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Today You Will Be With Me In Paradise

Date: Mar. 19, 2016

Author: Steve Stasinos

Luke 23:26-26

Key Verse: Luke 23:43

“Jesus answered him, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.’”

How many of you have studied this passage before today? How many of you have heard a message based on these verses? How many of you have prepared a message, testimony, reflection, devotion or prayer based on any words in this passage? This may be the bread and butter Bible passage for Easter season meditation. Extra credit: how many of you have heard me speak on this passage? I’ve spoken on it countless times, most recently upstairs in 2014, and the danger is for the passage to become trite, habitual or even nostalgic: “Ah, there’s Jesus on the cross.” So I didn’t refer to any previous message, and we chose a different key verse, to avoid that. What I found has convicted and deepened my love and awe of Jesus this Easter.

Last night Jim shared the focus of this conference: “The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever” (1Jn 2:17). We all want to taste that life he described, the eternal life God wants for us. What does God want? 1 Timothy 2:4 says, “who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” The first step to eternal life begins at the cross where Jesus died. He opened the way to paradise: relationship with him. He wants all people to be saved. Lord Jesus, we come before your cross, the cross on which you died, to hear your voice, to listen to your words. Father, please let us newly hear Jesus’ words, that they may work powerfully in each heart today. In Jesus name, Amen.

First, “Weep for yourselves and for your children” (26-31). “As the soldiers led him away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus (26).” That was certainly not the Passover vacation Simon had planned for his family! Poor Alexander and Rufus, his sons (Mk 15:21), may have been shocked! But it shows the condition of Jesus’ body as he was paraded through the streets. Any volunteers to be mocked, ridiculed, flogged and shamed, paraded around the room? Surely not. A kind word in such a time would be welcome, yet Jesus did not accept their sympathy. Rather, Jesus’ heart was broken for them! “Jesus turned and said to them, ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For the time will come when you will say, “Blessed are the childless women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!” 30 Then “They will say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us!’ And to the hills, ‘Cover us!’” 31 For if people do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?’” Jesus saw the coming wrath on the people of Jerusalem. In 70 AD, short decades after Jesus’ execution, Titus laid siege to Jerusalem, ultimately destroying it. During the siege Titus would round up those who tried to gather food for their starving families, and had them crucified, up to 500 Jews per day, until there were no trees left to provide wood suitable for the process[1]. The horror of what these women and their children would face is surreal. To quote Josephus: “...everywhere was slaughter and flight. Most of the victims were peaceful citizens, weak and unarmed, butchered wherever they were caught. Round the Altar heaps of corpses grew higher and higher, while down the Sanctuary steps poured a river of blood and the bodies of those killed at the top slithered to the bottom[2].”

Jesus’ words still ring true for us: “Weep for yourselves and for your children.” This picture (Syrian Refugee) united a world in grief for the children of our world, victims of the thirst for power and greed. Look at the violence in our streets, the results of greed, war, politics. Even closer to home, we suffer due to our personal failings, wicked desires, cowardice and pride. As I think about raising four sons in a world like this, I tremble. Many of us weep about our children, or about our nation, but are we weeping for ourselves, for our children, and for our nation? What is the cause of all of this? Social science has many complicated theories. But in short it all comes back to one word: Sin. God said to Adam in the paradise of Eden: “When you eat of it, you will certainly die (Ge 2:17).” Paul wrote: “The wages of sin is death (Ro 6:23).”

All this wickedness will not go on forever. Jesus, quoting Hosea, pictures the sentiment of people under judgment: “Mountains: Fall on us! Hills: Cover us!” Do you know what this is? (Show video of red light traffic violation). Whose car is that?  Just a certain man with four sons and a 2007 minivan who didn’t stop. This video exposes everything; although frustrating and expensive, what can I say? Guilty. The government has a facility in Utah where they are storing every phone conversation, text message, website and email you send or receive. Those cameras on your laptop or phone? Yeah, they can watch you through that[3]. (Ask someone to read the sign). Imagine having to review all that stuff in a committee of your peers, and that is just the judgment of human beings. What about God’s judgment? Revelation 20:11-15. “Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. 13 The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. 15 Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.” God has everything recorded; every hateful thought, racist comment, impatient outburst, lustful desire, shameful action, deceitful conversation, cowardly decision, apathetic inaction, and we will each be judged.

