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What happened tomorrow.....

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23: 39-43

The incident in bold above happened tomorrow.

On the Jewish Passover Day – the Christian Good Friday – in Jerusalem AD 30 – two criminals were crucified along with Jesus. Neither of them rose from the dead when Jesus did – on the first Easter Sunday.

But Jesus promised one of them (not the other), “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Before Jesus was born (AD Zero) all of the Bible’s Old Testament books were translated into Greek (mainly from Hebrew). In the Greek translation of the book of Genesis, the “garden” of Eden is called the “paradise” of Eden. Jesus, in Greek, chose this word – “paradise” - as the destiny of this dying criminal on that very day.

I have a question for you. Why did one criminal who died that day go to paradise when the other didn’t?
‘All men stand condemned, not by alien codes of ethics, but by their own. All men therefore are conscious of guilt.’ (C S Lewis, author The Chronicles of Narnia, 1898-1963)

A similar (but more difficult to answer) question arises with regard to Peter and Judas – two of the twelve closest followers of Jesus during the final three years of his service in Galilee and Jerusalem.

The following incident also happened tomorrow. Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. And a servant girl came up to him and said, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you mean.” And when he went out to the entrance, another servant girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” And again he denied it with an oath: “I do not know the man.” After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Certainly you too are one of them, for your accent betrays you.” Then he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know the man.” And immediately the rooster crowed. And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.

Park that for a moment until you have had time to read about Judas. The following incident also happened tomorrow.  Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” They said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself. But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since it is blood money.” So they took counsel and bought with them the potter’s field as a burial place for strangers. Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day.

The question which I asked of you earlier can be repeated regarding Peter and Judas. Why did one disciple die that day burdened with his guilt, whilst the other, also burdened with his guilt, went on not only to live but to live for Jesus Christ (and enter paradise)?
‘Every guilty person is his own hangman.’ (Seneca, Roman Stoic philosopher, BC 4 – AD 65)

One thing stands out in the Judas narrative. Judas confessed his deep consciousness of sin to the church leaders - those who had paid him to give away Jesus into their power. The church leaders replied that Judas’ sin was of no concern to them. (They were concerned about their own righteousness and immediate social needs.) Judas went out and…

One thing stands out in the Peter narrative. Peter also had a deep consciousness of sin – this time when he remembered Jesus’ words foretelling his denial of Jesus. He didn’t go to the church – after all they had had Jesus killed. Like Judas Peter went out and…..

Four men. Four guilty men. Only two destinies. Two didn’t speak with Jesus. The third did speak – and pleaded. The fourth tried to speak - but only managed to weep bitterly before Jesus.

Richard Syvret

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