We’d been married less than a year, learning to manage our combined financial gains and obligations together. A student loan loomed large and took part of our meager income each month. Until the surprise notice in the mail declared the loan paid for. It made no sense. “It must be a miracle!” we thought.
Eventually the truth came out. A family member had paid off the loan without telling us. There was no reason for it other than love. Generous, undeserved love. The kind of love Christmas is famous for.
Open your Bible and read Luke 23. Today’s reading describes the promise of Christmas in the climax of the story of Jesus in the Book of Luke. It’s the unmissable declaration of God’s love for you and me – love we don’t deserve.
The Paradise Promise
Two criminals are crucified with Jesus. Matthew and Mark tell us that both criminals mocked Jesus (Matthew 27:44, Mark 15:32), but in Luke’s account, we see that one of the criminals had a change of heart.
It’s evident this man developed a respect for God (“Don’t you fear God… [v.40, NLT]?”) and acknowledged his sin and the punishment he deserved (“We deserve to die for our crimes [v.41, NLT]”). He also recognized Jesus as Lord and believed He was who He said He was (“Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom [v.41, NLT].”)
Jesus responded with a promise that far exceeded the criminal’s request:
“I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise (Luke 23:43, NLT).”
It was a promise beyond merely being remembered in the distant future in the kingdom. Jesus promised that the criminal would be with Jesus – today, in Paradise.
If, like the criminal, you have acknowledged your sin and the punishment you deserve, and put your trust in the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ to save you, this promise is for you! When we receive the forgiveness of our sins, paid for by the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, we also receive the promise of eternal life with Him in Heaven.
The Painful Promise
I did a bit of research on what crucifixion does to the human body. The facts about the whole experience of Jesus from the scourging to the moment He took His last breath are absolutely gruesome. The degree of torture and pain He endured is unfathomable to most of us.
But what amazes me most is that Jesus spoke this promise to the criminal. It’s so amazing to me because it was physically painful for Jesus to say those words. During crucifixion, exhalation is excruciating and difficult. That means speech is equally painful.
Jesus didn’t have to say anything to the criminal. He could’ve stayed silent to prevent adding to His suffering. After all, the criminal would find out the truth eventually, whether Jesus told him about it or not. But assuring the criminal of His promise was worth the pain to Jesus. That’s love.
Payment for the Promise
After this powerful exchange with the criminal, Jesus declared, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit (v.46, NASB).” John 19:30 tells us Jesus said, “It is finished,” which, in the Greek, means “paid in full”.
What does that mean? Have you ever thought about the significance of those words?
Let’s say you committed a crime. You’re brought before the judge and say, “Judge, I know I committed this crime, but I won’t ever do it again. Please forgive me and let me go.” The judge can’t let you go because that would be unjust. The law demands punishment for crime.
The Bible says, “For the wages of sin is death (Romans 3:23)…” According to God’s Word, when we break the Law (which is what we call “sin”), justice demands that we pay for our crime by death.
Christmas: The Promise of Love
Because God is just, He can’t let sin go unpunished. But because He loves us so much…
“He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him (John 3:16-17, NLT).”
This is the reason Jesus came to Earth as a baby, lived a sinless life in human form, and then died on the cross. It’s the culmination of the Christmas story.
Jesus was not a victim of death by crucifixion. He gave up His life for us. He chose to die. He surrendered Himself as the payment for our sin. That’s the love of Christmas.
“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13, ESV).”
The family member who paid off our student loan didn’t have to do that. We definitely didn’t deserve it. The debt was ours. But they chose to sacrifice thousands of dollars to pay the debt for us, because they loved us.
As wonderful as that generous act was, it’s merely a faint shadow compared to the reality of what Jesus did for you and me. Have you, like the criminal on the cross, acknowledged your need for Jesus’ salvation and received His precious promise? He loves you! This Christmas, meditate on His love for you by remembering the reason He was born as a baby in Bethlehem.