In Paradise With Jesus

November 26, 2006
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
Luke 23:35-43

1. Today's gospel reading is the scene where Jesus is crucified. Three crosses were erected upon Golgotha's hill. The Bible tells us that two criminals were crucified with [him]. One of them spoke in a voice wrenched from the pains of an agonizing death, "O Jesus, when you enter your land please remember me." Whereupon, Jesus replied, "Truly I say to you, you will be with me in paradise today." This is the message of good news given to us for today.

The Crucified Criminals

2. [There are] two criminals. What crime or sin did they commit, I wonder? According to The Gospel According To Mark, they are "two thieves." Or it's also possible that [we] resolve the word that has been translated "thief" to a word that means an anti-Roman revolutionary, and so that would [make] them political criminals. We're not exactly sure what they might have done [against Rome], but there is something definitely known about one of them. Regardless of whether a thief or a revolutionary, the fact remains that "he himself" admits that he has committed an offense. The fact remains that he admits that his crucifixion was deserved. Therefore, he chides the other guy and says, "Don't you fear God? We might be receiving the same punishment [as him]. [You and I] deserve it because we are receiving a punishment for what we have done. But, this man has not done any wicked thing."

3. Furthermore, there is one other thing that is plainly evident. That body of his, which had committed the offense, is in a condition now where it can no longer move. They cannot do good or bad. They cannot use [their] bodies again, which they had used to practice evil, to practice good. They will never be able to reform their lives in which they had been living in doing wrong or be able to start living over again with lives that practice good. Because they are crucified.

4. Well, what should we think about these "criminals?" What strikes me when I read this passage is that the way these criminals are is not really anything special, but is, in a certain sense, the way all people will eventually come to be at.

5. The time will come along when we too will no longer be able to move our bodies to do either good or bad. The time is certainly coming when we won't be able to turn our lives around again to do good. At that time will we admit our own sins like he did? [Everybody's] got a different amount [of time] indeed, but in the end, we will definitely be reminded of the bad that we have done. But, at that time we will not be able any longer to move our bodies in order to make up for our faults. That [time like that immobilized] may be a long period, that amount of time which is at the end of one's life. Or, it may be a final second. But, either way it may be, that time is coming. There is no big difference in whether it is on the cross like these criminals or it is in a bed. In this way then, what is being depicted is the way a human being will inevitably come to be. It is the place I will come to, it is the place everybody will come to.

6. But, then the Bible has something else to tell us about this. It says right nearby the sinners who could no longer do anything there was the Christ. Christ was there, close enough for a voice to reach him. In a crucified state with [the sinners]!

7. Of course, just because Christ was there didn't mean he might come to move again. The other criminal insulted him as follows. "Aren't you the messiah? Then, try saving yourself and us." What he meant with the words "Try saving" is probably "Get yourself down off the cross and get us down from the cross too." [But] no, even though Jesus was beside them, they would not be released from the penalty of the cross. They would not be let down from their crosses. Nor would they ever move their bodies as they pleased. This was the truth.

8. Yet, in spite of this [truth], Jesus' being nearby and being in voice range did make a decisive difference for his last [moments]. This scripture passage tells us it did. He said to Jesus, "O Jesus, when you enter your land please remember me." He addressed [Jesus] in that way and notwithstanding the fact that he was on the cross and he was having pains as well, he no longer was in a state of desperation.

Please Remember Me

9. "Please remember me." That's what he said. If I could switch the words a little, it would be "Please remember me. Please don't forget me." When you think about it, this is a marvelous statement. Would any of you, if you were in this scene, ask just like he did, "Please remember me?"

10. As I mentioned earlier, he admitted his sin. He said that he deserved being given the death penalty by crucifixion. [Again,] if I could switch the words a little, he was regarding his own life as a life that was worth being finished off by death on the cross. Indeed, he wasn't the only one who saw it that way. His sin had been exposed to the public eye in the form of his being affixed to the cross. That's how he is and like that he says to somebody to "Please remember me. Please don't forget me." Is that an appropriate thing to do?

11. Everybody, after you die who do you want to remember that you existed? "Please don't forget me?" To whom [might] you say that? I'm sure there are many people here in this place who would answer "I want you to remember me." But since we are talking like that, it must be because a large part of our lives are hidden from people's views because we have only been showing the good part that's visible. It seems that way with our family and our friends. So, we "want them to remember us" and we can talk that way.

