We often think about us being here and God being way over there. We are often misled by the devil and our sinful nature that God is somewhere else and we are alone until that day. Often times prayer may even seem like we are reaching out to God and hoping that He hears us and will answer. We are constantly in this struggle between being a sinner and a saint. We are both right here and now righteous and yet sinner. We have this struggle between belief and unbelief, between God with us and God over there, between the here and now and the not quite yet. In todays text lies something that is often overlooked.
39 One of the criminals who was hanged insulted him, saying, “If you are the Christ, save yourself and us!” 40 But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Don’t you even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 He said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” 43 Jesus said to him, “Assuredly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23: 39-43)
In this Gospel text we see two criminals that are also crucified with Jesus. One states “If you are God, save yourself, and us“. If you are… then. Think about this. How often do we think to ourselves, If I am saved I sure don’t feel like it, or if God is in control it seems like He is napping (like on the boat during the storm)? We often think like this about God, we often doubt and test Him. We suffer daily in this world and yet often think that no peace or joy can come until Jesus returns or I take my last breath. We often think like a sinner.
Let’s look at the other criminal. He says “Don’t you fear God… we deserve this, He does not… Jesus Remember me when you come into your kingdom“. He speaks to his fellow criminal and says to Fear God because we deserve this and more, yet He is innocent, He is the suffering God, He will enter into His kingdom. These are words of faith. These are the words of a sinner who is justified; by faith. Though I am a sinner and deserve the wrath I have stored up for my sins, God is innocent, God is suffering for me, God is in my place so that I can be in His Kingdom. This Kingdom comes now because we are saints.
We are ‘simul iustus et peccator’ (simultaneously sinner and saint)
Jesus has this response “Today, you will be with me in Paradise“. The second man says “When” you come into your Kingdom and Jesus says it is “Today”
When you come into… Today you will be. The man says When, Jesus says Today.
This is how a promise works. It is guaranteed to you right now but also not quite yet. You have the promise of salvation right now, you have the promise of heaven right now, you have the promise of being fully justified right now, you have the promise of being without sin right now; though we are not yet seeing, in faith, we believe this promise. Think of it this way, when you hear the promise of the Gospel, Holy Absolution, remember your baptism, take the Holy Eucharist in your mouth; God is there. He isn’t far off somewhere over there where you have to wait to have Him. He is there. The Holy Spirit is in the Words spoken or read, Christ gives you His body and blood in the bread and wine, The Triune Godhead called you by name and claimed you as His at your baptism. You weren’t baptized; you ARE baptized. You weren’t justified; you ARE justified. You weren’t forgiven, You ARE forgiven. You aren’t far from God, You have God with you.
Today, you have Paradise. It’s a promise that is here and now and also not quite yet at the same time. Today, you are forgiven, justified, baptized, and God’s own child. Not something to wait to have, but right now. Right now God has you, loves you, cares for you, and wont leave or forsake you. Today, Jesus is giving you His body and blood. Today, God proclaims your righteousness in Christ. Today, Holy Absolution is proclaimed and it still holds true throughout the night, tomorrow, next week, forever; because the Gospel never changes. Today, right now, God has you as His own, and just as nothing stopped Him from being nailed to the cross, just as nothing stopped Him from dying for you; nothing will take you out of His Holy pierced hands. Go in peace, because Today, though you be sinner and saint, you are God’s own child.