As Jesus pushed Himself up for another needed exhale of air the raw flesh on His back tore against the rough timber He was fastened to. He looked down and saw the tear-stained face of Mary, the woman who nursed Him as a baby and guided His early years. Standing next to her was John, His youngest disciple who absorbed the lessons best.
“Woman, behold your son.” Jesus looked at John. “Take care of my mother.”
John went to Mary and put an arm around her. She fell on his shoulder and let the tears pour out. The soldiers cast lots for Jesus’s only earthly possessions–His clothes.
As Jesus slumped back down the criminal on His right cried out. “Hey, King of the Jews, You were so good at saving people why don’t You save us now?”
The other thief pushed himself up. “You fool! Can’t you see that He’s done nothing wrong? He doesn’t deserve any of this, but we do. Our actions put us here.” He looked at Jesus. “Lord, remember me when you come into Your kingdom.”
Jesus pushed Himself up and looked to His left. “Today you will be with Me in Paradise. I promise.”
Although the sun was at its highest point in the sky a sudden darkness covered the face of the earth. Everyone held their breath.
These are the two most touching scenes of the crucifixion of Jesus. As the first-born son of the family it would fall on Jesus to care for His widowed mother. Jesus must have seen something in John that gave Him the trust of his Mom to one who wasn’t a blood relative, instead of one of Mary’s other sons.
We see no hesitation in John in taking this request to heart. Indeed, he cared for Mary to the end of her earthly life. We’re not told how long she lived, but it was long enough for Dr. Luke to get her side of the Christmas story (aren’t we all glad for that?). By taking Mary to his home in Galilee John apparently avoided the wrath of the religious establishment that befell the other Apostles. That would explain why he was the only one to live out his full life while the others were martyred.
And what about the thief? According to Matthew and Mark both thieves reviled Jesus along with the crowd that was led on by the religious leaders. I think they both did at the beginning of the long crucifixion ordeal. Their bitterness boiling to its highest point as they succumbed to the Roman legal system.
But one of the guilty criminals was paying attention to this supposed King of the Jews, according to His accusation plaque. He saw the compassion in this man as He prayed to God for forgiveness of those in attendance and those who put Him there. As the time progressed the second thief must have been contemplating his soon demise when Jesus reached out to care for His mother after His departure.
I hear three declarations in this man’s statement that every person needs to make in order to get to be in God’s kingdom:
1. He admitted his own sinfulness. When he admonished the first thief he told him that they were getting what they deserved, their death was warranted by their previous actions.
2. He admitted Jesus’s perfection. He stated that Jesus had done nothing to deserve the same execution they were receiving, His death was totally unwarranted because of a lack of any sin.
3. He saw that Jesus was the only way to the kingdom. By asking Jesus to remember him when He entered the kingdom the thief was declaring the fact that he recognized Jesus’s deity, and that Jesus was the only way to God.
These are the same steps every person has to follow to enter God’s kingdom. The man showed us the blueprint to follow for salvation.
I also see a few things that Jesus didn’t say to the thief regarding his last-second plea.
1. He didn’t tell him, “Sorry, Buster, there isn’t any way we can get down from here so you can get baptized. You know that’s one of the requirements.” I don’t read that in any of the translations I have.
2. Jesus didn’t explain to the man that his infractions were too bad for him to receive a reprieve from the Heavenly realm. He could have been an accomplice to Barabbas’s murder event. Whatever he did didn’t faze Jesus for one second.
3. Jesus also didn’t say, “I don’t see any way you can become a member of a church and give any money to them. Not between now and sundown, sorry, ain’t happening. No way, Jose.” I don’t catch any hint of anything like that in Jesus’s tone.
All I hear in Jesus’s words are the same compassion He showed His mother and His accusers. Forgiveness was the watchword of the day. That’s the reason Jesus didn’t stop the crucifixion by saving Himself from His own death. He knew His death was the only way He could keep His commitment to the thief.
“Today you will be with Me in Paradise.” Not “after the resurrection…” not “after I send the Holy Spirit…”, but TODAY. The final word Jesus spoke from the cross was “tetelesti”–“it is finished.” It’s an accounting term used at the end of a loan. The word was written across the papers that were drawn up at the beginning of the loan. The full meaning of the word is “PAID IN FULL.” Everything has been accomplished to fulfill the promise of this transaction.
I hope you’ve come to terms with all that was done by Jesus on the cross that fateful day. He did it all for you and me because He loves us that much. It’s a decision each person must make in their own heart. If you come to Him the same way the thief did, then…
I’ll see you later. Wade