12. For argument's sake, what if everything came out in the open exposed? What if the things I have done, no matter what, became perfectly clear to everyone's view? What if every sinful deed I have ever committed was out in the open? Would I still say, "Don't forget me?" I don't think we would. Indeed, though, what if, even though we've done all that, our lives are ended in such a manner that we are finished off by the penalty of crucifixion, and what if our lives are exposed to the plain view of others in that such a manner? What if we could not avoid finishing off our lives in a manner where we were forced to think of "how I have lived down to the gritty and grimy details!?" Could we say, "Don't forget me?" I don't think we could.

13. And that's not all. This man, of all men, says right to his face, "O Jesus, when you enter into your land." "Your land" means "kingdom." He said, "Your kingdom." He was looking at Jesus as "[his] king." He spoke that way to the One worthy to be the king of the kingdom of heaven.

14. What does it really mean that Jesus is "king?" In ancient kingdoms, kings were also judges. Kings had the authority to judge crimes (sins). Having been judged under the authority of the emperor of Rome he was being crucified. But, he knew [something else as well]. [He knew] that there is a higher authority than even the Roman emperor. There is the One who can judge sin on earth with the authority of God. Every single person will be judged in the presence of this One who sits upon the heavenly throne for all the days which he or she has lived upon earth. This very Jesus right here right now is the One who sits upon the heavenly throne. -- That's what he meant when he said, "O Jesus, when you come into your kingdom."

15. He admitted and recognized that. That's the kind of person he was speaking to when he said, "Please remember me." Was that the appropriate thing to do? Everybody, in the end will you be able to say to the one who will righteously judge your life, "Please keep me in your mind. Please remember me?" Much rather we will probably be unable to avoid saying, "Please forget me. Please forget that I have even lived. Please forget everything I have ever done."

Today You Will Be With Me In Paradise

16. So, why did he even say something like "Please remember me?" Maybe it was because he was hoping that he could ask for words of forgiveness for his sins from the mouth of the king. He was dying having been condemned as guilty in the courts of this world and having been crucified. However, he could ask for words of forgiveness in the courts of heaven. It was precisely because he did believe that way that he could say, "Please remember me."

17. So, why could he even believe such a thing? It must be because he had heard the voice of Jesus who was within voice range. Just before today's reading, the words of Jesus are recorded that go as follows: "At that time, Jesus said, "O father, please forgive them. They do not know what they are doing." On the cross Jesus was interceding for others. The king with the power to ultimately judge humanity was seeking for forgiveness from God the Father and was interceding for others at the risk of his life on earth. He heard that voice. So, he turned himself over to Jesus for intercession. He turned that life of his over [to Jesus], a life finished off by a cross. He turned that life of his over, a life which was powerless to do anything to make any kind of amends. "O Jesus, when you enter your land please remember me. And you, as king, please forgive me with your [royal] authority."

18. Whereupon Jesus answered him without a moment's hesitation, "Truly I say to you. Today you will be with me in paradise." Wow, it was not after Jesus had sat upon his royal throne, it was not after this criminal had died, but when he was still alive, at that moment, he heard the answer from the mouth of Jesus. "Today you will be with me in paradise." This was nothing other than a complete declaration of pardon for [his] sins. The death penalty by crucifixion turned out not to be the conclusion to his life. The conclusion to his life turned out to be that he would be with Jesus in paradise. [His] sins were forgiven. He had heard those words of forgiveness ahead of time, while on this earth, when he was still struggling in pain upon the cross.

19. Jesus did not take away the man's pains, from which he would meet his death. But, when the man heard the words of forgiveness, the meaning of his dying and suffering on the cross completely changed. "Today you will be with me in paradise." His suffering was nothing other than [a path] going straight to [paradise].

20. Well, as I've already touched upon, the figures of these criminals that we see here are that of our own, which we'll meet up with sooner or later. The time is soon coming when we will not be able to do good or evil with our bodies. In some sense one way or the other, the time is coming when we will not be able to "make amends." Nevertheless, though, there is still something we can do. "Please remember me." We can say that. When talking to Jesus, we can speak that way without any worry. In peace we can turn our entire lives, warts and all, over into his hands; for, he besought [God] for [our] forgiveness upon the cross and made intercessory prayers on our behalf.

21. And we do not hear the words of forgiveness in heaven, but before then, while on earth, we can hear the declaration of forgiveness for sin. At that time, even the meaning of a person's ending changes. In what manner will [you] meet [your] death? That's not that big a deal. Meeting death on a cross is probably one of the worst ways, we could say. But, even still though, it is actually the entrance way into perfect salvation.

22. Furthermore, when the meaning of a person's ending changes, the life itself of the person who is heading for his or her end will also change. When Christ is with [us], and when persons are with [us with whom we] can say in peace "Please remember me," our lives will be not walking towards annihilation at all, but instead we will be walking towards perfect salvation.