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From the DayBreaks archive, dated 3/24/2005:
The focus of history has settled on a lonely hill outside of Jerusalem. Few that day knew what an impact that day would have on women, men, children, society, culture, history and eternity. Such is often the way it goes with earth-shaking events. They seem to pass unnoticed and unappreciated, often until years later.
On that hill are three crosses. Three. Not just one. The other two are largely forgotten, albeit understandably it is so, and indeed, appropriate. You know the story: the others were criminals of the vilest sort. They flanked Jesus, they shared at least a portion of his fate, although they were not nearly great enough to carry the weight of the sins of the entire world on their shoulders. In fact, little did they know, they didn’t even carry the weight of their own sins on at that moment. Jesus carried them all.
One of the criminals sadistically joined in the mockery of his co-suffered. Perhaps in some strange way, it took his mind off of his own fate and may have made his pain easier to bear as a result. We don’t know why he did it. It may have just been part of his character to be mean-spirited.
But the other criminal was a different story. Listen to Michael Card, from A Violent Grace: “And then a miracle happens. The thief turns to Jesus. ‘Jesus,’ he pleads, ‘remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ (Lk. 23:42)
“With these words, an unnamed thief becomes the only one we know of to speak to Jesus on the cross without derision or mockery. An unnamed thief is the only person in the Bible who calls Jesus by His personal name, without any kind of title attached, as if their mutual suffering has placed them on an intimate, first-name basis. In so doing, he becomes the first to address Jesus the way most of us do today. And with his words, that unnamed thief becomes the first to be drawn to the crucified Christ. Jesus answers with a guarantee, ‘Today, you will be with me in paradise.’ (Lk. 23:43)
“Was the criminal’s desire for salvation driven only by fear? Was it a pain-crazed plea from between clenched teeth? Or was it a sincere leap of faith based on sudden contrition? We don’t know. The sentence could easily have been the first prayer of an entirely misspent life. But the thief asked only once, and needed to ask only once. The Son of God looked over at him and gave him his answer, ‘Today…’.
“A few hours later, Jesus died. The thieves clung to life for several hours more. When the soldiers saw that they were still alive, they picked up heavy mallets and broke their legs. No longer able to lift up and draw air into their lungs, the two survivors started a grotesque dance, a losing battle with suffocation. Soon, they too hung still and lifeless against the sky.
“But one of them awoke in paradise.”
The message: some events shake the world, but they are meaningless and unimportant unless they also shake and affect us as individuals. Jesus came because God “so loved the world” – all of it – that He gave His only begotten Son so that anyone who believes on Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. But who cares if He loved the world, but didn’t love ME? We are so self-focused because we are so needy. And what Jesus did on the cross for the unnamed thief, He did for me and He did for you. See him, as his pain-wracked face turns to you, and gives YOU His answer: “Today…”. And whether it is literally today, or tomorrow, or next week or next year or 50 years, it is a guarantee from the center cross, and you will know that when you awake, you will waken in paradise.
Because of HIM!
Copyright by 2005 Galen C. Dalrymple. ><}}}”>
PRAYER: Thank you for loving the thief…and for loving me! In Jesus’ name, Amen.
© 2015, Galen C. Dalrymple.
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