by Marilyn Roberts
My pastor did a series on the seven last sayings of Jesus on the cross. His in-depth study has yielded profound revelation. When he began to speak about Jesus’ words to the thief on the cross, he said something that caught my attention. He said perhaps the thief had heard Jesus speak and that might explain why he chose to speak to Him the way he did. The thief knew that Jesus was not like the other rabbis of the day; He was different.
As I drove home from church, I began to think about what might have transpired before that infamous encounter with Jesus on the cross. You won’t find the following in Scripture, but I think we can surmise that my musings are probable. So, envision the story with me as I write from what I imagine would be the thief’s perspective.
[My partner and I were hanging there with Him. I barely recognized Him. The Roman soldiers had beaten Him severely. He was the rabbi whose teachings were not like the other so-called holy men of God. He was different. He taught as One with authority and His compassion for people was very evident in the miracles He performed. I could not fathom what He had done that caused Him to be there with us that awful day.
As far back as I can remember, I’ve always been a thief. Nothing and no one was off limits to my prowess. I was a master at manipulating circumstances to my advantage, and others paid dearly for their naiveté. An honest day’s work? What a waste of time! Why work for something you can so easily take?
I had liked working alone; things were less complicated that way. I met my partner through a mutual friend. We pulled off a few jobs together, and before I knew it, we were a team. I enjoyed the camaraderie after a big score. We reveled in our cleverness and even spawned some friendly competition on the value of our ill-gotten fortune.
We waited with great anticipation for Jesus’ gatherings because He drew large crowds. People left their homes and businesses just to go where He was to listen to Him speak and to bring their sick. While they were away, my partner and I brought our bags to haul off their valuables.
On one such occasion, Jesus was teaching, and I stopped to listen as He spoke about a thief…
“I tell you the truth, anyone who sneaks over the wall of a sheepfold, rather than going through the gate, must surely be a thief and a robber! But the one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep recognize his voice and come to him. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they know his voice. They won’t follow a stranger; they will run from him because they don’t know his voice.”
Jesus went on to explain, “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me were thieves and robbers. But the true sheep did not listen to them. Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through Me will be saved. They will come and go freely and will find good pastures. The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life” (John 10:1-10, NLT).
At that moment I was memorized by His teaching. What did He mean by ‘those who come in through Me will be saved?’ My partner shook me, “Come on, while there is still time!” I left with him, but my thoughts returned again and again to what Jesus had said.
My partner and I continued to use Jesus’ meetings as cover for our escapades, and this caused us to hear some of His teachings and even witness some of His miracles. I became increasingly aware that this rabbi was not like the others. I tried to talk to my partner about it, but he only laughed and said Jesus was the best thing that ever happened to us. We no longer worked to set up opportunities to steal; all we had to do was follow Him from town to town. My partner was right, but I was beginning to feel dissatisfied with my way of life. The more I heard Jesus’ teachings; the more discomfort I felt.
Then came what we thought was the opportunity of a lifetime! A high official of the government came to town with a large entourage. My partner and I watched with excitement as he and his wife arrived. She sported a rather expensive necklace around her neck, with matching earrings and bracelets to compliment her expensive gown. The ring on his finger caught the sunlight and everyone’s attention. We were certain that the guards with them were not only responsible for their safety but also guarded whatever other riches this couple brought with them. Instinctively we knew that obtaining these valuables wasn’t going to be easy, but we were up for the challenge!
For days we patiently watched their every move. We observed their schedule, how many guards went with them and how many guards stayed behind. We knew when the woman did not accompany her husband and even noted their change of clothing and jewelry. This heist would be our biggest yet. Then our window of opportunity came when we found out about a party being given in their honor.
But sadly, we miscalculated, and the guards caught us in the very act. We were swiftly taken to the jailer and beaten unmercifully. The high official was insulted that we would even attempt to steal from him and wanted to send a message to other thieves, so he demanded our punishment be swift and our death be by crucifixion!
As we hanged there on our crosses, I heard Jesus say. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!” I was astonished! How could He be so gracious? Again I thought, this rabbi was not like the others. My partner screamed out at Him, “So you’re the Messiah, are you? Prove it by saving yourself—and us, too, while you’re at it!” I could no longer remain silent, “Don’t you fear God even when you have been sentenced to die? We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man has done anything wrong.” I suddenly remembered what Jesus said so long ago, “Those who come in through Me will be saved.” Could this man who so willingly asked forgiveness for those who tortured Him ask forgiveness for me also? I cried out to Him, “Jesus, remember me when you come into Your Kingdom.” and He answered me, “I assure you, today you will be with Me in paradise” (Luke 23:34-43, NLT).]
John 3:16 is a very familiar Scripture. It poetically describes God’s sacrifice to give His one and only Son to die so we would not perish! My pastor quoted the Scripture found in John 6:37 when Jesus said, “All who come to me I will in no wise cast out (reject or drive away)! The thief turned to Jesus, and Jesus kept His promise. The thief found acceptance from a Savior who came specifically to take away his sins and the sin of the world!
What a blessed gift the Father gave us when He gave us Jesus! Romans 8:5 tells us that He gave His life for us; not when we cleaned ourselves up, or spoke and said the right things, but while we were yet sinners. Oh what love, the Father has for us! If you haven’t given your life to Christ, won’t you turn to the One who gave His life for you and who promises to receive you just like He did that thief on the cross!