SCRIPTURE: Luke 23:43
Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”
STORY from “Focus on the Family”:
In my first film series, "Focus on the Family," I shared a story about a 5-year-old African-American boy who will never be forgotten by those who knew him. A nurse with whom I worked, Gracie Schaeffler, took care of this lad during the latter days of his life. He was dying of lung cancer, which is a terrifying disease in its final stages. The lungs fill with fluid, and the patient is unable to breathe. It is terribly claustrophobic, especially for a small child.
This little boy had a Christian mother who loved him and stayed by his side through the long ordeal. She cradled him on her lap and talked softly about the Lord. Instinctively, the woman was preparing her son for the final hours to come. Gracie told me that she entered his room one day as death approached, and she heard this lad talking about hearing bells. "The bells are ringing, Mommie," he said. "I can hear them."
Gracie thought he was hallucinating because he was already slipping away. She left and returned a few minutes later and again heard him talking about hearing bells ringing. The nurse said to his mother, 'I'm sure you know your baby is hearing things that aren't there. He is hallucinating because of the sickness."
The mother pulled her son closer to her chest, smiled and said, "No, Miss Schaeffler. He is not hallucinating. I told him when he was frightened -- when he couldn't breathe -- if he would listen carefully, he could hear the bells of heaven ringing for him. That is what he's been talking about all day."
That precious child died on his mother's lap later that evening, and he was still talking about the bells of heaven when the angels came to take him. What a brave little trooper he was!
Dr. Wallace Chappell tells the story of standing in the hospital room of a young child was dying of cancer. The boy was holding the hand of his daddy. The family had all gathered in that room. The doctors said it wasn’t going to be long. The boy was frightened. You could hear it in his voice when he turned to the pastor and asked what death was like. The pastor simply said, “Timmy, you are holding the hand of your daddy. When you die that hand will change and it will be hand of Jesus.” Timmy smiled, closed his eyes and the hand changed.
The question that every pastor is asked too many times is, “Preacher, will I go to heaven when I die?” Or, it is overheard on too many occasions, “Well, I hope I will go to heaven when I die” … emphasis on “hope” with a huge question mark laced with some concern and doubt. My response has always been, “Why are you worrying about such matters. If Jesus can say to the thief on the cross that he would be with Jesus in paradise don’t you think that you can receive the same promise?”
Max Lucado responds to the above mentioned scripture in his book, “No Wonder They Call Him the Savior,” page 31, by writing: “Just trying to picture the scene is enough to short-circuit the most fanciful of imaginations; a flatnosed ex-con asking God’s son for eternal life? But trying to imagine the appeal being honored, well, that steps beyond the realm of reality and enters absurdity. But as absurd as it may appear, that’s exactly what happened. He who deserved hell got heaven.”
And so it is with us – we deserve the worse that could be offered in the afterlife, but we receive the best. The conclusion that this old preacher can arrive at is this: We should go forth and live as individual prepared to die. Living with victory in our heart doesn’t take strength it only takes belief. It does not take a Ph. D. knowledge it only takes a trusting faith. It does not take a miracle in only takes the grace of God.
That saving grace was offered to the thief on the cross with Jesus. That same saving grace is offered to each of us. If we listen carefully enough we too will hear the bells of heaven.
Help us gracious Lord to be people who go forth to live as people are a prepared to die. Amen