Some argue, “Can’t God just forgive it all, and look the other way?” Do you want such a God of injustice, who does not punish sin? If your sister or your daughter is brutally raped, are you ok saying, “Well, bygones are bygones.” No, there must be justice. And God will not leave any debt unpaid. The reality is, we all stand condemned and guilty before a holy and just God, and there will be no hiding place in that day; even the sea will give us up. Jesus is right: “Weep for yourselves and for your children.” We have much to weep for. What are you weeping for? What comes to mind as you think of it? Please write it down now, don’t share it! We aren’t the NSA. Just write it for later. There is surely a message of hope here in Jesus.

Second, “Father, forgive them” (32-34). Verses 32-33. “Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. 33 When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals – one on his right, the other on his left.” Jesus had committed no sin. He had lived a holy life, a life of love and sacrifice for others. He healed the sick, set free the oppressed, loved the unlovable. One time he visited a man possessed by a legion of demons. Jesus didn’t run away. Jesus engaged the demon and drove them all out, at great expense, and restored the man to his right mind. Jesus touched a leper. Jesus raised a dead girl to life, he restored a dead son to his widow mother. Yet here he is shamefully treated, and executed in the most horrific way. We have seen the Passion of the Christ, and know the agony. Why was holy, beautiful, humble Jesus treated like this? Jesus was treated this way to bear the punishment for our sins. The solution to our condemnation: Jesus took the punishment in our places. A just God dealt with the guilt and shame and condemnation that we deserved by offering his Son, Jesus Christ, as a substitutionary sacrifice. The wrath and punishment that we deserved was put on him, and he was crushed in our places. This is the message of hope. This is where our healing begins. Our weeping stops at the cross, when we decide to believe in Jesus, accepting his sacrifice in our places.

There are many things that hinder us from accepting Jesus’ sacrifice in our place. Pride is a big one; We don’t want to admit we are that bad, or don’t want to humble ourselves to ask for help. Sometimes we think we have sinned too greatly. How could a good God every accept me? We may be fearful of God, not wanting to approach him, having been taught the God of judgment from our youth. But God doesn’t want us guessing how he feels about his. Look at verse 34. “Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’ And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.” Jesus prays to his Father, sharing intimacy, even the very heart of God toward sinners. Jesus isn’t full of condemnation, grudgingly bearing the sin of the world. Sometimes my sons fight, and I tell them: “Say your sorry,” and they grudgingly reconcile. But Jesus’ heart is full of love and forgiveness. Jesus understands us. He knows that we have no idea what we are doing. The heart of God is not one of condemnation, but forgiveness. He offers this reconciliation to any who would willingly accept it. We need not hesitate coming to Jesus. We need not wait any longer.

Those of us who have received this one-sided grace are to be transformed. Our heart should also change in relationship toward sinners. We are to grow in a loving heart, having compassion and forgiveness toward sinners. Stephen was a deacon in the early Jerusalem church. He gave the gospel message, but some Jews, who didn’t want to accept the message, became so angry that they dragged Stephen out and stoned him to death. Yet Stephen didn’t ask God to avenge him. Looking up to heaven, he saw Jesus there. He shared Jesus’ heart, saying, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them (Ac 7:60).” Ours is not a message of condemnation, but one of forgiveness and reconciliation. God in Christ Jesus has made a way for our weeping to cease, our guilt to be absolved, our shame to be covered, our wounds to be healed, our sins forgiven.

