Promised Paradise

Sermon for the Last Sunday of the Church Year based on Luke 23:27-43

Dear saints with the promise of Paradise: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

“Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” What comfort for the criminal on the cross to hear!

The criminal’s life of sin had caught up with him and he was being justly punished by the governing authorities. There was nothing he could do to undo what he had done. He could not give back what he had stolen. He could not bring back to life those he had murdered. He could not make up in any way for any sin he had committed. Yet, Jesus promised him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

At that point in time, what do you think mattered to the criminal? The profits he had amassed from criminal activity? His memories from visiting the beaches of Greece? The respect of his peers? No. The only thing that mattered to the criminal was his impending death and what comes after death.

The criminal confessed that he was guilty and deserving of death. He said to the other criminal that they were justly under the sentence of condemnation, receiving the due reward of their deeds. But he also confessed that Jesus had done nothing wrong. Unlike the criminal’s life of sin, Jesus never did anything sinful or harmful or hurtful to anyone. Jesus never even said or thought anything wrong. So, the thief confessed two things – he deserved to die, and Jesus did not deserve to die.

We struggle to believe that we deserve to die. We have a hard time believing that we even deserve to have anything bad happen to us. If something that we view as bad does happen to us, we ask “Why? Why did this happen to me?” We see everything bad that happens to us as injustice. We don’t think we deserve to have anything bad, only everything good.

The truth is, we deserve death just like the criminal. Our sins deserve crucifixion and then eternal death in hell. Yet, when we die, Jesus will say to us, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

What great comfort it is for us to hear those words! Even though we are not hanging on a cross dying, just like the criminal we also cannot undo the evil we have done. We cannot undo our sins. We cannot make up in any way for any sin we have committed. We cannot go back and redo our lives. Even if we could, we would still not be able to avoid sin. We avoid one sin only to fall into another. If we could relive our life a thousand times, a thousand times we would deserve crucifixion and eternal death. Just like the criminal on the cross, Jesus is our only hope, so we pray, “Jesus, remember me.”

Jesus will remember us. The day we die, Jesus will say to us, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” That day the money we have in our bank accounts won’t matter. Our vacation memories won’t mean a thing.  What other people think of us will not be on our minds. The only thing that will matter to us will be our impending death and what comes after death. And with Jesus’ promise that we will be with Him in Paradise, we know what comes after death for us.

Because the innocent Son of God suffered death for us, we will receive eternal life. Jesus took all the punishment of our sins on Himself. It wasn’t just physical pain that He suffered. Jesus also had all our guilt and shame on Him, weighing Him down. Jesus took all the wrath and anger of God on Himself, and was abandoned and forsaken by God the Father for us.

As Jesus suffered in this horrible way, men mocked Him and scoffed at Him. They cast lots for His clothing and tauntingly offered Him sour wine. Still, Jesus does not get angry with them but lovingly prays for them, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Even while suffering and dying, Jesus was still thinking of others and praying for them. He was praying for those whose hands whipped Him and nailed Him to the cross. He was praying for those whose mouths were still mocking Him. Jesus continued to love His creation despite their sin. He still prayed that they would repent and that the Father would forgive them.

Jesus prays for you, that the Father would forgive you. That was the purpose of Jesus coming to earth. He came to face the judgment of God against sinners so that we will receive forgiveness. He came to die so that you may live.

Because Jesus faced the judgment of God against sinners, you will not have to. God turned away from Jesus because your sins were on Him, but now God will never turn away from you. God the Father forsook Jesus, His only Son, because He was covered with your sins, but now God will never forsake you.

So now you can pray, “Jesus, remember me.” And Jesus will tell you on the day you die, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.