The Bible tells us that Jesus was crucified between two thieves. The two thieves give us a glimpse inside two ways of living life.
With both thieves facing the same judgment for their actions, one thief had this response:
One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” Luke 23:39
In this response I see simple self-preservation. I see little regard for the reality of God’s relationship to man and no real repentance for deeds done. Just, “get me out of this!”
Many people approach God that way. They don’t want to learn from their mistakes or make any serious changes in life, nor do they want to learn more about the mysteries of life, but they do want to be free from the consequences of bad choices. Those who remain in such a place use manipulation or anger to try to get what they want. “If you’re really God, why are things this way? Prove yourself to me by giving me what I want!”
I’ve learned over time that this is a lonely way to live. It takes some people a long time to understand that the world does not revolve around them. I’m not saying that they are not important, just saying that there is much more going on here than getting what you want when and how you want it.
In the response of the other thief crucified with Jesus, I see what I consider the most astounding display of faith I’ve ever seen. Here’s his response:
But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Luke 23:40-42
What did this thief see next to him that made him respond the way he did?
Picture the scene with me:
Two men condemned and dying for actions committed with no hope of deliverance. The leaders of the known religious structure standing at the foot of the crosses condemning the man in the middle (Jesus) as a blasphemer. In a situation that looked like failure on the part of this supposed Messiah, one thief insults and one thief prays.
Why pray? Upon what did this thief base his faith that the man in the middle could save him? Again, what did he see?
Which response will you take when it looks like all is lost? Which action will be yours when it appears as if all options fail and God is dead?
One thief saw things from the perspective of what he wanted and the other thief saw what he needed. This understanding is often the first glimpse inside greater revelation. When you realize that the world does not exist to make you happy nor does God exist to make you happy, then you begin to see things in a new light.
Then, you can begin to understand the relationship between God and man and learn the secret of life. Before that understanding comes, we are too blinded by selfishness to grasp any reality above our own desire.
Jesus’ response to the thief who prays tells a story for all:
Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:43
There was no action that this thief could take that would exhibit his repentance. He couldn’t get down from the cross to do one good thing. He wasn’t magically transformed from the pain of the cross. He had the word of the Man in the middle who was giving His life for the truth of His words. It wasn’t about what the thief could do, it was about what Jesus was doing. This knowledge made the thief look at his need rather than his want and cry out to the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
In the midst of the blood and guts; in the midst of the hopelessness; in the midst of the confusion, what do you see? Do you see a dead God? Or, do you see One who goes before you to defeat the real foes that you face and to ensure that the end of your journey will be heaven and not hell?
Which thief are you?