Third, “today you will be with me in paradise” (35-43). “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.’ 36 The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar 37 and said, ‘If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.’ 38 There was a written notice above him, which read: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS. 39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: ‘Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us (35-39)!’” Jesus had saved so many people; even his enemies could not deny it. They mocked him, daring him to save himself. They goaded him, thinking he could do nothing. The truth is Jesus could surely have saved himself, and even carried out vengeance. He could have been like Rambo: “They drew first blood,” and devastated them all. But he did not. Jesus was silent, and gave no response to their mocking and shame. Jesus bore it all in silence.

The other robber’s attitude was very different. “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.’ 42 Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom (40-42).’” As he heard the mocking, and saw Jesus’ response, as he remembered Jesus’ prayer, this man had a moment of clarity. He realized the truth that the world and its desires pass away, and in his case quite literally so. But Jesus is different. Jesus’ kingdom was not like the things of the world, which perish, spoil and fade away. This man found hope in Jesus. He couldn’t ask much, he was a condemned man about to die. But he believed in Jesus’ kingdom, and asked to be remembered.

To this man, Jesus gave a response. “Jesus answered him, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise (43).’” Jesus gave a promise to this condemned man, acknowledging his faith in Jesus’ kingdom. Jesus honored him. What started as the worst day of this man’s life became would be transformed to the best day. Jesus would take him to paradise. The robber had called it Jesus’ kingdom. In his mind, Jesus deserved a throne of beauty and honor, glory and recognition, high and above all the wretched of the world. But Jesus called it “paradise,” a place of peace, contentment, pleasure and beauty. The word speaks of a garden, like the garden of Eden. What comes to mind is a well ordered tropical garden paradise, a vacation paradise without the high cost and stress. In the Bible this word appears only three places, and each time refers to the glorious place where God himself dwells, meeting and interacting with his precious people. Jesus promised to take this man with him to paradise, that very day!

But the paradise isn’t a place like in geography. You can’t google the location, like Wonderland Camp. The location isn’t what makes it great. The company is what makes it great: Jesus promised, “today you will be with me.” This is the meaning of forever, of eternal life: to be with Jesus. When God created the first man, he put him in a garden, or paradise, so that he and mankind would live together. Man would glorify God and enjoy him forever! Sin brought banishment from the paradise. But through Jesus’ cross, the way is opened once again to paradise, and this man was promised the first entrance. To all who put their faith in Jesus’ kingdom he promises: “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

