Scripture Passage: Matthew 23:43- ” Today, you will be with me in paradise.”
This scripture verse teaches us four things:
- We can repent from our ways and gain salvation any time.
- Our response to suffering as first thief
- Our response to suffering as the second thief
- Response to suffering like Christ
We all know that a huge crowd had gathered to witness the Crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Pharisees did not attend any such criminal proceedings. But they saw the crucifixion of Christ, because of the hatred they harbored in their hearts. Out of jealousy and enmity, the Pharisees attended the crucifixion at Calvary. Forgetting their respect and position in the society they ridiculed and mocked Jesus, insulting all humanity.
In Matthew 27:42 and Luke 23: 35, we see the soldiers insult and sneer at Jesus, and the two thieves also join them.
35 The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.”
But looking at the emotions and peace at Jesus’ face , the thief at the right side was speechless and numb. He reprimanded the other thief. He rebukes the other and says that we are punished for our crimes of which we are guilty, but he is innocent. The thief on the cross saw the glory of Heaven reflected in the face of Christ, and hence believed in Him.
40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
The word ” Paradise”, is a Persian word which means an enclosed garden.The Jews believe that the righteous will join Jesus and heavenly Father in the garden. It is in this sense that Christ used the word, so we believe. Today, with Christ also means Always with the Father. In Philippians 1: 23 we read Paul saying:
“I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far…”
Not going by the literal meaning, it means that by the sacrifice at the cross, all believers and all those who repent can enter the gates of heaven. This is an invitation to all sinners at any hour and any time. The gates of Heaven are open to all those who believe in Christ and are ready to repent from sinful ways.
Second we need to look into ourselves and see on whose side are we on. In our moments of suffering how do we respond. Are we like the thief who insulted Jesus?Luke 23: 39
One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”
Even though he had committed theft and knew that he was justly punished he saw fault with Jesus. Are we like him? Do we find fault with others while ignoring our own? Do we find faults with the Lord? This world is full of people who in their self righteousness and blind ego find fault with God and have the temerity to believe that the creator is obliged to run their life smoothly without any glitches.
Or are we like the thief on the right side who made use of the opportunity before him and repented from his sins? Do we repent from our sins and become new in Him? Only a few who have been touched upon by the Holy Spirit accept their faults and sins, and accept that the Lord is not indebted to us. Rather we should be humble and accept what comes our way is due to His mercy and grace only. These people cry out for mercy and guidance in times of distress knowing and believing that their prayers would be heard.
It is to be observed here that both thieves are experiencing the pain of crucifixion with Christ. Both are guilty of crime they committed. And both of these thieves want to be saved from a cruel death. Now the things we have in common with these two thieves is that there has been, is, or will be suffering in our lives. None of us bear a character to say that we don’t deserve this. And like the thieves, all of us want to be saved from death and escape the clutches of Hell.
But in our moments of suffering or at the time of death, our response is what decides our fate. If our response is like the first thief who rebukes Jesus then our we are tied down with earthly desires and we see Jesus as only a convenience in making our lives better. Like a token machine that gives you what you desire at the press of a button.To such people right and wrong, praise and blame, good and bad mean nothing. They have their soul set on world desires and the only aim is to save their lives in the earthly skin. Like the first thief, they do believe Jesus is the Messiah. But, it’s only a matter of convenience to them to serve their own worldly purposes.
This is the way majority of us behave towards God in our suffering. This is because suffering interrupts their worldly goals and pleasures. It interrupts their desires and hunger in the world. These people display no spirit of brokenness, or guilt, or penitence, or humility. They see Jesus only as a way by to escape the cross/ suffering. Just like the thief they do not see him as a king to be followed or revered, nor repent from their ways.
The people who are like the thief on the right side have the following characteristics. First, they do not pay attention to what the people around them are saying. They do not test God listening to others. Second thing is that they fear God. The thief was fearful and hence rebuked the other thief when he challenges Jesus to rescue them. He is our creator and it is fits us to bow down before him in submission and ask His intervention in the form of His Holy Spirit to receive wisdom. God was real to him. Third, just like the penitent thief admitted his crime: “We are receiving the due reward of our deeds” (v. 41) we too should lay bare our hearts and souls and seek forgiveness. Fourth, is to accept our trespasses and suffering as deserving of our deeds. This is like a litmus test of our humility before God. Many will people confess their sin but when some trouble comes, they get angry at him. This reveals that they actually do not feel undeserving before God. Not many of us can accept our suffering as Job did. He said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb and naked shall I return; the Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” And fifth, like the penitent thief seek his saving grace with a repentant heart that is fully transformed into His new creation.
So look closely to see in whose footsteps are you following. Watch carefully because that will decides the fate of your soul. Matthew and Luke records this event for us to teach us that there is great reward for us when we respond like the penitent thief to suffering . The two thieves represent two ways of responding to suffering and relating to Christ in suffering.
There is an uneasy silence toward the thief who challenges Jesus . Not a word is recorded of Jesus to him. Maybe He threw him a final pitying glance. But no promise or hope for salvation. On the other hand to the penitent Jesus says: “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” The promise would be fulfilled without delay for us also, if only we would repent and mend our ways.
Next we see how our Saviour Jesus Christ is at the cross. Even at the time of His crucifixion, in pain and suffering , He does not curse or insult His persecutors. Neither does he curse the thief who joins in the mockery. Rather He prays for them all with compassion to His Father to forgive them for their wrongdoing. Luke 23: 34
Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.“
For more than 3 years Jesus lived only for others and worked for people who He knew would disown Him one day. Great is His love and patience.
Think: When someone hurts us, we keep it safe inside our hearts to remember? Like a prized possession we keep looking at it time and again. And take it out to hit the person who hurt us. But look at Jesus, at the time of His crucifixion He displayed patience, tolerance and obedience. If we are able to imbibe even a portion of such tolerance towards others, we can believe ourselves to be blessed. In order to receive the promise of Paradise from our Lord we need to check who we imbibe: the first thief who was selfish or the penitent thief. And also inculcate within ourselves the virtues that Jesus taught us on the cross.