he is the Son of God then obviously he’s got the ability to do some exceptional things. But here is the question how will he fair when the chips are down? What is Jesus like when things are really grim for him? How will he handle life when he is struggling and in pain and things aren’t going his way – will he still be Mr confident then?

Consider then what’s going on as Jesus utters these words to the criminal next to him on a cross. Like the thief, Jesus too is on a cross – he is in pain, bleeding, exposed to the elements, facing ridicule from the crowd and sure of a horrible death to come. Surely, if ever there was a time of being under serious pressure, this is it. And yet, Jesus still seems full of confidence and doesn’t seem panicked by the situation.

We would have been understanding, if Jesus had responded to the thief’s request with a “sorry matey, now is not a good time to help you”. But no, that’s not what Jesus says. Instead he confidently assures the criminal:

Today, you will be with me in paradise.

What confidence even in the face of death.

I wonder if you’ve ever had to fill in a job application form, and that dreaded personality question comes up: are you good under pressure and can you give some examples. I hate it because all I can think of are pathetic, lame examples (like being able baby-sit our toddler for a whole day!)

Well for Jesus that coping under pressure would be no problem. 
Jesus, are you good under pressure? “Well yeah, I was able to guarantee a criminal a place in paradise while as I was dying.” Jesus clearly is in a league of his own.

And it’s important to keep in mind who it is that Jesus guarantees a place in God’s heaven. Verse 39 of Luke 23, tells us that this man was a criminal. So the person being promised a place in glory isn’t someone who has been a keen follower of Jesus all his life! In fact this criminal admits that he is rightly being punished and deserves to be hanging on his cross. That however doesn’t stop Jesus welcoming him into God’s paradise. All he needed to do was ask and amazingly Jesus promises him eternal life.

Good Friday then is wonderful news because Jesus welcomes the unlovely – those who are criminals, those who are weak, those who are dying, those who have nowhere to go – Jesus welcomes such as these and assures them of a place in paradise. If therefore you’re reading this piece and you’re not yet Christian, if you know that were you to meet your Maker today, you would cower rather than smile then consider this criminal who died beside Jesus that fateful Friday. Look how little he said, how little he deserved paradise. However recognising his weakness, he learned a simple but profound truth that paradise is not achievable; it is only receivable. Ask and it shall be given unto you. It really doesn’t get any simpler than this – ask Jesus to welcome you as His friend and if you do, you will make it to paradise – it’s that simple.

Getting into paradise is not a matter coming from the right family or giving money to the church or saying your prayers every night NOPE it’s much simpler than that – follow this criminal’s example and call out today to Jesus “Remember me when you come into your kingdom”

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