YOU AND I
WERE THERE ON
THE DAY THAT
- An article written from the perspective of one of the two thieves.
- by Pat Jett
Itís dark - damp and the smell of my own human waste fills the air. Somewhere in my cell beneath the streets of Jerusalem I can hear a rat gnawing on something. Yes, this will be the last night of my life. Maybe I can find a way out, cheating them out of their justice tomorrow. Slowly I inch myself around my dungeon. But now I realize that there will be no escape. Slumping down in a corner of this dismal place my mind begins to wander. Yes, I am a thief, I stole from the most Holy of Places [the Temple]. I had been a thief most all my life. When opportunity knocked, I took what I could take. This time, - oh how stupid, - from the Temple. I got caught. Bitterness swells within me as I recalled the money changers in the temple yard and of the high priest Caiaphas as he walked the streets of Jerusalem. He looked down his nose at the likes of me. Am I worse than they? Or was it just that I had been caught. I arise and take a few steps to the other side of my cell where there was a narrow flat stone. That was where I had slept for many nights. I sit down with my head in my hands. With each instant in time death is becoming more and more a reality. My mother, my brothers, and my sisters; what are they thinking? Are there tears, - sorrows? Or do they really care? Oh, there will be some friends come with tear filled eyes. I can see them now. But then there will be the crowd with their blood thirsty cries. Alas, Mom, Brother, Sis--theyíll lay me out in a shallow grave and say their final good-byes. Why me I thought!
Only this morning they released Barabbas. I remembered the shout of joy as he ran from this place, a free man. I heard the Roman Guards say they had set him free. A man called Jesus was to take his place. I had heard some rumors about Him. People said that He healed the sick and made the blind to see. They say he even raised one man from the dead. Now I am a Jew, I know about God, even tried praying to him once or twice. Didnít seem that he paid much attention to the likes of me. I had the Torah read to me in part. Donít remember hearing nothing about no Jesus. Heís more than likely some kind of magician or something. I heard it said He claimed to be God in the flesh. What a schmuck! He probably deserves to die a false prophet's death. But me, Iím just a lowly thief. Why didnít they choose to free me? I didnít spill the blood of another man.
I awaken to hear the dreaded sound of the Roman Guards entering the passageways. I know it was morning. My time has come. But they pass by the heavy wooden door of my cell and go on a few yards. The chains begin to rattle as they unlock the murderers cell down the passageway. He is to be executed with me. I hear the bitter indignant anger as they take him away. He is loudly cursing the guards as they pass by my cell. Then the sound of his ankle chains fades into the distance. Bitterness within me now is replaced with dread and fear. Silence once again overtakes my cell. Death I thought! What would it be like? The agonizing pain of death frightens me. I have seen the horror of crucifixion, the distorted figures of men, the anguish in their eyes and faces as they struggle for that last bit of life, and then final oblivion. With death comes endless darkness and an unthinkable void of nothingness. A loss of all - to gain nothing! And for this I have lived? At this thought a shudder went through my whole being. My body trembles; my belly churns like a storm at midday. My soul cries out. But there is no answer. There is just the cold grip of fear.
The door opens. I look up, and yes theyíre here. They call out "itís your turn now". I arise, and they lead me out of my cell. Two guards walk in front, one on each side, and two behind me. We walk along that long dark tunnel. The only the sound is the shuffle of our feet. Two guards are waiting as we pass up some stairs and out onto the street. Jerusalem is well awake by now. The sun begins to give off her heat. I know that in just a few hours the Sabbath is to come. For many there was much work to be done. But for me before that hour, death! My lifeís race will soon have been run.
The jeering crowd is not as large as I had thought. As we walk down the streets of Jerusalem people stop to look. Some make snide remarks. Now my head hangs low and shame has overtaken pride. As we slowly approach that dreadful hill where I would be tied to that awful cross, there comes a mournful cry as the other thiefís cross was set for him to die. This is the last hill I will climb - the last few steps I will take - I am there!
They disrobed me and laid me down on the cross. I screamed in pain as they drove nails through my wrist and my feet. In a single motion it seemed, they raised me up and again in mortal pain I screamed. As they set that cross I could feel those nails tearing flesh. This is going to be even worse than I had thought. I could hardly breathe, fear and pain overwhelmed me. I began to sweat. Yes, this is the valley of death which no man would escape, but why this way, I asked myself?
