by Colin Maxwell
“And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee. Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
These words of the Lord Jesus were directed to one of the thieves with whom He was crucified. That this thief was wicked, there is no doubt. His reviling of the Saviour as recorded in Matthew 27:38-44 reveals the heart of one dominated by sin.
But God’s grace is a marvellous thing and the Repentant Thief is vivid evidence that there is mercy with the Lord — that no sin exists which the Redeemer’s blood cannot cleanse — and that whosoever will, may come and drink freely of the water of life, if they but come in repentance and faith. All these grand gospel truths are easily proved from the case in hand.
But let’s focus for a moment on the Saviour’s answer to the thief’s request: “Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.” It was then that the words of our text were so gloriously spoken. They are vital words which raise many queries. For instance, why did Jesus not say to the thief: “Do you not know that those who die in “venial sin” go immediately to purgatory? It is necessary that you suffer in its burning fires in order to purify your soul and thus fit you for heaven.” But no such words passed the Master’s lips.
“Today shalt thou be with me in paradise”
He simply said: “Today” (i.e. once your redeemed soul leaves your tormented body) “shalt thou be with me in paradise” — Christ reveals that this man who was converted but moments before would soon be with Him in Heaven.
It may be argued that this man died as a saint and for him therefore purgatory was unnecessary. This is true insomuch that ALL who are saved are called saints. A “Christian” or a “saint” (the terms are synonymous) is one whose sins are forgiven (Ephesians 1:7) — removed from him “as far as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12) — “blotted out as a thick cloud” (Isaiah 44:22) and who is “justified freely by [God’s] grace” (Romans 3:24).
If God so deals with the sins of every converted soul — He “remembers them no more” (Hebrews 10:17) — why then does “purgatory” exist at all? Sins are either forgiven or they are not. Justification — the legal declaration that the one justified is clear of any charges — is either real or it is not. If a man is thus forgiven and thus justified, then he has no need to be “purified” insomuch that he is purified already. Such was the Dying Thief. Although the circumstances of his conversion were unique, yet his conversion itself did not differ from any other. He did not work to be saved. He was not baptized into any church. He did not invoke Mary although she was standing nearby. He was saved by simply looking to Christ (Isaiah 45:22) and by calling upon the name of the Lord. (Romans 10:13)
Death for the Christian entails immediate entrance into heaven. The Bible knows only heaven or hell. It speaks of no third or intermediate place. The purifying of the soul is neither by human merit nor by human suffering. It is attributed solely to the redeeming work of Jesus Christ upon the Cross: “Who had by HIMSELF purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of [God]” (Hebrews 1:3). “Death without purgatory” — these words are true. There is no second chance when you die. “After death the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). Your only opportunity to be saved is here and now. Come as a sinner to the One who “made peace through the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1:20).
The dying thief rejoiced to see That fountain in his day,
And there may I, though vile as he,
Wash all my sins away.
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