A Thief in Paradise

6 Aug

I know my crimes. They are real, and so is my sentence. I know my victims, and have seen their sufferings. I could give you many reasons why I did what I did, but you wouldn’t really care. It is too late for me. Now I will bear my own suffering. I am ready.

I want it to be over. The uncertainty of what happens at death has driven me to the point of madness. I can bear it no more. How could death itself be worse than living in its shadow?

When the day finally came, I was relieved. I would not to die alone. There were three of us in all that were to make our way to place of the skull. I could not believe the number of people lining the streets and following us from town. Little attention was given to me, for the angry crowds were focused on another.

I had heard the stories – this man from Galilee – stories only the foolish would believe.
Healing the blind,

feeding the multitudes,

and raising the dead – these things were not possible.
But now I saw him with my eyes. He was not lovely to look upon. His face and body were already broken and bleeding. Yet even in his condition, he wasn’t defeated, but moved as one with a purpose. I kept my distance hoping that I would not be aligned with someone so hated.

Thief in Paradise1 We arrived at Golgotha. I never thought that it would end this way. We were tied and then nailed to our crosses. I heard their screams of “false prophet” and “blasphemer.” Their constant mockery brought me sorrow. Not for myself, but for this – King of the Jews?

That is what the sign read above his head. Could it be true? For this man Jesus lifted not a finger against his aggressors, yet I heard him say. “Father, forgive them. For they do not know what they are doing.

How could he offer forgiveness when they yet abused him? Why would he care them? Unless he really was the King of the Jews. Unless he really was the Son of the Most High God. Unless this man really did come to set us free. For such words of forgiveness could not be uttered without unwavering confidence in who he was and an extra-ordinary love for others.

While I was trying to make sense of it, the other thief joined the crowd in hurling insults at him. In frustration, he yelled at Jesus. “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!”

His bitter words unleashed the anger which had built up within me. “Don’t you fear God” I shouted at him. “Since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

I was not Jesus’ judge, and no eye witness to the scene of his crimes. However, each moment in his presence only further revealed his innocence.

I cried out to him. “Jesus.”

He painfully lifted his head in my direction.

He saw me.

His eyes met mine and they saw through the wall of darkness that had long separated me from others. He looked past my history, my nakedness, my shame, my guilt. At that moment, I felt as if for the first time in my life that someone knew me, and understood.

Having no pride left, I begged him. “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” This was my last chance. This was my one opportunity to make right the mess of my life. I knew I was helpless, but I felt with this man from Galilee that there still might be a chance.

He then spoke to me words that were water to my thirsty soul. Words that I will never forget. Words that brought freedom to one who was under the sentence of death. He said, “I tell you the truth today you will be with me in paradise.

Thief in Paradise2Could it be true? Could such a place exist? Why would I be allowed there? He, of course, belonged there, but me? I cannot imagine such a place that I would be welcomed, that I would be forgiven. Tears rolled down my cheeks, falling down into the dirt below.

I watched as his head fell again, out of exhaustion and pain. I knew that death was tightening its grip. How long could he endure? His body bloody and torn, his hands and feet nailed, the crowds jeering and mocking him. But there was another weight that he seemed to carry, beyond what I could see. Even Creation acknowledged this weight for I felt the earth shudder, and saw the sky grow dark.

It was not long after that I heard his finals words, “It is finished.” I saw his chest rise and sink for the last time. I cried out to him. “Jesus, no…” There was nothing I could. Nothing, but watch him die.

I was not so weak as him for there was no beating upon my back, no crown of thorns. As the hours wore on, I knew the soldiers would hasten my death. But death was not what it once was. It held not the power it once had over me. The fear of what lay before me had been replaced by faith in the One whose body hung beside me, and in His words that Today, I would be with him in Paradise.

david in hatDr. G. David Boyd is the Founder and Managing Director of EA Resources, a non-profit that seeks to provide resources to those seeking to minister to Emerging Adults.  If you have a question or comment, you can contact David at gdavid@earesources.org.

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