Easter/Lent Jesus

Last Words 2: Heaven Is Real

Nobody wants to die alone, and it’s a gift to be surrounded by family and friends when you go.

These are meditations on the Seven Last Words of Jesus for Holy Week. Those planning to do our Good Friday vigil should wait until Friday to read these. I wanted to share a couple each day for those who won’t be participating. 

What if Jesus’ dying words shaped how we live the rest of our days?

35 The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.” 36 The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar 37 and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” 38 There was a written notice above him, which read: this is the king of the jews. 39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.

Maura Lewinger’s husband was a beloved high school teacher and assistant principal who died of COVID-19. He was a healthy 42-year old husband and father of three children. She recently spoke to CNN’s Erin Burnett about the last hours of his life as a low-grade fever one day quickly left him dying in the ICU a few days later. She shared how she was able to be “with him” until the end thanks to the nurses allowing her to FaceTime with him. Through the phone she prayed with him, played their wedding song, and eventually said ‘Good bye.’ Nobody wants to die alone, and it’s a gift to be surrounded by family and friends when you go. (Watch heartbreaking interview below.)

Jesus didn’t die alone either—though few of us would chose to have two criminals share our last moments. This is a touching scene to meditate on tonight as so many people in our world right now are facing the reality of death and hopefully wondering what’s on the “other side.” As this coronavirus claims lives of young healthy adults as well as the older vulnerable population, many are hopefully being forced to think about the reality of Heaven, Paradise, Eternity. 

The good news is that Heaven is real, and the Paradise Jesus spoke of is not reserved just for righteous saints, but repentant sinners—yes, even the worst criminals who only turn to God in their dying moments. That’s why its called amazing grace!

Reflection:

  1. The two criminals had the same sentence and possibly committed the same crimes, but they had very different heart soils in the end. How did they differ and what lesson can we draw from the two criminals for how we view “rough characters” we come across?
  2. Reflect on the meaning of the criminal’s exact request: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Why remember? Why not ‘save me’ or ‘welcome me’ or something? 
  3. Reflect on the words “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” What might have rushed through the criminals mind after hearing this? What thoughts rush through your mind if you knew you would be with Jesus in paradise today or tomorrow? 

Jeremy Berg is the founding pastor of MainStreet Covenant Church in Mound, Minnesota, and Professor of Theology at Solid Rock Discipleship School. Jeremy is completing his doctorate in New Testament Context under Dr. Scot McKnight at Northern Seminary in Chicago. He holds a M.A. in Theological Studies from Bethel Seminary (2005) and B.A. from Bethel University (2002). He and his wife, Kjerstin, keep busy chasing around three kids, Peter, Isaak and Abigail.

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