I was in a jam and needed help. We were living in Denver and I saw a notice that the Christian Booksellers Association was going to be held that year at the Colorado Convention Center. Being surrounded by the best and latest books would be a bit like paradise. But I couldn’t get in. You had to be a member of the Association and I wasn’t.
Time was running out when I got a call. Lexa had been in my youth group when I lived in Texas and was in Denver and wanted to see us. She was in town with a publishing company that had a display at the CBA Convention and wanted me to meet her there.
I explained to her the problem and she quickly countered, “That’s not a problem. I’ll leave you a name tag at the registration desk.” I made my way to the Convention Center, found the front desk, and heard a voice.
“Rick, over here!” It was Lexa. The next few moments brought reunion hugs, “how are you?” greetings, and a name tag. When we approached the security guard at the top of the escalator Lexa looked at him and said, “He’s with me.”
One minute I was at the end of my rope. The next I was in the middle of a heavenly array of books. My drooling was a bit embarrassing but I didn’t care. I was in. Not because of anything I could do but because of who I was with.
It matters a lot who you are with. Especially when you are hanging on a cross. Most likely he and his partner in crime are there because they are insurrectionists. They’re guilty of similar crimes. They’ve been beaten. They’ve been put on a cross. But they aren’t the same.
One sees an opportunity to be a part of the group and joins in on the ridiculing of Jesus. The other sees his own guilt and Jesus’ innocence. It doesn’t look like he’s got a prayer, but a prayer is his only chance so he offers one. He pulls himself up on the nails in his hands as he pushes against the nails in his feet and with a gasp of air lets out his request: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
He knows “Jesus” means “The Lord is Salvation” and hopes it is true. He merely asks to be “remembered,” which means “keep me in mind…think of me so that good may come to me.” It’s enough to get Jesus’ attention and he responds: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
“Paradise” was a well-known Persian word in that day that referred to a beautiful garden where one could find relaxation, refreshment, and delight. Jesus offers that to him that day, the day of his bodily death.
Could you use some hope for a place of rest and refreshment and delight? Then sit down with this criminal and ask him about the hope of Paradise. He’ll tell you it’s not the final destination, but it is the first destination after death. He was with Jesus, and that is Paradise.
Paul said, “Now to Him who is able to do above and beyond all that we ask or think…” The criminal would agree. And he’d tell us: “Listen, I merely asked Jesus to remember me, to think some good thoughts my way. And he said that instead I would be with him. And I asked him to remember me at some unmarked time in the future. But he assured me he would remember me today. And I asked about his kingdom, something I didn’t have a clear picture of. And he promised me a place in paradise, something I understood and needed desperately.”
And if we could ask him today what we should ask of Jesus, he’d smile a “from one side of the face to the other” smile and say: “Ask big. No matter who you are or what you’ve done, just ask Jesus to remember you. And be ready to be surprised.”
I was. I was happy to just get in and see all the books that were coming out that year. Understand, this was pre-Amazon days. But I not only got to see them, I got a free copy of a book I coveted before it was released at the Convention because of who I was with. Not because of anything I could do.
The same is true about Paradise. You won’t get in because of anything you can do, only because of who you are with. You might want to start that relationship today. It will pay off in the future.
Question: How can you take a step to that relationship today?