By Mrs. Robert Hammond
Around 16 years ago, I stood at the bedside of a dying man who had lived a misspent life. I was his nurse and although death was not imminent, he knew it was just around the corner, and the fear of death was in his eyes. As I attempted to speak to him of the merciful God Who was ready to forgive, I pointed him to the thief on the cross. The thief to me has always represented the one who barely made it and I am sure down through the ages has brought hope to many whose life lay wasted in back of them as death stared them in the face.
I do not know what happened to that man as far as his eternal destiny is concerned, but just recently I have seen the thief on the cross in a whole new light and would like to share that with you.
I was on my knees one morning with the book of Revelation opened before me. I often go to this book for inspiration on worship. I figure if God is looking for worshipers who worship in Spirit and in Truth (John 4:23), then I should look to the worship in Heaven, for they certainly are doing it right!
I was reading through the names Jesus called Himself and what John called Him and what John saw:
In the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle. His head and His hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire; And his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters…
If that isn’t enough to inspire you to get on your face and worship!
But wait there is more…”Fear not; I am the first and the last: I am He that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore…”
That morning, as I skimmed through the first 3-5 chapters of Revelation, the phrase, “and was dead” kept rising up in me. I decided to grab some grape juice and bread and partake of Holy Communion. I knew the LORD was trying to get something over to me, and it had to do with His death.
Taking communion is a very sacred thing to this former Roman Catholic girl. Almost every time I take it, I can hear the priest from when I was 12 years old, as he bowed down and in those low intonations, and very slowly, he pronounced, “This—–is——my—–body.” We laughed at the time, but now I see how holy this part of the service was to him. I do not take the bread and the cup flippantly.
I read through Matthew 27, Mark 15, and then turned to Luke 23. I read slowly about Jesus on the cross, the mocking, the superscription written in Greek, Latin and Hebrew, the darkness, the earthquake and of course, the thief.
And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us. But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into Thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in Paradise.
Let us think about the events of the passion: Mary, Lazarus and Martha’s sister, had anointed Jesus for His burial in Bethany. Jesus set up a memorial for her because of this deed. Judas then made his decision to betray when he saw this. After the Last Supper, the apostles slept when He asked them to pray with Him. Then, when the betrayal came, they scattered, and Peter, the one who had walked on water, the one who swore he would die with him, denied him. The crowds had asked for a murderer to be spared and that He be crucified. The women were weeping, the ones who weren’t mocking him, who had loved him were beating their breasts…it’s over. Hope is lost. John promised to take care of His mother. God forsook Him. The earth quaked. Jesus had said in the garden shortly after the betrayer’s kiss that this was the time of darkness.
Now, let us look at the thief as he was dying. The cross is considered one of the cruelest forms of punishment ever devised. A horrendous way to die. The accusation for him bore whatever crime it was he was executed for: ”Thief…” He died when darkness was reigning, when the savior of the world was the man or sorrows, whose visage had been marred more than any man. He hung there a condemned man. And his Savior?? He was dying a condemned man as well, naked and ashamed, forsaken by his friends and even by God Himself! I want you to see the defeat that seemed to be reigning. It was palpable. Darkness covered the earth—a darkness that could be felt.
There is a song that has been much maligned in Word of Faith circles. It’s called “Hold the Fort.” It was a hymn inspired by a Civil War Battle written by Philip P. Bliss. It is based upon some soldiers who did just that, until reinforcements came. Well, for the thief, his only help was dying, right beside him. There were no reinforcements. There was no holding the fort. If you look at everyone else, but the thief, you will see that in their mind’s eye, salvation was lost. I want you to see that this was the darkest hour the earth has ever known. Darkness was reigning!! All Hell was cheering! Life was ebbing away from the Author of Life!!
Now, hear what the thief says:
“Lord, remember me when thou comest into Thy Kingdom!!!!”
This was not a barely-going-to-make-it, hold-the-fort until reinforcements come type of confession!! He could see beyond this hour, the darkest hour the earth has known.
While Joseph of Arimethea was mustering up the courage to ask for the Lord’s body so that he and Nicodemas could bury Him and while Mary Magdalene was planning to get spices and ointments for the Lord’s corpse, the thief was looking for the resurrection. Even Jesus Himself said that God forsook Him. The thief could see the victory despite the agony.
He knew there was a kingdom coming and he knew Jesus would be King of that Kingdom. “Lord, remember me when thou comest into Thy Kingdom.” This has got to be one of the greatest statements of faith ever uttered by human lips. Why? Because he was the only one the Bible records who even saw the victory on that day. This statement shows that he knew there would be a resurrection—there had to be because he knew Jesus was going to be the King. The thief was more than a thief that day. He was a giant of faith, a man who pleased God
And Jesus said unto him, Verily, I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.
And still he is with Him today. Amen.