[Since the 16th century preachers Christians have made reflecting on The Seven Last Words of Jesus a part of a lenten preparation to celebrate Easter. The “words” are actually sentences: three from the Gospel of Luke; three from the Gospel of John, and one found both in Matthew and Mark gospels. A great many writers and preachers have included all seven in one homily or reflection. Many have preached a series of seven homilies (one for each word). A few have written a book on the subject. The artwork is copyrighted by Irish painter John Dunne and can be found online here. The reflections are written and copywritten by Dr. Mark D. Roberts, a pastor, author, retreat leader, speaker, and blogger. You can find them here.]
“I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
As Jesus hung on the cross, he was mocked by the leaders and the soldiers.
One of the criminals being crucified with him added his own measure of scorn.
But the other crucified criminal sensed that Jesus was being treated unjustly.
After speaking up for Jesus, he cried out,
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (v. 42).
Jesus responded to this criminal,
“I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise” (v. 43).
The word paradise, from the Greek word paradeisos, which meant “garden,”
was used in the Greek Old Testament as a word for the Garden of Eden.
In Judaism of the time of Jesus it was associated with heaven,
and also with the future when God would restore all things
to the perfection of the Garden.
Paradise was sometimes thought to be the place
where righteous people went after death.
This seems to be the way Jesus uses paradise in this passage.
Thus we have encountered
one of the most astounding and encouraging verses in all of Scripture.
Jesus promised that the criminal would be with him in paradise.
Yet the text of Luke gives us no reason to believe
this man had been a follower of Jesus,
or even a believer in him in any well-developed sense.
He might have felt sorry for his sins, but he did not obviously repent.
Rather, the criminal’s cry to be remembered
seems more like a desperate, last-gasp effort.
Though we should make every effort to have right theology, and
though we should live our lives each day as disciples of Jesus,
in the end, our relationship with him comes down to simple trust.
“Jesus, remember me,” we cry.
And Jesus, embodying the mercy of God, says to us,
“You will be with me in paradise.”
We are welcome there not because we have right theology,
and not because we are living rightly,
but because God is merciful and we have put our trust in Jesus.
Questions for Reflection
Have you staked your life on Jesus? Have you put your ultimate trust in him? Do you know that, when your time comes, you will be with him in paradise?
Dear Lord Jesus, how I wonder at your grace and mercy!
When we cry out to you, you hear us.
When we ask you to remember us when you come into your kingdom,
you offer the promise of paradise.
Your mercy, dear Lord, exceeds anything we might imagine.
It embraces us, encourages us, heals us.
O Lord, though my situation is so different from the criminal who cried out to you,
I am nevertheless quite like him.
Today I live, trusting you and you alone.
My life, both now and in the world to come, is in your hands. And so I pray:
Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom! Jesus,
remember me today as I seek to live within your kingdom! Amen.