I wonder what we think of when think of paradise? A day like today - Drung in the sun! A beach in the Bahamas? A cruise in the Caribbean? If so our expectations are too low! The Bible says "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him." (1 Corinthians 2:9). The Lord who made the heavens and the earth has new heavens and new earth in store, we won't be sitting around on clouds playing harps, but enjoying the Lord in His new physical creation, a place where there will be no more crying or death or mourning, no more ambulances or doctors, no more dentists, no more sickness. And best of God will dwell with us! (Revelation 21:3).
Sounds better than Drung in the sun! But how can we be sure that we are going there? That's where today's reading from Luke 23 helps. We need to learn a lesson from the criminal who died on the cross next to Jesus. This man was guilty and he knew it, and yet he received the best assurance anyone could - he heard from Jesus "Today you will be with me in paradise!" How could Jesus say such a thing to such a wicked guilty man? The man had no opportunity to do any good deeds, he couldn't get to church, be baptised, take Communion, or even help the proverbial old lady across the road! He was nailed to the cross and couldn't do anything - except...cry out to the Lord for mercy. He recognised Jesus as Lord and asked Him to remember him.
It was as simple as that, and amazingly, because Jesus was completely innocent, he was paying the price for all who put their trust in Him. This guilty criminal could face a Righteous Holy God with complete confidence because His punishment had been paid in full by the Lord Jesus. What great news! As the hymn puts it: "The vilest offender who truly believes, that moment from Jesus a pardon receives!"
But how do we know it's true? Because Jesus really did rise from the dead, proving he had authority over death. We'll be thinking about this more tonight at Christianity Explored - do come and explore the evidence for Jesus' resurrection.
"Let us remember these things, when our believing friends fall asleep in Christ. We must not sorrow for them as those who have no hope. While we are sorrowing they are rejoicing. While we are mourning and weeping at their funerals, they are safe and happy with the Lord." (J.C. Ryle)