A Thief Redeemed
But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”
And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” LUKE 23:40-43 NKJV
It seemed like an eternity since Jesus had spoken those words to him. Jesus was dying, the thief had watched men die before, during he and his partner’s unlawful pursuits, many of them, victims at their own hands with their quick swords and anger without mercy. He had heard of this man during the last 3 years. Stories of miracles of healing sickness, raising the dead and the growing crowds that followed him. It was rumored that he would restore the Kingdom of Israel to its former glory. When the Zealots approached him to suggest armed revolt against the Roman occupation of Judea, he had refused them, saying “My kingdom is not of this world." The two thieves had almost met him once and that near encounter had proved to be their undoing. They had hatched an intricate plan to rob a powerful and wealthy Centurion by drawing him away from his house. They had observed his movements for months and knew that when he left his home, most of his soldiers would accompany him into Jerusalem. The Roman loved the county he was in and had built a Synagogue for the Jewish people, he closely followed the news about Jesus and had become aware of so many miraculous events surrounding him, that he concluded that his power could only come from God the gods. The thieves gambled that if one of his household became sick, he would go in search of Jesus to heal him. The scheme was going according to plan except when the servant who they poisoned fell ill, the Centurion sent for the elders of the Jews, beseeching Jesus to heal his servant, “And when they came to Jesus, they besought him instantly, saying, that he was worthy for whom he should do this: For he loveth our nation, and he hath built us a synagogue. Then Jesus went with them. And when he was now not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to him, saying unto him, Lord, trouble not thyself: for I am not worthy that thou shouldest enter under my roof: Wherefore neither thought I myself worthy to come unto thee: but say in a word, and my servant shall be healed. For I also am a man set under authority, having under me soldiers, and I say unto one, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it. When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turned him about, and said unto the people that followed him, "I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.” And they that were sent, returning to the house, found the servant whole that had been sick. LUKE 7:2-10.
The news of the failed plot was revealed by a former associate of the two thieves, who had been cheated out of his share of the profits from a successful robbery, committed by the three of them. The information was sent to the Elders who felt indebted to the Centurion and exposed the identity of the marauders who had caused his servant to fall ill. The two thieves were shown no mercy and were arrested with the combined force of all the soldiers under the Centurion’s command and nearly beaten to death before being sentenced to the cross.
Prior to the day of execution, they awaited their sentence, they were cell mates with a Zionist named Barabbas who chastised them both continually for wasting their lives as petty thieves, when the could have fought for the Nation of Israel. When they hung from the cross, for some strange reason, Barabbas was in the crowds, at their feet his eyes transfixed on Jesus. “Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” NKJV Matthew 27:45-46 The thief was terrified. After this, Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said, “I thirst!” Now a vessel full of sour wine was sitting there; and they filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on hyssop, and put it to His mouth. So, when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit. NKJV John 19:28-30. What does it mean, that God has forsaken him, what will happen to me now, will I die forever? NO, this man would not lie to anyone, hold onto your trust in what he said, no matter what happens.
Jesus was dead. The thief believed what he had said to him but if he could find another way to escape dying today, he was going to take it. The crowds and the soldiers were beginning to disperse, the Jews were celebrating the Passover, the city was full of Pilgrims and additional soldiers would be advantageous for security as the festivities wore on into the night. The religious celebrations also drew merchants of indulgence; prostitutes, wine makers, booths selling Passover foods. The Romans drank like pigs and searched for woman, they paid well; the thief had gained many gold coins robbing them in their drunken slumber. An opportunity was brewing. Although Jesus died quickly, some men fought death on these trees for days. The guards watching, he and his partner had been reduced to only a few men who had already started to drink heavily. The thief observed closely and began to wait for an opening out of this trap, that he had created by his misdeeds. Dying on the run, was better than this. Lost in his thoughts, he didn’t even notice the iron hammer until the snap of the bone in his leg and gut-wrenching pain hit him like a shock wave. In less than a second, his other leg was snaped in two. Collapsing from all loss of strength he was suffocating. In a futile attempt to push himself up so he could breathe, he began delirious from the loss of oxygen.
Out of the Blackness of the day he could see and hear screaming from the faces of horror and evil before him, wrenched faces of pleasure, murder, fornication, theft, adultery, drunkenness and various other forms of debauchery; men and women of violence and disobedience in battle with swords of arrogance against all forms of authority especially, the hand of God. They were all advancing toward him saying “You live with us, come depart now”. Each face of condemnation was his own. On a tree in the distance being illuminated only by the diminishing moon light, was a dead man hanging on a tree, his corpse swinging in the wind. The thief cried out “I AM, GOD OF ISRAEL SAVE ME”. THUD! A sword hitting flesh beside him, a Roman soldier had pierced Jesus with his weapon: not breaking his legs as had been done to he and his partner, who was now screaming in agony for help. Blood separated from water and began to drip from Jesus side a sure sign he was dead, the drip turned into a flow, the flow became a river and it began to fill the field before him until everything, including the army of sin created by his own hand, had disappeared under an Ocean of blood. The tide continued, until he was completely submerged and finally lost consciousness.
In what seemed like the next moment he was on the ground dressed in a white robe. Everything was different, everyone was gone. Jesus and his partner were no longer on their crosses. Before him was a Garden of Beauty, filled with all manner of trees, with fruit and flowers, nature as he never seen it before. Animals of all species among each other in harmony, Lions and Lambs both feeding on lush grass and a chorus of birds all signing in unison with the gentle countenance of doves. This looks like Eden as described by the ancient stories taught to me by my Grandparents. He noticed his reflection in a gentle pool of water: His face had become that of the child he once was.
The scene changed, now he was walking down a road and he reached the edge of a cliff, the other side was too far away and he could see no way across. On the other side was a massive gold door with twelve different types of gem stones: the entrance to the Kingdom. It stretched high into the clouds; the top of it was out of sight in the clouds. He heard a voice from the door. “Walk James”, it was Jesus. “Do not fear, I AM the bridge beneath you.” As James took his first step, he could feel the rough-hewn wood under his foot, he looked toward the door and never down. As he drew closer the bridge became smoother until it was now polished glass on the other side. Jesus said “Enter James, I have given you rest, your Heavenly Father welcomes you.”