I raised my head and before me I saw a small crowd. Why so small I thought? Then approaching the Hill of the Skull, I saw a large crowd, a multitude of people. This must be the man Jesus that was to die in place of Barabbas. But why so many and so noisy? What makes Him the spectacle of the day? With pain filled eyes I watched. Thereís something above the heads of the people, is it - - no, somebody is carrying the cross in the crowd. Slowly it was approaching then it disappeared, the crowd stopped. The crowd seemed to be louder now, then the cross reappeared above their heads. For some reason my eyes were focused on that cross. Slowly it came closer, a few hundred feet, then it fell into the crowd again only to rise moments later and again making itís way to the hill of destruction. The crowd parted slightly. Yes, I can see a man carrying that cross. Yes, he has something on his head and heís wearing a robe. He seems to be weary, beaten, and worn. Is this the man Jesus? Why are they making Him carry his cross? Heís staggering under the load and itís close to the bottom of the hill. I wish I could see better. He is not going to make it, Heís falling, the cross fell on top of Him. Is he dead I wondered? Then I saw a man frantically trying to get through the crowd. It is a big man. Yes, looks like the man they call Simon. The guards stop him, then a moment of silence. They exchanged words and then this big fellow picked the cross up from off Jesus. I watched as he waited for Jesus to make it to His feet and then he placed the cross on his own back and once again that cross began to make itís approach. Behind it was a man with a crown of long spikes like thorns on his head. Blood ran down His face and matted in his hair. His robe was stained with blood and his posture was bent as He slowly made His ascent up that hill. The crowd was roaring like a thousand lions before their prey, jeering and mocking as their blood thirsty voices came my way.
Simon passed by me and before me, a little to my left, he laid the cross on the ground. The man called Jesus was in front of me now. They roughly removed his scarlet robe. I saw the open bleeding wounds on his back, the likes of which only the thongs of the Roman whip would do. The pain in my own body now was now beyond description but as I looked upon His back, I cringed seeing the swollen wounds separated flesh, clotted blood. How many lashes did they give him, I wondered, as blood oozed from His wounds down His back and on to the ground. The Roman soldiers picked Him up by the legs and arms and roughly they laid Him on the cross. There they stretched his arms and drove nails in the palms of his hands, first His right and then His left. Moving to his feet I knew what they were going to do, I couldnít look, I looked away for I knew what pain He must endure. Then I heard the pings of hammer and nail as spikes penetrated flesh in His feet.
He isnít moaning, groaning, or even crying out in pain! Whatís with this Man, I thought. I was drawn to look again as they picked up the crown of thorns and shoved it on his head, where the thorns penetrated already swollen flesh. They offered Him something to drink but he refused to take it. Bleeding from his back, hands, feet, and His head, they erected that old cross. With a resounding "thud" it hit the bottom of the hole of its resting place. On the Hill of Skull, there between two thieves, was Jesus hanging on a cross, still He didnít make a sound. A time or two it seemed I saw Him cringe a little but no crying He made. I guess it was about mid morning I had been hanging on my cross for about an hour. My muscles are cramping and there are spasms in my neck and arms.
There are people everywhere yet I felt alone. There is no hope. Yes, I am facing that dark valley face to face with the monster, death. The crowd is really geared up now with their mocking. "Save yourself now Jesus, heal those wounds, come down from that cross and bring those two thieves with you. Where is Your power now Son of God!". Over to one side soldiers were gambling for Jesusí robe.
Though the noise of the blood thirsty partying crowd below I heard Jesus cry out, "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do"! It startled me. What did He mean? Was He asking forgiveness for the soldiers for casting lots on his clothing? I looked at Him. No, itís more than that, He was talking about everyone there. I looked back out at the crowd and saw something strange. While most were angry, mocking, and jeering, a few were on their knees with tears in their eyes. It seemed I could sense more than sadness as they, the few, raised their heads up to the cross. I saw something that looked like reverence radiating from their faces. Who is this Jesus? I looked back over my left shoulder, again I saw the bruises on His face. Yes, somebody had beaten Him more than the scourging of the Roman whip. What did they do to Him, I wondered. His wounds on His head were still bleeding slowly, blood trickled down His face, but I saw beneath that blood and upon His face I saw a man who as He looked out over the crowd truly meant what he had said. Father forgive them for they know not what they do. Suddenly it hit me! When He said that He didnít look down but He looked up. He wasnít taking to a father of this earth. He was talking to God! Could it be? Is this man Jesus the Son of God? As I pondered these things I was seeing a devil ridden crowd continuing to make fun of Jesus. The thief to His left cursed, jeered, and mocked even as the crowd did. It was as though this man blamed Jesus for the state he himself was in. This began to make me angry, Jesus had nothing to do with the reason we were facing death! They passed by saying, "If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross". The Chief Priest even mockingly said, "He saved others - Himself he cannot save". But the other thief and I were guilty. We had broken the law by choice. That choice chartered our course to shame, humiliation, and a cruel death hanging upon a cross.
