Image from www.honeymooners.ie
When you think of paradise, what picture comes to mind? For me, paradise can place a picture in my mind of palm trees swaying in balmy sea-side breezes while the bright yellow sun beams across a white sandy beach. On a cold February day, I really can’t think of a better way of spending some time than on a get away to paradise. Is anyone else ready for a little vacation from the cold and the snow?
Each person’s picture of paradise could be any number of things. However, the idea of paradise usually holds some universal elements for people: it is a place of beauty, it is a place where the cares of life don’t have a passport, and it is a place that seems to be very far away in time or in miles. While some people may have the resources and time to hop a jet plane to their own personal paradise, for the vast population of humanity, such things are the stuff of fairy tales. Paradise, speaking purely in earthy terms is a place very few have the chance to travel to and if they get there the stay is temporary. For Jesus and the thief on the cross, their picture of paradise was quite different than a picture of a vacation to a tropical beach. The paradise they were concerned with was one that held an eternal placement with a never ending residence.
When thinking of Paradise on an eternal scale, Christians look forward to heaven as the ultimate gift of salvation. In John 14, Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled…in my Father’s house are many dwelling places…and I go to prepare a place for you.” Just like the thief on the cross, believers in Jesus are given that promise too. “Truly, I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise. “, are the words that Jesus speaks in response to the crucified thief that said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Can you imagine the relief and joy that was felt by the thief knowing that on that very day eternal paradise was something he was going to experience on a personal level? In that moment of grace and forgiveness, his hopes of paradise would become a very real and tangible reality. Paradise went from being a hopeful fantasy, to becoming a present reality.
In that pivotal moment, the thief on the cross was given the gift of salvation and a very real and eternal residence in a place of beauty, a place that was free from the cares of the world and released from the suffering of his earthly circumstances. In those last moments of life on earth, the thief was given another gift – the gift of faith in something unseen that somehow shifted the heaviness of life’s burdens. The thief was on a cross, but his faith in Jesus words gave him peace even in the seriousness of his current circumstance.
While the gift of eternal life someday in heaven is a wonderful and hope inspiring promise, it’s important that we not spend all our time thinking about the someday. If we all wander around in life only thinking of what will be for us in heaven someday, we will miss opportunities of sharing that hope and joy here on earth.
When Christians disengage from serving God in the present and only focus on their personal eternity, the promise of eternal paradise for other would be lost.
As God’s children, we are promised an eternity of blessings, but those promises should press us into actions of love, hope and peace in living out our present lives. We should emulate Jesus actions even in his last moments of life where he was attentive and present to those surrounding him. Jesus listened to the cares of the man next to him and ministered to his needs immediately. Jesus was focused on sharing himself and giving himself to humanity, even in the last moments of his life on earth.
Life is a challenging journey for all of us. There are days that we can wish for immediate paradise, when trials come our way. It can be easy to allow our focus to shift to that someday Paradise, when unexplainable or painful things happen to us or the people we love. Somehow, because of the promises Jesus have given, we all find it a little easier to carry on. Just as Jesus, even in his own state of pain, cared for the needs of the thief on the cross – I believe we are called to care for, extend hope, and the promise of salvation to those we find beside us.
We can choose to live only enduring our earthy life because eternity in heaven is all we look forward to, or we can decide to embrace our earthy lives and the people in them because of the hope and joy we have looking forward to eternity with Christ.
The time we have on earth can be looked at through two different lenses: one of holding off for heaven or actively holding heaven out to others. We can live focused on the someday, or we can make today focused on living to love someone.
Heaven is a place that Jesus has gone to prepare for us - while he’s doing that for us, what or who are we preparing for him here on earth? Paradise can be lost if we decide to hoard it or it can found for many if we share it generously. Paradise will be found not only for you, but also for those around you when like Jesus; you are willing to listen and immediately minister to everyone in diverse circumstances of life. Then Jesus words of promise that were spoken on Calvary, “Truly, today we will be together in paradise”, will come to pass not only in the future someday, but in the present and on earth as it is in heaven.