Read: "Jesus answered him, 'Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise'" (Luke 23:43, NIV).
Think About it: Today was a day that began like many others. The electronic buzz of the alarm clock brought me into the reality that a new day had begun and that it was time for me to join and be a part of it. I showered, dressed, and left the house while it was still dark for an early morning breakfast meeting. At the conclusion of breakfast, I received a phone call that soberly reminded me life's brevity. "Dad has fallen and we think he has died" was the broken voice on the other end of the line. "I'm on way" was my reply as I left the cafe and joined the grieving family. The story that is to be told, however, doesn't begin with today. It is a tale of a faithful and pursuant love of a passionate and compassionate God that existed before the life that ended ever began! One week before, this man breathed his last breath and had taken his first breath as one who confessed Jesus Christ as his savior. Only having met him for the first time two and a half weeks before his death, I was blessed to be welcomed by him to sit and talk for hours like two friends who had known one another for ages. There was no judgment, no accusations, and no "hard sells" as though I was a vacuum peddler desperate to fulfill a quota. There was a love and a grace that gripped his heart and convinced him that the love of Jesus was real. As I would share about the amazing grace of a loving God that longed to offer him a true peace that transcends all understanding and logic, tears of pain and tears of joy mixed together streamed down a face that had grown weary with life, sickness, and time. As I left the house from my last visit with him only a few days ago, I was overwhelmed with admiration. Seventy-six years old, a man of great stubbornness and persistence, and one who had honestly earned the label of being "stuck in his ways," had seen a great change. His countenance had changed. His heart had changed. His eternal destination had changed. Yet, the love of God for him had always been the same. When he closed his eyes for the very last time this morning here on earth, he opened them to the glorious sight of the face of Jesus smiling upon him. I can only imagine that as he returned the gaze of Jesus, beheld the beauty of heaven in all of its splendor, he heard the only words that have ever truly mattered. "Welcome home. I love you. I have always loved you."
Going Deeper: There have been many over the years who have debated the idea of someone coming to Christ at the point of death as though it is somehow invalid. How great is the grace of our God that sees beyond the judgment and the conditions that people have placed on others. When Jesus was hanging on the cross, there was a criminal on either side of Him. They both deserved to be there as they had committed deplorable acts deemed worthy of such a punishment. Jesus hung there as the embodiment of perfection, with the weight and the sin of the world on His shoulders. The one mocked and cursed at Jesus. The thief to His other side acknowledged, there on the cross and only moments away from certain death, that Jesus was the Son of God. He asked Jesus to remember him. Jesus responded that "today you will be with me in paradise." No one deserves the grace that God has given through the work of Jesus. If it could be deserved, it couldn't be called grace.
Next Step: Never underestimate the power of the grace of God through Jesus to soften and impact a person's life at ANY age. Resist the temptation to look at yourself in anyway other than one who has been saved because of the compassionate love of Christ to apply His amazing grace to your life that was lost and without hope. Take a moment and thank God for that grace that sought you and eternally changed you. Ask God to reveal to you others who may feel as though the accumulated years behind them has somehow disqualified them from receiving all that God has to offer for the present, and for an eternal future. Let the grace of God live through you so that others may be forever changed and live to hear the words of the Savior, "Welcome home."