Let’s Receive the Gift Called “Today”
Jesus said to Zaccheus, a chief tax collector of Jericho, “Today salvation has come to your house.” He spoke of “Today.” Today, not tomorrow, is the day of salvation. He said, “Do not turn a deaf ear toward the Word of “Today” (Heb 3:7, 15; 4:7) for “Today” is present in the last days. Hence the title of today’s message, “Let’s Receive the Gift of ‘Today.’”
Luke 23:43 of today’s passage states, “And He [Jesus] said to him, ‘Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.’” When Jesus was crucified, He first said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Much time passed after He said this until His words in today’s passage. In that interval, the high priests along with the scribes, Pharisees, and religious leaders became one in cursing Jesus; the two robbers crucified with Jesus hurled abuse at Jesus as well (Matt 27:44; Mark 15:32). But after quite some time had passed, one of the two robbers in today’s passage repented and entrusted his soul to the Lord saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” Jesus responded saying, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”
What had happened in that span of time?
Jesus suffered a punishment more brutal than that of the robbers. The Roman soldiers inflicted scourgings that plowed His back with furrows. The Jews spat at Him, beat Him with their fists, and tore out His beard. Imagine the pain! Thieves who had been sentenced for stealing and murder were crucified on His right and left. They likely spewed out nonsense saying, “It was a matter of bad luck that I got caught” and “It’s unfair that I have to die at such a young age.” However, even while dying a horrible death on the cross, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” He took upon Himself all the sins of mankind and prayed for their forgiveness with no blame or hate toward anyone. Having witnessed this, the robber to the right had a change of heart; it was the work of the spirit of repentance in him.
Beloved saints, see what the robber on the right said to the robber on the left. “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” He defended Jesus on His behalf. The agony of the cross is one that surpasses that of hell. It’s the same as going into hell, coming out of it, and then entering hell once again. In that process, one realizes without a doubt the existence of both heaven and hell and, with utmost sincerity, entrusts his soul to the Lord. Our saints too must have an experiential heavenly hope, not one that you have read of or heard of through sermons. A faith without such a hope is a lie. Those who behold the world will find themselves unable to let go of it. They will have greed for it.
Jesus’ cross was in the center; the robbers were on crosses on His right and left. To the human eye, the crosses are all the same. However, the cross in the middle had the One who is without sin. Because it has the Lord of the atonement for mankind, it’s the cross of One who came to this world to serve us and forsook His life for us (Matt 20:28). The cross on the right is the cross of repentance, and the cross on the left is one of heinous sins. At first, the two crosses were of the same mind — both robbers ridiculed Jesus. Their names are recorded in the Apocrypha: the robber to the right was Dismas and the robber to the left was Gestas. Some theologians assert these robbers were brothers. Though they may have professed to be of the same mind before their crucifixion, there was a division on the cross. So it became a cross of separation, a cross of repentance. The Lord did not turn away from the penitent robber but loved him. It’s the cross of love. But, to the unrepentant, the cross is one of destruction and curses; it’s a cross of hell. The cross of the repentant robber on the right is a heavenly cross, and it’s worlds apart with the cross on the left especially in view of their meanings. They’re as different as heaven and hell. When the rich man asked that the poor man Lazarus be sent to him, father Abraham said, “There is a great chasm fixed between you and Lazarus, a vast distance that cannot be crossed” (Luke 16:26). Saints must henceforth realize when they look upon the cross that the cross does not bring together but divides. All Christians, from pastors to laity, must examine themselves to see if they are living as those on the right in their faith. Let’s evaluate ourselves to see whether we are living like the serpent, unrepentant and wholly immersed in the world. God’s kingdom, the Word, and the church are first.
Who in the history of mankind became a lawyer for the Lord?
According to the Bible, only the robber on the right. See what he said to the robber on the left: “Hey, don’t be like that. You and I are being rightly punished for our wrongs but what did the One in the middle do wrong?” He said, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” And seeing His repentance, the Lord said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” What precious words! Even while dying on the cross, Jesus was fulfilling His purpose for coming into this world. Jesus came to harvest souls. It is not the will of the Father so lose even one soul (Matt 18:14). Despite the agonizing pain of the cross, Jesus could not turn a blind eye to the one who repented. There is profound meaning in Jesus saying, “I!” Look at how Jesus loves him in that moment and takes him before the Father so that one soul is not lost. Jesus regards those who are dying in sin with sorrow and He is thankful for the robber on the right who obeyed the purpose for His coming.
No one in this world would pity a thief caught for stealing. It’s the thought of man to say, “Who cares if a person like that dies.” But Jesus fervently loved that one soul and accepted him. With the heart like a mother who holds her bundled baby while singing a lullaby, God holds onto the soul of the robber on the right with His hand. We must be able to feel that love. Let us understand that He forgot His own physical pain and loneliness and provided one soul an opportunity for salvation even while on the cross. Sinners who repent before God will lovingly gather us in. How wonderful this is! What more could we ask for?
The robber on the right lived without God.
