Ron continues his “I Was There” series with a look at how the repentant thief on the cross, experienced love in the last moments of his life as he heard Jesus say, “today you will be with me in paradise”.
This series of posts recount the thoughts and actions of various individuals before and after the momentous happenings at Calvary. Read “Mary of Bethany” the first post in the series here.
Ron Hughes is the president of FBH International and has decades of experience in Christian mass communications. Recently Ron has overseen the launching of HopeStreamRadio, a Christian internet radio ministry. One of Ron’s passions is writing and he shares this passion with others on his program, “Author Interview.“
The Repentant Thief
Like most of those who live outside the law, this man never expected to reap the due rewards of his actions. While he knew it was a possibility, it was not something he allowed himself to dwell on. Now, as he hung in agony, like so much meat on a drying rack. He had ample time to think, but the pain allowed only fragments of memories to surface. As a boy, he stole for the thrill, and bragging rights among his companions. They often got caught; he never did. Was it mindless luck that gave him the advantage over the others? Was he smarter than they? Perhaps quicker? Now he wished he’d been caught and disciplined as his friends had been. They had given up their petty crimes and become honourable men.
The Judean Sun
The full blast of the Judean sun parched his throat already raw from screaming as the nails parted the tender tissues of his hands and feet. His eyes were slits keeping out both the brightness and the gaze of those who stared at his shame. The attention of the onlookers mocking the three men on the crosses focussed on Jesus whose crime, according to the sign above his head, was that he was a king—the King of the Jews. Maybe that’s why a dozen or so high ranking priests were clustered nearby. They usually preferred the cool quiet of the temple over these spectacles.
But this time, everything was different. These leaders of the people scoffed at Him, shouting things like: “Listen everyone. He claimed to save others. Let’s see if He can save Himself.” And “Surely, if He is really the Messiah, God will rescue Him.” And “Chosen one. Indeed!” Some in the crowd and the soldiers joined in until their individual shouts melded into a cacophony.
The Partner In Crime Speaks
Then, the hoarse croak of a familiar voice rose above the rest. His old partner, on the far cross, was joining the chorus of those on the ground. He gasped out the words. “So you’re… the Messiah? Save yourself… and us!” He’d always been like this. If he could humiliate their victims as well as robbing them. He would… and then laugh harshly at their fear and shame.
In the mind of the man on the first cross, a rebuke formed. Here they were dying, pierced by nails and shame—violators of the law about to meet the Eternal Judge. His speech rasped with dryness and came in bursts of words and indignation. “Do you… not fear God? We’re all… dying here… under condemnation. And we… deserve this. This is what… we deserve But this man… is condemned without having… done anything wrong.”
Jesus Remember Me
This extended utterance had cost him. He collapsed against the nails in his hands until the flesh tore. But he was not done. Supporting himself on the spikes in his feet to draw air into his lungs, he spoke to the man crucified between him and his partner. Between him and his God. Between life and death. “Jesus… remember me… when you come… into your kingdom.”
He hung there spent with the effort, eyelids drooping and unable to stop the tears that blurred his vision and robbed his body of precious moisture.
Quietness descended over the scene. Though only a few seconds ticked by, the moment stretched until, aware of a gaze, as any of us might be when someone stares at us, he opened his eyes. Turning to the middle cross, he locked eyes with Jesus, the King on the cross.
“Truly,” Jesus said. “Truly… I say to you… this day… you will be… with me… in Paradise.”
And suddenly, everything was different. The pain didn’t stop. The coarse jests of the crowds continued unabated. The sun still bore down on the dying men. But everything was different. The fear departed. The shame evaporated. Love flowed over him like the refreshing waters of the Jordan. Peace filled his heart to bursting. Could that even be joy swelling his shrivelled spirit?
Though he did not know it at the time, he was among the first of all humanity to experience the kindness and love of God as demonstrated by Jesus on the cross. He experienced the reality that neither could his worst actions condemn him more or his best behaviour commend him to God. He was saved according to God’s mercy. There, hanging on a cross, coated with his own blood and Judea’s dust, he experienced the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.
This Repentant Thief
Did he understand this personal inner miracle was possible because of what was happening to the man hanging a few feet away from him on another cross. Because of this justification by grace, this repentant thief who had done nothing nor could do anything to make himself acceptable to God had become an heir according to the hope of eternal life.
With eyes closed, the man released a deep visceral sigh. Then, a chill enveloped the execution site. Voices cried out in alarm and confusion. The man couldn’t tell if his eyes were open or closed. He had never experienced the nearness of the supernatural as he did in these hours of darkness. And before the day was over, he would walk, on broken legs, into eternity.
Follow the “I Was There” Series
- Love Poured Out – Mary of Bethany
- Loved To Death – John the Apostle
- The Man In The Moonlight – Judas Iscariot
- When Fear Cast Out Love – Pontius Pilate
- How To Treat Your Enemies – Caiaphas the High Priest
- When Love Cast Out Fear – The Repentant Thief
- He Had Seen It All – The Roman Centurion
- One Last Time – Nicodemus
- Cold And Empty – Mary Madgalene
- You Know That I Love You – Simon Peter
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The Crucifixion – Herrad von Landsberg
Christ & The Thief – Nikolai Ge