“Jesus answered him, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise’”’ (Luke 23:43).

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Cuenca, Ecuador – April 14, 2019: Catholic procession in historical center of city Cuenca during Holy week. Unidentified people perform bible story: Jesus carrying heavy cross, Roman soldiers and two thieves.

In Jesus Who?—Problem Solver Revisited, I shared Matthew 18:21-22: “Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times,'” and then I went on the share something that continues to resinate with me this morning,  “Jesus was speaking these words, and then went on to share the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant, I can’t help wondering whether one day hanging on a cross was in the back of His mind.”

Peter probably thought that he was being pretty gracious by suggesting seven times, but Jesus’ answer wasn’t a literal number; in fact, Jesus responding, “seventy-seven times” was a figurative way of saying indefinitely. All the while Jesus was speaking of forgiveness, He knew people would one day cry out, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” (Luke 23:21), and not stop there, but go on to declare, “All the people answered, ‘His blood is on us and on our children!’” (Matthew 27:25). Jesus already knew Peter would go on to betray Him three times. Jesus already knew He would one day hang naked on a cross, and in addition to bearing the physical pain and human shame of such a terrible death, Jesus knew He would also bear my sins as well as yours; the sins of the whole world! On that day, Jesus willingly bore the sins of the criminal on His right as well as the one on His left, all the while knowing that only one of them would believe and be saved.

What humility! What love! Jesus could have forced His will on the people; forced them to bow down and worship Him; forced each and every person to confess to their wickedness before obliterating them. In this gruesome moment, which had to have seemed to most onlookers as Jesus’ defeat, not even so much as a snarky retort from the Lord. No, with infinite love and mercy, Jesus cried from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34). But one of the criminals condemned alongside the Lord knew better. “One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: ‘Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’ But the other criminal rebuked him. ‘Don’t you fear God,’ he said, ‘since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise’” (Luke 23:39-43). (From my concordance: Paradise is the same as the third heaven (2 Corinthians 12:2, 4), and means the dwelling place of God.)

Yet, here I am, and sometimes I struggle to forgive even the most minor of infractions. So, what does that say about me? Better question is what does that say about Jesus? I don’t think I ever truly appreciated the magnitude of the encounter with the two criminals until this very moment; the Gospel unpacked in five verses. Praise be to God! Wow! Just wow!

For everyone who has been reading, I am still sitting under that broom bush I wrote about, but I doubt I will be here for too terribly much longer; there has been a purpose for this season, and the purpose is good and necessary. I wish everyone a blessed day!

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