Summary: What happens right after we die? The answer lies in something Jesus said from the Cross.
Most of us don’t know when death will sweep us away. Only once in my ministry did I know a person who knew the year of his death. Fred came to me in January 2008 and told me he was going to die that year. I was taken back because he seemed to be in great health, he was sane, he loved life but in July 2008 I held his funeral.
But most of us don’t know when we will die. Of course, if you have three nails pounded into your body, one in each wrist and one through your feet, if you’ve just been beaten to a pulp, if you have been strung up on a cross in such a way that it is almost impossible to breath and there is no possible way to escape; if you will never be given food or water, if the police are just about to break your legs – if all of that is true I think you would have some idea that death is just around the corner.
This is the situation an unnamed terrorist found himself in back 2000 years ago. The Roman authorities in Israel were constantly battling freedom fighters; young man who wanted to break the yoke of Rome. They robbed, killed, caused mayhem, up and down the land. Sometimes they got away with it and sometimes they were caught. And Rome showed no mercy to terrorists. Within hours they were strung up on a cross to die. The cross – the cruelest method of execution every devised by humankind. Crucifixion delayed death until maximum torture had been inflicted.
There were actually three men on the gibbet that day long ago. And all three were guilty. If the Romans strung you up on a cross to die you must have done something terrible. It’s like when you drive by a car stopped by the police. Nobody says to himself, O that poor innocent person stopped by that terrible policemen. NO, we say: Well I’m glad they got him, must have been speeding, maybe he’s a drunk driver or worse, maybe that’s a stolen car. If the cops stop a person by the side of the road they are guilty.
So, the Man on the middle cross was lumped in with the thieves. He was damned by association. He had been doing at all his life. When he was eight days old he was circumcised. That’s something only sinners do. When he was 30 he was baptized. That’s something only sinners do. Now he hangs on a cross. That’s something only sinners do.
But there were at least a couple who knew the Man on the middle cross was different. The centurion knew. The Bible says that when he witnessed this awful moment he praised God.
And one of the thieves knew the Man beside him was different. We suffer justly but this Man has done nothing amiss. Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.
Jesus, remember me. Remember, I spared your life. Remember when you and your Mom and Dad were on the road to Egypt and I was with a small group of highwaymen; and we were going to kill you and take the Gold, the frankincense and myrrh. But I looked into your eyes. Even as a child you were different. I could see God. I could see Paradise in your eyes. I told my fellow freedom fighters to back off remember, I spared your life.
Now, Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom. Remember me. Isn’t that the ubiquitous cry of the human heart? We want to be remembered. So, we write books, and take pictures, and order gravestones with large print. But alas, alas, most of us don’t even know the names of our great, great grandparents and they only lived 100 years ago.
We are like grass, the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom. I don’t care if everybody else forgets, Jesus, Remember me.
What happens after we die? Right after we die? When we breath our last? No pulse, the brain wave is gone.
Today, you will be with me in Paradise. The man on the middle cross speaks. That in itself was not unusual. The Romans expected Him to cry out. Seneca wrote that those who were crucified cursed the day they were born, cursed their executioners, cursed their mothers. Cicero records that at times it was necessary to cut out the tongues of those who were crucified to stop the terrible blasphemies.
But not this one: He speaks seven times from the Cross and his first word of one of blessing: Father, forgive them for they know not what they do. And then his second word is so encouraging it ripples from him down the generations: