Turn in your Bible to Luke 23:39-43. Last week we looked at two major themes of this passage. We saw in His conversation with the criminal that Jesus is continuing to save, to draw people to Himself, even while He is on the cross. Then we looked at the criminal’s incredible conversion. This week I want you to see a third thing from this passage. You not only see Jesus working for the salvation of this sinner, even from the cross, and the glorious conversion of this sinner while he is on a cross but also a stunning, life-altering declaration that Jesus makes. When the man says to Jesus, “Remember me when You come into Your kingdom,” Jesus says something that would have blown the minds of all pious Jews who heard Him: “Truly I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” There are at least three things in that one little sentence that would have changed the whole theological structure of the world in which the people who originally heard Jesus say those words lived: “today,” “with Me,” and, “in Paradise.”

I. Today

Now when the thief said to Jesus, “Remember me when You come into Your kingdom,” I don't know how much of Jesus’ teaching this thief had heard or knew about. Maybe he had been among the crowds in Jerusalem and had heard Jesus’ teaching. Maybe he had heard Jesus teaching somewhere else, or maybe he had just heard Jesus speaking and teaching from the cross, enough to learn that He claimed to be a King. But when he asked Jesus to remember him when He came into His kingdom, if he believed like pious Jews in his day believed, he probably meant something like, “I believe that the Messiah will one day come at the end of time, and He will judge this world, save His people, and condemn the wicked. The just and the unjust will be raised from the dead, the just will be blessed, and the unjust will be cursed. Remember me, Jesus. That is to say, forgive me and accept me and number me among the just on the last day.” He's craving forgiveness and inclusion in the blessing of the kingdom to come at the end of this age.

Jesus’ answer is mind blowing. He says, “No, no, no, today you will be with Me in Paradise. Not just eons hence at the end of the age, not just at the resurrection of the dead, but today you will be with Me in Paradise.” Jesus’ announcement of “today” is an indication that in His death He is going to conquer death, which is the wages of sin. His people will not simply have to await the coming of the final judgment, We do look forward to the coming of the King in His final judgment and the blessing of all those who are in Christ and the punishment of the wicked, but Jesus doesn't just say, “I've heard your prayer; I’ll remember you then.” He says, “Today you will be with Me in Paradise.” It's an indication that what He's doing on the cross is a victory over sin, death, and the grave.

Do you realize that in that one sentence He has altered the whole way that the Christian looks at death? Death is the last enemy. It is the wages of sin. And even for those of us who believe in the Gospel, in salvation, and in the life to come, the loss of a loved one is a hard thing to bear. And Jesus is saying, “I want you to know that, if you trust in Me, the second that you close your eyes in death you will be with Me. Not just then at the end of the age, but today you will be with Me in Paradise.”

II. In Paradise

Secondly, in Paradise, the abode of the just, where the blessed dwell until the final coming of the Lord. Jesus is articulating in one sentence the doctrine of the intermediate state more clearly than it has ever been unfolded in the Old Testament. If you want to understand that doctrine, you have to scan the pages of the New Testament because the Old Testament only gives you hints here and there as to how to understand that. But Jesus here in one sentence is saying that, the minute that the believer closes her eyes in death, she is in Paradise, immediately, before the final resurrection ever comes. We still look to the final resurrection when the just and the unjust will be raised, when Christ comes with power and glory on the clouds, when every knee bows and every tongue confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord. We look forward to that as the last great event in this history, but until then, if you die in Christ you are in Paradise among the blessed.

III. With Me

And here's the best part: today, in Paradise, with Me. Paradise isn't some airy-fairy world where you float around on clouds. It's where Jesus is. Jesus is the great treasure of the believer. In the end, we love forgiveness of sins, but we love forgiveness of sins because it allows us to be with Him. We love justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, but we love it because we treasure Jesus more than anything else. Jesus isn't just the means to our blessing; He Himself is our greatest blessing. So He turns to this thief who had asked to be remembered, and He says, “Remembered? Ha! You’re going to be with Me! I won't have to remember you; you’ll be with Me!” I’m sure you can think of a dozen people right now that you would give your eye teeth to be with. There are young people who have never known their godly grandparents, and they will be with them. There are husbands who've lost the face of the wife who loves them. They will be with them. But among all those precious things, the most precious will be to be with Jesus. Today, with Me, in Paradise. And He says it to this thief! If that's not salvation by grace alone I don't know what it is.

But you see, the question for us is, have we repented like this thief? Have we trusted Christ like this thief? Remember what Peter tell us in 1 Peter chapter 2: “You are living stones,” verse 5, “being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God in Jesus Christ, for this is contained in Scripture: ‘Behold, I lay in Zion a choice stone, a precious cornerstone, and he who believes in Him shall not be disappointed.’ This precious value, then, is for you who believe, but for those who disbelieve, ‘The stone which the builders rejected became the very cornerstone, a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense.’ For they stumble because they are disobedient to the Word, and to this doom they were appointed.” To believe, or to not believe? That is the question. If you believe, and if you die after you finish reading this, Jesus’ word is, “Today you will be with Me in Paradise if you believe.” So that is the question. May God grant you to believe.