"Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise" (Jesus, to a thief dying with him on the crosses, Luke 23:43).
What an incredible gift to this criminal who, next to Jesus, was dying because he deserved it. What chance did he ever have to spend eternity in paradise?
One chance. One opportunity. And, this thief handled it with faith in the innocent One dying next to him. "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom" (23:42).
That simple statement was full of both facts and trusting faith. The fact that this Jesus was dying innocently (23:41). The fact that this was a man, but more than a man. The fact that Jesus had a future kingdom coming to Him sometime after death...which meant that Jesus would be alive again. The fact that this future Ruler might grant favor to those who simply asked "to be remembered."
In those facts, this thief simply put his trusting faith, and humbly expressed it in a request. "Remember me...!"
Showing the heart of God, Jesus responded with MORE than what was requested. "Truly, I say to you, TODAY you will be WITH ME in PARADISE."
HEAVEN WILL BE THE FULFILLMENT OF WHAT WE ARE CREATED FOR
So often I'm asked, "Why did God create in the first place? Why bother?"
God's personal, perfect characteristics are manifold (i.e., many and varied). While they all "work together" in God's being, God in Scripture clearly presents himself as a lover and a giver. His motivation in creating was to give of Himself to his made-in-His-image creatures, human beings. The Biblical God seeks to always do what is best for those He has created, and what is best is for us to know Him and enjoy the fullness of His joys toward us in His presence. We were created to know God and delight in Him forever in marvelous, joyous, life-sharing relationship.
The heaven-filled stretch of eternity will fulfill that purpose. Want to know more?
May I suggest you invest $ and time in two of Randy Alcorn's books.
The first is HEAVEN (Tyndale House/Eternal Perspective Ministries, 2004). Read especially Section Eight, Chapters 23-44). This is a volume, but it is packed with incredibly wonderful information. A great summer read!
The second is IN THE LIGHT OF ETERNITY: Perspectives on Heaven (Waterbrook Press, 1999). Shorter but containing 25 digestable chapters on our eternal road ahead.
WHERE WE BELONG
"Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like His glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to Himself." (Philippians 3:20-21)
Somehow, one of the thieves realized much of this, while the other one chose to remain angry and bitter about his circumstances. Just after his last breath, this believing criminal found himself with Jesus himself in paradise. By faith in the Innocent One who would someday come into His kingdom.
Think about Heaven. Read about Heaven. Pray about Heaven. Talk about Heaven with your spouse, your kids, your grandkids, your friends, your co-workers. Show them what God wants to give them...forever. Why not? What could be better?
It's where any one of us can be - forever - when we simply have trusting faith in the Innocent One.