"Today ... in Paradise"

Every time you see a person with a cigarette held to his lips, you can be assured of one thing: he has ignored a clear warning of some kind before he ever lit up. All over the world, cigarettes contain some type of warning label.

Some of them are rather mild and timid. Packages in the U.S. have labels that read: “Quitting smoking now greatly reduces serious risks to your health.” In Korea, from 1976 to 1989, the warning said: “For your health, please refrain from smoking too much.” Cigarette packs in Azerbaijan have the following words, usually in light print and in very small type: “Smoking is dangerous for your health.”

Other places have much stronger warnings. In Albania, France, and Croatia, smokers are told: “Smoking kills.” Austria and Germany print this on their cigarettes: “Smoking is lethal.”  The warning in Great Britain: “Smoking can cause a slow and painful death.” Labels in the Netherlands say: “Smoking causes deadly lung cancer.” In Brazil, the label occupies 100% of the back of cigarette boxes, reading: “There are no safe levels for the intake of these substances.” 

The strongest warning I’ve heard of comes from a country where a good friend of mine serves as a missionary. There, the label says: “If you smoke, you will die.”

When my friend told me about that warning, I concurred that it was very strong. But, after I thought about it for a moment, I told him, “If you don’t smoke, you still will die!” He had to agree.

The human mortality rate still hovers around the 100% mark! Every day we live could carry with it this warning label: “You will die.”

All of us are on a road that leads eventually to physical death.

For some, however, death is looming just moments ahead.

When Jesus was dying on the cross, two other men were dying with Him.

The Bible says: 

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!”But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.”And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”(Luke 23:39-43, ESV)

Both men were criminals.

One was unrepentant to the very end. Even as he died next to the Son of God, he slandered and blasphemed Jesus.

The other criminal, however, responded very differently. He acknowledged his own guilt: “We are receiving the due reward of our deeds.” He recognized Jesus’ innocence: “This Man has done nothing wrong.” Most importantly, he asked Jesus to save him: “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”

And the Lord Jesus responded: “I tell you the truth, today you will be with Me in paradise.” What a wonderful promise! Though the repentant thief still suffered all the pain of death, he lived each moment with the assurance of Jesus that the instant he died, he would be with Jesus in paradise.

The response Jesus made to this dying, sinful man shows us several things:

·     The thief did not have to make a stop in “purgatory”  after dying. God’s Word never makes mention of “purgatory.”  It’s a purely human invention – and absolutely false. Instead, he was with Jesus in paradise that very day, the moment after he died.

·     The thief did not have to be baptized to be with Jesus in paradise. As important as baptism is for believers to show that we follow Jesus, it does not do one thing to save us. Only faith in Jesus saves.

·     The thief did not have to ask Mary, the mother of Christ, for any help at all to be saved or to approach Jesus. She was right at the foot of the cross, but the thief never spoke to her. Those who mistakenly pray to Mary actually dishonor both her and the Son she bore.

·     The thief did not have to promise to become a better person in order to be saved. He was nailed to a cross. He was helpless to do anything but die. Jesus saved the thief only because of his faith.

Every person who reads this is exactly like one of those two thieves crucified on either side of Jesus. We are dying. We are facing eternity. And whether we go to Heaven or Hell depends on one thing and one thing alone: What have we done with Jesus?

Poet William Cowper understood that if the thief could be saved, we all can be. In his hymn, “There is a Fountain Filled with Blood,” he wrote these words:

The dying thief rejoiced to see

That fountain in his day;

And there may I, though vile as he,

Wash all my sins away.

Today, I ask you: Which side of the cross are you on? The lost side or the saved side? The doubting side or the trusting side? The hell-bent side or the heaven-bound side?

Have a great day and keep moving forward!

Suggested Bible Reading 

Ephesians 2:1-10

Prayer Guide

Today as you pray ...

Praise Jesus for the assurance He gives believers of salvation.

Thank Him that salvation is all of His grace, and depends on Him alone.

If you have never asked Jesus for His gift of salvation, call on His name today, admitting that you are a sinner, believing that He died in your place for your sins, and confessing Him as your Lord and Master.

If you know that you are saved, ask the Lord for an opportunity today to share His good news with someone.

Give Jesus glory for the wonderful future you have today because of His death on the cross.

During Holy Week, leading to Resurrection Sunday, “Moving Forward” devotionals will focus on the seven sayings of Jesus from the cross.