He was a thief throughout his entire life. Not only was he a thief but a murdering thief. Nevertheless, when he became a believing soul, imagine how happy God must have been with Jesus’ overflowing labor, sacrifice, and devotion until all was fulfilled! How our Father God must have rejoiced to see that one soul reaped right before His death. See how He poured out His fervent and burning love which could only melt even the most unfeeling and hardest of hearts. Do not wander aimlessly by viewing the cross only in the literal sense but inscribe it deeply in your hearts. As long as we have breath in us, we must proclaim the gospel. If we do not evangelize one soul even after hearing this message, it’ll be as if we’re blocked in.
“I,” “you,” “today”
Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” That He said “I” refers to the heavenly and earthly authority (Matt 28:18). In the created world of Genesis chapter one, only God can say “I.” We as sinful human beings cannot say “I.” How can we when we have lost our very selves? Jesus holds the key to both heaven and earth. From Genesis chapter one to the world’s end, Jesus alone says “I.” Only He who has received all authority in heaven and on earth from the Father, who opens and no one will shut, and who shuts and no one opens, can say “I.” When He said, “I,” heaven and earth were astonished. After mankind sinned, He said “I” only to the robber on the right out of all those who lived and died in this world. The same robber who had been insulting Jesus with curses too shameful to be said aloud was converted after hearing Jesus pray, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” He sincerely rebuked and advised the robber on the left and took the role of defending the Lord. As he was dying, he pleaded desperately in his young faith, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom.” Such was a mighty repentance made in the midst of excruciating pain. It was then that Jesus with His heavenly and earthly authority said, “I!” Truly this is an amazing Word. “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”
Jesus answered him with the Paradise that would follow after death on the cross and salvation. Today, may you hear the voice that said to the robber on the right, “I! You!” At our repentance, God will utter “I!” to “You!” He has made it so that heaven, not hell, is on the other side of death. Here, “today” is the eternal today. Literally speaking, Jesus was crucified, put in the grave, and resurrected in three days. So this may not seem to align with Jesus’ words to the robber on the right, “Today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” How could Jesus be in Paradise with the robber on the right if He was in the tomb that day? However, this “today” is not the today according to the human understanding of time and dates. It’s an eternal today without regard to time or dates. Mankind lost “today” the moment Adam sinned. There is no “today” even now. Only Jesus is the “today.” “Today” is manifested when one receives Jesus. The Lord of all creation came into this world for me (Rom 11:36) to give us heaven: “I! Today! You!” This blessing will be fulfilled for all of us today.
Behold His Word of authority to those who do not believe in the realm after death:
“I go to prepare a place for you…I will come again and receive you to Myself,” (John 14:1-3). How real is this Word to us? Our way of life changes when we believe in the existence of heaven and hell. We are lighthearted attending church. Heaven must become your everlasting hope. Though heaven is very far when we don’t believe in it, it’s the house next door when we hope in it. If we’re not friends with the neighbors, they might as well live miles away. But we feel close to those who understand us. Isn’t heaven where your parents and friends are? It’s your neighbor, not far from you. “On mountain top or in the dell, in cottage or a mansion fair, where Jesus is ‘tis Heaven there.” Hell is where Jesus is not. “Nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or, ‘There it is!’ For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst.” Heaven is our one and only hope.
Abraham, the forefather of faith, departed from his country, relatives, and father’s house on his own and went to the land appointed by God. In less than ten years, God gave him countless servants, treasures of silver and gold, and riches. Wealth cannot be gained without the God-given power to obtain it (Deut 8:18). All is given by God. I’ve been to Beersheba where Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob once dwelled. Its exact location is accurately known through the oral traditions of the Hebrew people. It’s also believed that Adam and Eve are buried in Hebron. What’s amazing is that Abraham did not build a house. We can think, “It’s so strange. He was so rich, why didn’t he have a house of stones built?” But we can understand through Hebrews chapter 11. Abraham considered this world to be a temporary dwelling. He regarded this world to be rubbish. Heaven was his homeland so he was merely a sojourner in this world. Why would a sojourner
build a house? For what purpose? Even if you travel to a place with wonderful scenery, you wouldn’t build a house there when you already have a home. I shed many tears while praying. He could have loved the world but didn’t. Rather, he understood that the world has nothing to do with God’s will and lived thundering against the world. It was a pilgrim’s journey. The world abandons and curses believers. Abraham had the mindset that he was simply passing through this world so that he did not feel the need to respond to what it said nor to feel disappointed by it.
Abraham’s love was not for the world but for his heavenly homeland.
He saw with faith the everlasting fortress that God had prepared for him beyond death. He could only wonder with an eager heart how wonderful his house would be. So he told his family, “Let us not build a house but work for the will of God and for His people, not for the world.” Every place he went, he prayed and built an altar. He established churches. That’s the life he lived. And those who live in such a way will be gifted with “I!” “Today!” “You!”
Sermon by Huisun Reverend Abraham Park on April 2, 2004 (Special Lent service)
*This post can also be read in 'Champyungan'. (http://champyungan.com/en/)