Luke 23:43 Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”
When God’s people agree they say, “Amen.” For us, that word is usually a response, a conclusion, the end of the matter. For Jesus, “Amen” was an introduction. We say “Amen,” we are certain, after we have heard. Jesus tells us we can be certain even before he has spoken. “Verily, verily,” “Truly I say to you,” “I am telling you the truth” are all ways of translating the word Jesus used to introduce so many of his sayings in the Aramaic, “Amen.”
So it is here. “Amen–I tell you the truth” Christ calls to the criminal crucified on the cross next to him. “You can believe what I am about to say to you. What I am about to share with you is no joke.”
And if ever there was a time to be serious and truthful, this was it. In just a few hours, these men on Jesus’ right and left would be ending their earthly journey and facing their eternal destiny. As the author of Hebrews reminds us, “It is given to man once to die, and then to face the judgment.” That isn’t a joking matter for people like us whose lives are stained with sin.
And so Jesus gives the man words that can also sustain our faith on the day of our deaths, and assure us that we have not misplaced our trust. “Today you will be with me in paradise.” Jesus himself would die just an hour, maybe two, before this man died. Jesus’ death was opening a door to another life, the Paradise of God–back to a world like the one at the far edge of all human memory, hardly more than a rumor now, yet hungered and longed for in the deep places of every human soul. Jesus’ death was opening the door to another world where there is no crime or criminal, no pain or punishment, no death or judgment. Jesus’ death provides the payment that opens the door to God’s own garden of delights, the Paradise of heaven.
And later, when this man’s legs were broken, and after a few minutes he hobbled through death’s door, there was Jesus himself waiting for him, receiving him, just as he had promised. “Today you will be with me in paradise.”
Someday he will be waiting on the other side of that door for you, too. That very day you will be with him in paradise. He is telling you the truth.