“And he was saying, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come in your kingdom!’
And He said to him, ‘Truly I say to you, today you shall be with me in Paradise.’”
Ecclesiastes 3:11 is one of my favorite verses because it declares that God has set eternity in the hearts of men. It gives me comfort to know that my own longing for heaven and for home is a God-given desire, and one that need never be stifled for the sake of fitting in or smoothing over. But, as we spend this season reflecting on the significance of Easter and of Christ’s suffering on our behalf, I’m more moved to focus not on the fact that God has set eternity in my heart personally, but on the fact that He has set that same sense of the eternal within the hearts of ALL men—all humankind.
Luke 23:42-43 illustrates this perfectly. It’s the account of the thief on the cross who confesses to Jesus and places his trust in Him. A hardened criminal, if you will, and his last thoughts were of heaven. I can’t imagine he’d spent much of his life considering his eternal condition. And yet, at the one moment that counted most, that was the only thing on his mind. You know what I love even more? That Jesus honored this man’s dying request. God didn’t set eternity in our hearts to be stingy with it, or to snatch it away. He longs that each of us would accept His gift of eternal life. 2 Peter 3:9 (NASB) assures us, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.”
I have to confess that sometimes I do feel like God has been slow to keep His promise to me. Like Moses, I long to see His Glory face to face, pleading, “Come, Lord Jesus, Come.” But, if I shift my focus off of myself and on to all men, I’m led to pray instead for His continued patience and dedication to widespread repentance: “Give them one more day, Father, and forgive them—for they know not what they do.”
“All the crazy in my dreams,
Both my broken wings,
Every single piece of everything I am,
Yeah, she knows the man I ain’t,
She forgives me when I can’t,
The Devil, man, no, he don’t stand a chance,
‘Cause she loves me like Jesus does.”
There’s a country song that came out awhile back and has been popular ever since, called, “Like Jesus Does.” I remember a time last summer when I was playing this song, and I took the kids out onto the deck at their grandma and grandpa’s house. They took turns dancing with me and would throw their heads back and laugh, full of joy. At that moment, feeling showered with undeserved blessings, the words of the song and the deeper meaning of the lyrics hit me in a way they hadn’t before.
This is how Jesus loves me. He knows my every dream and my every failure. He knows every sorrow and every sin. And even though the Devil would love to use every bit of my past (and my continued struggles) against me, he doesn’t stand a chance, because Jesus loves me like He does.
No doubt, you’ve heard the saying that “there’s nothing you can do to make God love you any more than He does. And there’s nothing you can do to make Him love you any less.” And truer words have hardly been spoken. God is love. He is grace. He is mercy. He is forgiveness.
What could we possibly do to deserve this? Nothing. All we can do is love Him in return, and love others “like Jesus does.”
And what better time to reflect on these simple truths and powerful convictions than in the weeks leading up to Easter, when God—through His son Jesus—declared this unfailing love for us, once and for all.
I guess you could say I’m a sucker for the “bad guy turned good” plot line. We recently finished watching the BBC Robin Hood series, and somehow by the end of it, I was feeling a sense of grief as Robin’s antagonist (Guy of Gisborne) breathed his last. In spite of an insatiable thirst for money and power, and a willingness to do ANYTHING to get them, he underwent a major turnaround during the last couple of episodes—a change of heart, a change of character, a change of attitude, and a change of behavior. His last words (to Robin, in fact) were, “I’ve lived in shame, but because of you, I’ll die proud.”
That line reminds me of someone else who might have said the same thing. When Jesus was being crucified, he was joined by two thieves. One of those, recognizing that he deserved his lot, nonetheless reached out to Jesus, saying, “Jesus, remember me when you come in your kingdom!” (Luke 23:42). While a change of heart and allegiance are remarkable in themselves, the most encouraging thing about this story is Jesus’s response in verse 43: “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with me in Paradise.”
What this passage means to me is that, no matter how long you spend praying for a loved one, telling them about Jesus, encouraging them to change—and all seemingly in vain—there is still hope. As long as they have breath, there is still hope. So keep on praying, keep on sharing, keep on encouraging. The eleventh hour may come, and in a divinely inspired moment of clarity, everything that you’ve done and said may sink in, and you, too, may meet again in Paradise.
“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”
Our pastor recently described parables as earthly stories that point to heavenly things. So here’s a good one. Not long ago, I was driving down the road on a Sunday evening. The light was hitting the windshield just so, and producing a slight glare. And, as it turns out, I also had a small blind spot at the right front corner of my car. Well, I inadvertently missed and failed to yield to a cyclist. As soon as I saw him I stopped and tried to make an apologetic gesture.
But his first response was to greet me with, well, a non-apologetic gesture. Maybe his response was conditioned by countless intentionally negative encounters with motorists; or maybe the rider was used to looking for the bad in people, assuming the worst of intentions, and failing to offer the benefit of the doubt. Either way, I felt compassion for him—maybe because I could easily relate. My own focus is so often on the negative, and other people’s failures and shortcomings (and my own), that I look past the good—and assume the worst. I get easily offended, I respond defensively. I put up walls to keep people out.
I realized, as I looked upon the cyclist with a sense of pity—over all he was missing—that he was a mirror into my own heart. I saw how my suspicions of people’s actions and intentions, and my failure to give people the benefit of the doubt, robs ME of the blessing of seeing the good in them. If you can relate, perhaps you’ll join me in deliberately looking for the good in others—in order that we may bless them while being blessed ourselves. Finally, let’s remember the words of James (1:19-20), who admonished us all to “be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”