No better promise
No better promise
I wonder if it’s a word that you would use. In connection with your death. The word gain. A Bible author, Paul, uses it when writing about his own death. “To die is gain”, he says (Phil.1.21). Would you be able to say the same?
Let’s make the picture clearer. Paul had a very good reason for using that word. Death for him was gain because it was a departure to be with Christ in heaven. And that, he says, “is better by far” (Phil.1.23). Why so? Because where Christ is, lots of other things – painful things – are missing. No sorrow is there. Nor is there any sickness there. Nor is there any possibility of separation there. Loved ones who are together in heaven will stay together for ever.
And then the best bit. No sin is there. Sin has been completely eradicated from the heart and life of everyone who is where Christ is. People there, in relation both to God and to one another, live only as they ought.
Which brings us to a wonderful promise. When Christ was dying on the Cross of Calvary he made a promise to a man who was dying beside him. It was this: “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23.43). Christ knew where he was going. When death set its seal on him he would enter paradise (a popular term for heaven). And his promise was that that very day this man would join him there. All the blessings of departing to be with Christ this man was about to experience for himself.
Now here’s the astonishing thing. The man in question was a criminal. On his own confession he was suffering what was due to him for his crimes. Surely the least likely of candidates for immediate entrance into heaven! And yet to just such a person this amazing promise was given.
Please read on as I explain. Clearly there is no better promise than that one day we will be with Christ. For all the reasons cited above. But the critical question is this: how do we get it? How can we be sure that when death comes knocking at our door we will be the gainers? For entrance into heaven (in spite of what many believe) is by no means automatic. On the contrary, our sin is taking each of us inexorably in the direction of hell. How is that to be altered?
Back to the dying criminal. Why such a glorious promise to such an abandoned character? Two reasons.
One is that Christ is gracious and merciful. What could this criminal do to earn God’s favor? Nothing! And because of our sins that’s the position we’re all in. It is impossible to merit heaven – even by a little. If it’s to be ours at all it will have to come to us – wait for it! – as a totally undeserved gift. And because Jesus is gracious and merciful it is just such a gift that he gives.
Then there’s a second reason. Jesus had said that whoever came to him in their need, desiring his favor and friendship, he would welcome. And this dying criminal did that. His heart reached out to Jesus. In the humblest way he asked Jesus to remember him when he came into his kingdom. And because Jesus is faithful and just (as well as merciful and gracious) he granted him his request.
Nor will it be any different with you. For the very same reasons. You come to Jesus in your need as a sinner, seeking his forgiveness, looking to him for eternal life, and this golden promise will be yours. At death you too will go to be with him. And there’s just nothing better than that!