The thief on the third cross next to Jesus is every one of us.
Every one of us is surprised by how life turns.
The only thing we know about this thief is he was a hardened criminal. Let’s call him Sam. Maybe not from the start, but one bad decision led to another and even Sam admitted he deserved to be there. Likely all three crosses were reserved for Barabbas’ crew, only instead of their leader hanging on the middle cross, they pinned a country rabbi to the sky.
Every one of us has a secret something that keeps us from God.
It could be as obvious as Sam’s crime or as subtle as something only you know. In your heart, you know you’re far from God. You may work hard at being good and doing good, but nothing spans the distance. And so you make-do. You rationalize, hide, hurl—anything to keep from feeling the distance.
Sam and his notorious partner mocked Jesus at first. But something changed as they suffered. One grew more bitter. And one hung on every word Jesus said. “Father, forgive them,” Sam heard Jesus whisper in measured, pained breaths.
“Forgive them? Jesus, forgive me!”
Everyone knew Jesus was a famous teacher, but Sam would never ask a teacher for forgiveness. From his weird, surreal vantage point, Sam realized Jesus was more. He was a Savior, in the process of saving.
Every one of us has enough information about Jesus to decide.
Life drained from them all, hanging there. The first thief hung on to pride. But Sam humbled himself. With the courage of the desperate, he reached out to the middle cross and asked, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” That’s all he could say. It was his last prayer, and maybe his first. He said it with faith and it turned out to be enough.
Jesus wasn’t dying for people who deserved mercy. His last intentional act, at His most wounded, was to save one more person who didn’t deserve it. That one could have been you.
Every one of us can be welcomed into Jesus’ presence.
“Today you will be with Me in paradise,” Jesus assured the man next to Him. No one in history ever died with such certainty of immediate grace. Yet every one of us gets the same invitation. No one needs to suffer for eternity without Jesus. No one needs to die alone.
When the soldiers broke his legs and he could no longer push himself up to breath, Sam let go of the end of the rope and dropped into eternity and safely into Jesus’ arms. And that’s where he still is today.