I’ve never had a chance in life… I started out behind the eight ball and never caught up. Born into poverty and raised on the street, I have stolen for as long as I can remember. I am really a pretty good person at heart; mostly I just steal what I need. Maybe sometimes a bit extra, but there are worse people out there than me. If our society were more just, I would have had more opportunity. With very few choices in life, I chose a life of crime.
Now the music has run out and I have no chair left. I was caught stealing, again, but the killing part was purely an accident. It doesn’t matter now because I am hanging on a cross, living while dying, with no hope of anything more.
I am not alone; my accomplice is hanging with me and strangely, so is a Jewish Rabbi. It’s kind of a cruel irony, crucifying a holy man alongside lowlifes like us. Many are mocking Him, with words as cold and hard as ice. Surely, there is no mercy in this place. It’s dark; death and hatred hang in the air. In contrast, the Rabbi is gentle, humble and kind. I doubt He deserves this; He isn’t guilty—like me.
Then the Rabbi says, “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.”
The tone of the words shatters my heart into a million pieces. Words raw and selfless, releasing love into this atmosphere of death. He should be angry at the injustice, how can he pardon those murderers? I see Him now, really for the first time, hanging there as if He bore the weight of the world upon His shoulders.
Maybe He really is the Son of God; no one else could bring light into this present darkness. As the painful hours go by, the more I see light, the more I believe—being in His presence makes me different. No one has taught me this—it has been revealed to me, somehow.
My friend mocks him, sarcastically daring the Rabbi to save us all. I use my labored breaths to jump to his defense: “We deserve to die, but this man has done nothing wrong. Remember me Lord, when you come into your kingdom.”
He replied with words that spoke life into my dying heart: “Today, I will be with you in Paradise.” Suddenly I have hope, something I have never had before. I did nothing to deserve this, nothing but believe He is the Christ. The cross is the best, worst thing that has ever happened to me. I have had an evil life, but Jesus showed me grace.
Today I will die, but I will be with the Son of God either way. An old saying comes to mind, and I realize it is talking about me:
“Surely your goodness and love will be with me all of my life, and I will live in the house of the Lord forever.” (Ps 23:6, NCV)
The story of the thief is written in first person, because this is every believer’s story. We are the thief; we were dying; we had no hope or future. We were worthless. Through faith in Jesus, we find pardon. We receive life and a place in the house of the Lord forever.
Someday heaven could rightly be called a den of thieves and sinners, but most likely, it will be called the home of those made righteous, like you and me. This Easter weekend, celebrate Christ who died to give us life.
*This is an excerpt from my upcoming book A Time to Seek