“Today, you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
Jesus described His mission in John 6:37-40, saying, “I will not reject anyone who comes to me, because I came down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me. And this is the will of the one who sent me, that I should not lose anything of what he gave me, but that I should raise it on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him on the last day.”
Even on the Cross, Jesus continued this mission. Amidst the ridicule and violence, there is one person who looks to Jesus, believes, and is given the promise of Paradise.
We’re told of two criminals on crosses beside Jesus. One reviles Him with a hopeless cry, “Aren’t You the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” Presumably he wanted to be freed from his suffering so that he could go on living life according to his own way.
The other criminal, however, knew that his greatest need was not for his circumstances to change. He’s one of two people in Luke’s Gospel who called Jesus by His name, which means “Yahweh saves.” He admitted his guilt, proclaimed with faith who Jesus is, and asked to be remembered – to remain with Him: The Greek root of the word remember means “to continue to dwell.” Through this, he is saved.
I often find that if I’m having trouble with my prayer time, it’s because I’m coming to the Lord with issues and despondently asking Him to act or show me the way. When I decide instead to simply desire an encounter, setting aside any crosses, tasks, or decisions, and to contemplate God, experiencing His loving presence, before discerning what to actually talk about with Him, I am able to be with Him more intimately, and submit more fully, with freedom.
For me, Paradise includes being with God. When we find ourselves in hard times, we may want God to simply remove the suffering, or make things clear, so we can go on our way. But, if instead, we repent, claim truths about the Lord and keep the desire of our hearts to be with Him no matter what, we will find something better: peace and a dose of Paradise.