In Paradise

 •  4 min. read  •  grade level: 6
A nameless man has blazed a historic trail. We have heard of a place—paradise. We have read of its peace and cloudless joy, of its river of pure, undefiled pleasure, of its inhabitants who never say, "I am sick." We know that in this place there is no death, no pain, no parting, no sorrow, no sin. There is no cemetery, no hospital, no prison, no sound or threat of war. If it is true that one man has already reached there, we would gladly take the same road.
But how do we know that he has reached it? We want facts, not theories.
Paradise is a fact, for the Savior of the world, the Son of the living God, has made the statement: "lb-day shalt thou be with Me in paradise." Luke 23:4343And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise. (Luke 23:43). As surely then as Jesus Christ went into paradise when His eyes closed in death upon the cross, so surely did the man to whom He spoke.
Who was this man then, this man so favored as to accompany the Son of God? He was a robber, a thief.
He had a lifetime of evil deeds behind him, and it was useless for him to promise reformation for he now had only a little while to live. He performed no penance, he passed through no purgatory, he received no dispensation. But he turned to the Savior of sinners, and on the basis of his simple faith in that One he went straight from a robber's cross to paradise.
If, then, he received such wonderful, unmerited favor from the hand of God, may not we too have hope of similar treatment when we remember that He is a God of love, not willing that any should perish? Indeed we may, and the paradise of God is open free to all who come in the same way the dying thief came.
How did he come?
This evil man had spent his waning strength and his gasping breath in cursing the silent Sufferer at his side. He expected a blistering retort, but as he railed on and on and no word of rebuke came from those kind lips, no fiery glance from His compassionate eyes, the cruel, venomous words trailed off into silence.
Then the conscience of the dying thief awoke. He remembered that when he and his companion had been thrown upon their respective crosses they had cursed their executioners, but that when the gentle King of the Jews had been rudely maltreated, roughly hurled upon His cross and nailed to it, He had only prayed, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." Luke 23:3434Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots. (Luke 23:34).
This could be no ordinary man! What if it were true? He had heard whispered in Jerusalem that Jesus had claimed to be the Son of God. He had done enough miracles to support that claim. None had ever heard Him say an unkind word or seen Him do anything wrong. He never had to recall a sentence or apologize for a misdeed. Could He be the Son of God? And now to think of those words of forgiveness for His enemies! Surely here was God, if ever deity had visited this sin-stained earth.
He thought, "I deserve my fate, but this Man has done nothing amiss." He may have added, "If He really is the Son of God, this cannot be the end. Some day God will vindicate this just Man, and give to Him HIS kingdom."
Against the crowds who had cried, "We will not have this Man to reign over us," the voice of the dying thief was heard. He said, "Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom."
What joy these words must have brought to the broken heart of the Savior of the world! He recognized the simple faith behind them. Here was no recital of good deeds or promise of betterment. Here was a helpless, hopeless sinner casting himself unreservedly upon the Savior of sinners. How else could He respond except in His own princely fashion? This poor thief should go with the Savior Himself into paradise!
So he died. As his eyes, glazing in death, closed upon a dim and dying world, they opened upon his Savior's face and his ears heard his Savior's voice. For him there is endless joy, though he deserved the blackness of darkness forever.
And we too may take the same place as the dying thief.
The dying thief offered nothing, promised nothing; he accepted as a gift Christ's promise of immediate entrance into paradise-and entered into paradise with his Savior.
We too must come to Christ as guilty sinners, acknowledging, "I know that in me... dwelleth no good thing." We cannot bargain with God-no excuses for past sins, no promises for the future. We cannot turn over a new leaf or lead a better life or pay the way to heaven with good deeds or prayers.
By His death on the cross, Christ has satisfied all God's righteous claims against the sinner. God has "laid on Him the iniquity of us all," and God can now righteously pardon the sinner who believes in His Son and His perfect work.