“Jesus answered him, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.’ -Luke 23:43
A few years ago I asked a Navy-Vet and retired ship captain friend who was both older than me and quite ill at that point, “What do you think happens when you take your last breath? He answered quickly, “Nothing! He said, “That is it. It is all she wrote. I will pass into oblivion. Really? But what if you are wrong?
Three criminals hung on three Roman crosses intended for execution two millennia ago, soon to take their last breaths; two were guilty of unspecified crimes, one of alleged blasphemy against God. One criminal chided this alleged blasphemer, Jesus, to remove them from their crosses and save their lives. “If you are the Christ, then [miraculously] take us off these crosses!
The other genuine criminal told his fellow law-breaker to be silent and, turning to Jesus, spoke in faith, “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom! Jesus’ answer was eight words spoken in certainty: “Today you will be with me in paradise!
What happens when you take your last breath? Plenty! All in the twinkling of an eye! Either an immediate transition to “Paradise and Jesus’ presence, or a crossing into Hades (the place of the dead), awaiting judgment. The parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) describes a graphic comparison of two destinations; one is most comforting, the other dreadful!
The fact is there is a “great gulf fixed between the two after-last-breath-locations. There is no bridging this great gulf when the time of the last breath comes. Jesus’ parable is crystal clear, and for some, terrifying! The pleading of the rich man to send Lazarus back to the land of the living to warn his remaining family and friends of what awaited them if they remained in their unbelief was met by Abraham’s answer, “They have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to them! The rich man said, “They will listen only if someone who has risen from the dead tells them! Abraham answered, “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, they will not believe even one who has risen from the dead!
It is the ultimate question! What happens the moment I breathe my last breath? The young are not impressed with any thoughts of an imminent death. Even many middle agers do not contemplate their end. But Ecclesiastes 7:2 declares that “it is better to go to a house of mourning than to a house of feasting, for all men die, and the living should take this to heart. In other words, it is critically important to think of your last breath long before you take it. Are you prepared for it? Have you considered what happens to you at this penultimate moment?
No one knows exactly when this will occur for them. Maybe tomorrow? Maybe ten, twenty, thirty years or more? This is the very reason why preparation should begin immediately and continue until it comes, very possibly fully unexpected. The Epistle James warns, “The Judge is at the door! Everyone’s life is lived under the imminent warning that “the Judge is at the door – your door. Every life is one generation among hundreds of generations, but for each individual in their own generation the time is nearer than you imagine.
Think about your last breath and contemplate its consequences. Are you unsure? Or do you have a confident assurance that Jesus’ words to the criminal next to Him on a cross are truly spoken to you as well? This criminal was just one criminal among all of us criminals. In a sense, he is our representative criminal, for Scripture says, “All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned everyone to his own way, and the Lord has laid on Him the sin of us all. So, Jesus says to every believer at the moment of his last breath, “Today, you will be with me in paradise!
“Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day; earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away. Change and decay in all around I see; O thou who changest not, abide with me.
(2nd verse of Henry Lyte’s hymn, “Abide with Me, 1847)
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