I grew up to a lower middle class family in a typical midwest American home. My earliest memories are of suburban life. I was the oldest of four kids to my mom, and had an older half-sister from my dad’s previous marriage. As I grew up, my parents’ church divided over some doctrinal issue. Church seemed pointless after that. I decided to live as I please, and that was the heavy metal lifestyle. I grew long, wild hair, smoked and did drugs, and lived immorally. I thought I was the master of my own life, but when I got to college I realized the horrible truth. I was trapped by my sin, and could not change myself. The very things that I thought expressed my freedom became like a noose around my neck. I could not get free. At that time, I was invited to Bible study. I didn’t want to to go; so I would say, “No” to the invitation. But the same Korean guy kept inviting me on a campus of 25,000 students at UIC. I wondered if God was reaching for me. So I said, “If I meet that guy one more time, I’ll go with him.” Sure enough, the very next day, who did I see coming down the aisle at the campus bookstore, but him? He didn’t realize he invited me so many times, but I knew. I hung my head, nodded, and went with him to the Bible house. For two years I studied the Bible. I loved singing hymns, playing guitar, and learning about Jesus. I also enjoyed the Korean lunches altogether in the dilapidated Bible house. UBF missionaries were so joyful! But my heart was so heavy. Like Jim, I memorized 1Co 15 one easter conference, and made a decision to live for Jesus. I was so happy! But when I went home to my girlfriend, she wasn’t happy. I couldn’t overcome the gravity of sin that kept pulling me down. I would write testimonies and share every Friday, then go home to her, do drugs and live immorally. I had no power to overcome myself. In 1997, I made a new decision that Easter, and again couldn’t do so. Dr. Samuel Lee noticed, and asked me to move into the staff house with my Bible teacher, and prepare to dance for the international conference that year. In a desperate act of faith I agreed. My daily routine was daily bread and Bible study, followed by a full day of dancing ballet with Little-Sarah Kim, and lunch with Dr. Lee. My sin-ravaged body didn’t cooperate, so by the time the conference came, I could hardly walk. But Dr. Lee said, “Let him dance a broken-leg Serenade!” And I was carried by angels. Through that struggle, my heart was well prepared. I heard Jesus speak to me through John 14:6, “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’” I realized that my problem in life was that I was following the wrong master. Jesus is the way. I decided to accept his words, and began to follow him. He gave me strength to repent all my sins and live a new life. It was miraculous. He set me free from physical addictions in one week. He helped me quit smoking. I began to follow Jesus, the way practically in my life, and others noticed. I worked at the computer lab at UIC, and one coworker noticed how I wrote testimony on my break time and taught the Bible to fellow students. She wrote me an email: “I feel far from God. Would you be my shepherd?” We began Bible study. You may know her, her name is Sarah Yu of Chicago. Over the years of following Jesus, he led me to grow step by step, to graduate and work as an engineer. He led me to marry a godly woman, Amy, from Toledo, and blessed us with a wonderful son Judah. Together we served Salt and Light fellowship at UIC, and disciples were raised through us. One of them is a messenger at the conference upstairs today. After he called me to leave my job and join Chicago UBF staff as Coordinator of UIC, God granted us three more sons, so now we are six. Life following Jesus is very exciting, with ups and downs. But I summarize it with the simple saying: “I’m blessed.” This is life with Jesus, this is paradise, following and growing in Jesus’ image. Wherever Jesus is, wherever he leads, I want to follow him, because he is the way, the truth and the life.

Fourth, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (44-56). “It was about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, 45 for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Jesus called out with a loud voice, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.’ When he had said this, he breathed his last.” Jesus died yielding his life and spirit into God’s hands. In all of human history, Jesus is the only human being who ever chose to die. Sure, some have elected to die earlier, but only Jesus chose to die, because he is the only person who didn’t have to. Since he committed no sin, he was under no obligation to death. Yet he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross!

The death of Jesus is therefore a turning point in human history. It was unlike the death of any person, accompanied by supernatural events in nature, where even the sun stopped shining. Even the battle-hardened Roman centurion who presided his execution testified: “Surely this was a righteous man (47).” Luke in verses 48-56 goes into great detail about the witnesses of Jesus’ death, including Joseph, who was a closet-disciple of Jesus. He came out of the closet here, and Luke goes into great detail regarding Jesus’ burial. This is important, because we need to know that Jesus did die on that cross, and was buried. It is the fact that sin has been paid for. It also points to the verifiable fact of his resurrection, testified to by many witnesses. If he had not died and rose again, we would have no assurance of salvation. But when united with him in his death, we have certainty to live with him forever.

Please take out the sheet of your weeping topics. Whatever hinders you from paradise with God. See, the torn curtain tells us everything. It tore from top to bottom. It was over 4 inches thick, and separated sinners from the perfect, holy God. At Jesus’ death, God himself tore this curtain, opening wide the way to paradise, life with him. Please tear it now, as an act of faith. Let’s do the will of God, accept Jesus’ blood shed for us, and live forever with him in paradise.

[1] Josephus: War 5: Chapter 6

[2] Peter Schafer, Josephus: The History of the Jews in Antiquity, Routledge (1995) 2013, pp. 191-192

[3] 1.5 billion-dollar one million square-foot Bluffdale / Camp Williams LEED facility. https://nsa.gov1.info/utah-data-center/

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