“Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise,” declared Jesus to the good thief. (Luke 23: 43) Quite a remarkable promise to the thief, and quite an extraordinary implied promise to us!
While nearly all who stood by and watched the crucifixion of Jesus were ridiculing, mocking and challenging him, only the good thief acknowledged who Jesus was, came to his defense and asked to be remembered in his kingdom. Church tradition tells us his name was Dismas.
The passers-by hurled abuse at Jesus. The rulers and soldiers sneered at him saying, “He saved others, let him save himself if he is the chosen one.” Even the other thief said, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us.” (vs. 35, 39)
Out of this harangue and overcoming the difficulty of speaking while hanging from a cross, Dismas chastises the other thief, “Have you no fear of God? We have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal.” (vs. 40-41) Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Bishop Fulton J. Sheen in his book, Life of Christ, observes that this was the only word spoken to the cross that was not a reproach. “The conduct of everyone around the Cross was the negation of the very faith the good thief manifested; yet he believed when others disbelieved.”
If a thief, who right before he dies repents of his sins, acknowledges Jesus as Lord, comes to his defense and asks to be remembered in Jesus’ kingdom, is promised paradise that very day, how much more should we rejoice in this same promise if we are daily repenting of our sins and acknowledging Jesus as Lord in our words and actions!
Jesus’ promise is that we will be with him when we die. This is our destiny.
As a child, I always remembered a story shared by my mother who was in serious auto accident when she was 24. Her skull was fractured in several places. She said that while she laid unconscious on the gurney in the emergency room, she had an out-of-body experience. She was looking down on her body as the doctors were discussing her condition. She heard them say that they did not expect her to live, and if she did, she would be blind. She then saw herself walking up a stairway to a very bright light. As she proceeded up the stairway, she realized that she was alone and that my dad was not with her. She said, “Where is Larry (my dad)? I can’t go without him.” Days later she regained consciousness and later recovered from her injuries. While she didn’t become blind, her vision was impaired for the rest of her life.
Like many near death experiences that have been written about in recent years, she was approaching the light of Christ. Fifty-three years later she reached her destination.
“Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise!”