‘And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”’
Two thousand, nine hundred and ninety-six.
That’s the number of people who died in the terrorist attacks on this day in 2001. It’s a painful number to imagine, especially for someone (like myself) who never saw it happen.
But there is a bright side, even if it doesn’t come from our world.
Luke 24 is about the death of Christ on the cross. It carries suitably dark themes, and by the forty-third verse, it feels like hope has vanished. We know, of course, that Jesus rose again, and that hope would return with the day, but Luke 23:43 is a strange verse, in light of the chapter’s immediate context.
One of the two thieves who is being crucified alongside Jesus mocks Him and laughs at Him, considering Him delusional. The other thief worships Him, to which Jesus replies ‘today you will be with Me in paradise.’
Isn’t that strange? The sky is darkened, the sun is blackened, and the Creator of the universe is at death’s door, and yet He is still declaring this man forgiven of his sins.
What does this verse have to do with 9/11? Well, of 2996 people, there may have – and probably was – one, at least, who accepted Christ that day. And Luke 23:43 gives us the assurance of their salvation – and should give us hope, too. If a thief dying on a cross can be saved, if a victim of terrorism can be saved, there is no power that may stop us from salvation, should we repent and place our trust in God. Death is a topic that churches and pastors tend to shy away from, which is a pity. It’s the most powerful tool at our disposal – the reality that either we will perish and suffer forever, or repent and be forever joyful. And the death of thousands should be no enemy of the gospel – on the contrary, it should be a tragedy that makes people cry out why?
And we can give an answer.