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What Easter teaches us about heaven (Gospel of Jesus)

posted by bibleprobe(R) Homepage, Mass., 03.26.2016

What Easter teaches us about heaven
By The Rev. James Martin, Special to CNN
Updated 5:58 PM ET, Thu March 24, 2016

(CNN)Believing in the afterlife is a significant problem even for some devout believers. In my experience, it's one of the most common fears in the whole Christian life.

It's not hard to wonder about this. In moments of doubt, we ask ourselves: What awaits me after I die? Is my faith in vain? Will I be rewarded for the good deeds I did? Or punished for the bad ones? What happened to the people I loved who have died? Will I see them again?

Without breaking any confidences, I can say that many people who come to me for spiritual counseling, and who are devout believers, have a hard time with this.

But in one of Jesus' "Seven Last Words" -- that is, the last phrases he uttered from the cross on Good Friday -- he promises "paradise" to the person often called the "Good Thief."

In the Gospel of Luke, one of the two thieves crucified besides Jesus says, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."

Jesus replies, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise."
This is not the first time Jesus has spoken about the afterlife.
It's one of several places in the Gospels where Jesus holds out that promise. In the Gospel of John, immediately before Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, he says to Martha, the dead man's sister, "Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die."

Later, at the Last Supper, Jesus tells his disciples, "In my Father's house, there are many mansions. I am going to prepare a place for you."
So the first thing that should convince Christians of the promise of the afterlife is this: Jesus tells us. And, needless to say, Jesus is not a liar.

That utterance from the cross, incidentally, is the only time Jesus uses the word "paradise" in any of the Gospels. He is responding to the Good Thief, who, significantly, calls him "Jesus."

That's a familiar way of speaking to him. The disciples, by contrast, almost always call him "Teacher," "Master" or "Rabbi." Usually only the demons and those seeking healing use the name "Jesus," which means in Hebrew "The Lord saves."

In his public ministry, that name wasn't used as frequently by his disciples, or even friends such as Martha and Mary, who also call him "Teacher," "Rabbi" or "Master." Maybe he missed being called by the name his parents used. But now on the cross, his name is used by someone who asks him for help one last time.

The Good Thief shows us the identity of the one being crucified next to him: A man, yes. A man with a simple name: Jesus. But God, too. The man who can open paradise for him.



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