“Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise”--Lk 23:43
What changed? How did this sin-hardened felon who just previously railed against the “King of the Jews” (Mk 15:32) now humbly turn in trust to him? Was it Jesus’ quiet confidence in God? Was it his humble submission to the unjust authorities? Or, was it his self-denying, forgiveness-offering prayer, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do”? Maybe, it was all three. One thing we know: The majestic meekness of this King had opened his eyes and captured his allegiance, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Lk 23:42).
Pause and think. How would you expect Jesus to respond? Cold-shoulder silence? A “You made your bed now sleep in it!” lecture? Or, “Sure! Now after you’ve had your fun and are about to die, now, you want me to remember you?! Weren’t you just ridiculing me? Yeah, I’ll remember you alright! You and all your vile acts and vehement words!” But, once again, Jesus surprises us with his unbounded compassion for sinners! “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
“Today!”; not some probationary period for this convict. No process of purgatorial refinement. “Today!” for, “this is the day that the Lord has made” (Ps 118:24). “Today,” is the appointed day to enter God’s rest (Heb 4:1, 6-7).
“Today you will be with me in Paradise.” “With me”! “I am not ashamed of you (Heb 2:11). I will open wide the gates of my kingdom and escort you into Paradise. You need not fear and you won’t need a thing; you’ll be with me!”
It simply takes your breath away. We would expect royal vengeance. Yet, here in the darkness of the cross shines the rays of the Kingdom of Grace. Jesus is the welcoming King; such that none is too far gone, either in sin’s depths or death’s shadows, that King Jesus can’t bring him in and gladly welcome him home! Do you have a place set in Paradise? The King has thrown open the gates. All are invited! But understand this dear one, only those who, like the thief, humbly turn to and trust in the Crucified One shall enter into the joy of this King’s eternal welcome.
“Today if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” “For, ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’” Even a dying thief!
(Heb 4:7, Rom 10:13)
Rejoice, the Lord is King:
Your Lord and King adore!
Rejoice, give thanks and sing,
And triumph evermore.
Jesus, the Savior, reigns,
The God of truth and love;
When He had purged our stains,
He took His seat above.
His Kingdom cannot fail,
He rules o’er earth and heav’n;
The keys of death and hell
Are to our Jesus given.
Rejoice in glorious hope!
For Christ the Judge shall come
And take His servants up
To their eternal home.
Lift up your heart; Lift up your voice!
Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!
“Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”--Lk 23:34
There hangs the humble King of heaven and earth: hands and feet nailed to a cross, face swollen and bloodied from the thorny crown and soldiers’ fists, his back bare and torn pressing to and sliding on the rugged beam, his body shamefully exposed, and his ears receiving the vicious slanders of his scoffers. In his trials before Caiaphas, Herod, and Pilate Jesus barely spoke a word, so these first words of our Saviour from the cross ought to resound in our souls the glad tidings of forgiveness, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
No rage-eyed stares. No threatenings or exchanged insults. Not even a word of self-justification. Rather, Jesus’ first words in the agony of crucifixion are words of forgiveness. He himself had said, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt 12:34). Oh, how abundant are Christ’s heart-springs of mercy that gushed out in this prayer for his enemies! How pure and deep his soul’s well of self-forgetting love that drew up, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
Can you imagine what it would have been like to hear such gracious words? Scripture doesn’t detail for us the full impact that this gospel prayer had on all of these Jewish leaders, Roman soldiers, and spectators, but can there be any doubt that at least some of them were part of the 5000 new believers mentioned in Acts 3:11-4:4? Surely they were. Note: remember that God answers prayer in the wisdom of his time, so let us not be deterred when we don’t see answers quickly. Time can not erase the prayer of faith.
But wait, let’s not forget that our sins also spewed out blasphemy; our rebellion shouted, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” And yet, amazingly, if we have repented and are resting solely in this crucified, now risen Lord of grace then we too were the objects of Jesus’ gracious intercession. We are the happy beneficiaries of “such love, such wondrous love” that flowed from the heart of the forgiving Saviour. Do you know him?
“Father, forgive,” the Saviour said,
“They know not what they do.”
His heart was moved when thus he prayed,
For me, my friends, and you.
He saw that as the Jews, abused
And crucified his flesh;
So he, by us, would be refused,
And crucified afresh.
But Jesus all our guilt foresaw,
And shed his precious blood,
To satisfy the holy law,
And make our peace with God.
My sin, dear Saviour, made thee bleed,
Yet didst thou pray for me!
I knew not what I did, indeed,
When ignorant of thee.
Chuck Cook is the pastor of Grace Bible Church - Rolla.