Hi, in case any one is interested, below I have posted the message which I preached at the Good Friday service at Vine Street United Methodist Church:
We talk a lot about paradise, don’t we? I am not talk about church either. We use the term casually. We might be talking about some form of an island “paradise.” We might think of a vacation resort as a paradise. One definition of the noun “paradise” actually can mean an ideal or an idyllic state. We have the “Bird of Paradise” Listen to this:
An Easterner was being driven by a rancher over a blistering and almost barren stretch of West Texas when a large brightly-colored bird scurried across the road in front of them. The visitor asked what it was.
“That’s a bird of paradise,” said the rancher.
“Pretty long way from home, isn’t he!” remarked the visitor. 
We may use the noun casually and we may even somewhat seriously use the word to talk about a place of relaxation that will be a temporary ideal state. I might use the word to talk about a Mexican restaurant or IHop. Maybe Chipotle is paradise. I love it, sitting there eating a burrito and the chips, they are so good. But it is only temporary! Eventually, I must quit eating, let my food digest and run 4 miles to make up for it. However, in the verse which I will speak on Jesus uses this noun to define an eternal state.
In this passage Jesus has already been crucified. If you listened to the first sermon Jesus had already asked forgiveness on those who crucified Him and I dare say you and I too. Jesus was crucified between two thieves. Now, in verse 42 one thief asked Jesus to remember him when enters His Kingdom. This brings us to verse 43.
Let’s read that verse and talk about the observations and inferences we can take from it.
First, notice that Jesus answered the man. Now, you may be thinking, “of course Jesus answered Him.” But remember that they are on a Roman cross. They are dying a slow death by crucifixion.
This was a very slow death by suffocation.
Arms were outstretched with and fastened to nails on the cross, he had to support most of the weight of His body with His arms. The Chest cavity would be pulled upward and outward. Making it difficult to exhale in order to draw a fresh breadth. But when the victim’s longing for oxygen became unbearable, He would have to push himself up with His feet, thus giving more natural support to the weight of his body, releasing some of the weight from his arms, and enabling His chest cavity to contract more normally. By pushing himself upward in this way the criminal could fight off suffocation, but it was extremely painful because it required putting the body’s weight on the nails holding the feet, and bending the elbows and pulling upward on the nails driven through the wrist. The criminal’s back which had been torn open repeatedly by a previous flogging, would scrape against the wooden cross with each breadth. Thus, Seneca (First century A.D.) spoke of a crucified man “Drawing the breadth of life amid long drawn-out-agony” (Epistle 101 to Lucilius, sec.14).
Sometimes people crucified would survive several days nearly suffocating but not quite dying. This is why the executioners would sometimes break the legs as we see in John 19:31-33. So, this idea that they are able to talk is a big deal to me. I started exercising several months ago. Sometimes I will be running on the treadmill and my wife will come down to ask me something, but you know, it can be quite difficult to respond because I am gasping for air. In much the same way the words that Jesus spoke and the words the two criminals spoke to Him were probably spoke while struggling to breathe. However, they do talk and so we have these words.
Jesus tells this man, “Truly I tell you,” let’s stop right there. Jesus is saying that this is the Truth. Jesus is not making this up. Jesus is speaking a statement that is of the upmost importance. The truth may not stand out to us today. In today’s day the truth has been stretched and sometimes we don’t know who to trust. But we must always remember that the Bible is absolute Truth and that includes Jesus’ words.
Now, Jesus says, Today, you will be with me in paradise. Now, before we talk about paradise, let’s talk about “today.” Now, I am not talking about “today, as in Friday, April 7, 2012, I am talking about the word “today.” I am talking about the word “day.”
How long is a day? I bet a day could be pretty long when you are slowly dying through crucifixion. There was a show made a few years back called “24.” Recently, my wife and I started watching this show on Netflix. Usually this is what we do, we starting watching shows after they have been out a while. This show is in real time. This means that a one hour episode is one hour on the show. A one hour episode is one hour in Jack Bauer’s life. A 24 episode season is one day in Jack Bauer’s life. But the thing is that in the first season his wife and daughter are kidnapped and he and his family are under attack the whole day. For Jack Bauer and his family that day is very long. In fact, in the beginning of each episode he says, “My name is Jack Bauer and this is the longest day of my life.”
That is exactly why it is so very significant that Jesus says, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” Surely, the crucified thief knows that sometimes people don’t die so quickly. Even if he dies the same day as he is living in, what if there is some form of afterlife punishment? Jesus says, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” That is significant. Later on in 2 Cor 5:8 Paul writes that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. I have said before that I am not scared of dying, I am scared of the process of dying. Seriously, I am. But as Christians we have no fear in death. This verse gives us great hope. If you have lost loved ones who were Christians we know that they are with the Lord. This is Truth. In case you doubted, Jesus even says that this is truth. This is truth and Jesus says that this same day the man will be in Paradise.
Oh, guess what else? Jesus will be with him in paradise. Wherever this paradise is Jesus will be there.
Now, let’s talk about paradise. I read something about this term last week:
The earliest Greek translators of the Old Testament used the Greek term for paradise for God’s garden (Gen. 2:8–10). [The Garden of Eden was called paradise] In the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha written between the Old and New Testaments, [these are extra Biblical literature written in the time period between the Old and New Testaments] “paradise” takes on a new meaning in Jewish thought. It becomes associated with the blessing of final judgment (see 2 Esdras 4:7; 6:2; 7:36, 123, 8:52). This meaning appears three times in the New Testament (Luke 23:42; 2 Cor. 12:4; Rev. 2:7).
So the thinking that would have impacted this term in Jesus’ day would have been what developed in the time period in between the Old and New Testament. This man would have known that Jesus was talking about a place of eternal bliss.
It is interesting that the religious elite who had Jesus crucified didn’t get it. They missed it. But they were the religious scholars of the day. Yet, this thief who deserved to die for committing a crime, he figured it out. Actually, by God’s grace he was saved. He didn’t do anything. He believed in Jesus as Lord and Savior. He recognized Jesus for who He was and He was saved into eternal life.
One commentary says this:
23:32-43. Luke did not state, as did Matthew and John, how the events of Jesus’ death fulfilled Old Testament Scriptures. Luke’s purpose, instead, was to show that Jesus was the forgiving Messiah even as He died. Jesus asked the Father to forgive those who were killing Him (v. 34), and He forgave one of the men sentenced to die with Him (v. 43). Even in death Jesus had power to make people right with God. And yet the rulers … sneered (v. 35) the soldiers … mocked (vv. 36-37), and one of the criminals crucified with Him insulted Him (v. 39).
Salvation is totally by grace, not of us but a gift from God. This demonstrates what Ephesians 2:8-9 teaches us. By believing in Jesus, accepting His free gift of forgiveness for our sins, confessing our sins and committing to Him we are saved and we will also enter paradise at death. This paradise will not be a temporary satisfaction of a burrito, nor an island resort. This will be eternity. I actually encourage you to do some study on Heaven. Interesting that this is our eternal home, but we don’t talk about it enough. There is a book by Randy Alcorn called Heaven, it’s very interesting. We’ll be there some day, with Jesus and with this redeemed thief.