Jesus hung between us innocent of any crime, yet suffering more by far than we. His flesh had been beaten and torn. Blood covered his whole body. As if that werenít enough, now they were trying to penetrate his mind with hate. Strangely though, as I looked upon His face there was only mercy and forgiveness. Suddenly out of the crowd I saw a soldier carrying a sign. He spoke to one of his cohorts saying we must hang this sign over Jesus on the cross up above His head. They passed by me and I saw that it read: "KING OF THE JEWS". As intended, this sign brought even more riling and mockery by the hate filled crowd. As these words KING OF THE JEWS, soaked into my mind a chill went up my spine! Is this the long awaited Messiah of my race, the Jews? And they are killing him! Is this the suffering servant of the prophet Isaiah? Was he the child that the prophets said was to be born in Bethlehem! Was he the reason King Herod had all male children 2 and under be put to death for fear of a King taking his place in power! Was this the God of the Torah who had created ALL things? In that instant I knew I was hanging on a cross beside the Living God! He was the Master of all things that have been or ever will be! This new revelation was uplifting in my mind but my soul and spirit mourned with repentance as I came to the realization of what a wretched man that I was, and by choice what a wretched scoundrel I had become.
I couldnít kneel or fall on my face before Him as I should have. I felt so low and unworthy to even be in His presence. Tears rolled down my cheek, these tears were not of pain but of sorrow of shame I felt. So lost! Had my selfish indignant ways placed this cross on His back? There was a lull in the crowd of madness, a sudden quiet out of which I heard the other thiefís voice full of anger shout loudly, "If Thou be Christ, save Thyself and us"! It was the mockery and anger that caused me to rebuke him. Then for the first, last, and only time that I spoke to Jesus as I was in the flesh, I simply asked, "Lord remember me when you come into your Kingdom". Jesus immediately answered me saying, "I tell you truly, this very day you will be with me in Paradise". At that very moment something entered me, warmed me, and soothed me. An indescribable warmth came over my entire being. Yes, life was being drained from my flesh but something had emerged, more blessed, more pure, and more perfect than all my years before had produced. His presence in me was so overwhelming that my pain had subsided. I knew my SAVIOUR had accepted me! Moreover He, Jesus Christ, the one true God of all, had promised me Paradise. Fastened to a cross I wanted to dance, I wanted to sing, and I wanted to praise Him, but my flesh was too weak to even speak. For quiet sometime my mind, my soul, and spirit just basked in His wonder, His glorious merciful Presence.
It must have been nearing the 6th hour [12 noon] when I heard a woman crying near the foot of the cross of Jesus. I looked down at her. She was on her knees her tear stained face turned up to Jesus. In her face you could see the grief but in those tear filled eyes one could also see a look of awe, of wonder, and of fear. There seemed to be even a look mixed with doubt and pride. As I watched her gaze up at her son, I knew this was Mary the mother of Jesus, my Saviour. What a woman, I thought. She must have been hand picked and nurtured to carry Gods Son, what an honor! But her honor and her glory was overshadowed by the evil of that hour.
I looked past her to the edge of the now somewhat dwindling crowd. There stood a large burley man arms folded in front of him, eyes fixed on the cross of Jesus, standing as if in a trance. Then suddenly he jerked off his robe and threw it on the ground. He fell to his knees with his face to the ground. This man struggled as though he had been hurt from the inside out. I donít know who this man was but I guessed it to be Barabbas, the man that was released whoís cross Jesus was dying on. If so I wondered, how did he feel and had he truly come to know who this man Jesus is? This, I thought, is a day of reckoning for all. But few will recognize it. Then a man rose up that had been comforting Mary. I heard Jesus say, "Woman behold your son", then he said to this man,"behold your mother". I knew Jesus had just placed the care of His mother in the hands of this man. I didnít know who he was but I did know it was somebody Jesus trusted, loved, and honored.
Something was beginning to happen. Darkness was falling on me. Was I dying? My eyes are failing me. No-- no, I hear screaming. The people are running down and off the hill. It has became very dark as though something had pushed all the light away. I remember it being dark for a very long and agonizing time. As darkness overtook the light I looked at Jesus hoping to get an answer to what was happening. What I saw defied my reasoning. For the first time I saw agony and pain on His face. I thought I even heard Him moan. I watched in fear as light was overtaken by darkness and then I couldnít see Him at all. Darkness surrounded me like a starless night. Fear and doubt began to gnaw at my mind and soul as darkness held me in itís seemingly irreversible grip. In my mind again I could see that crowd as they mocked Him, hit Him, and spat upon Him. I reasoned that they would have killed Him like vultures after prey if the Roman Soldiers hadnít been there to stop them. In their faces showed hearts filled with hatred. I had heard shouts of screaming accusations. I had felt the vileness of the crowd's hatred for Jesus as He hung on that cross. I pondered. Even in their iniquity, they too without knowing it, witnessed to the living God in Jesus as they shouted: "Look here is the Messiah"! "Come down off that cross, King of the Jews"! "Healer, heal yourself"! "Are you going to bring yourself back from the dead"? "Oh bloody Son of God! A prophet are you? Now what does the future hold"?
Yes, I had heard all of this but not once had I seen anything to justify the tyranny that took place that day against this man. In the depth of darkness on that old Hill of the Skull in the eyes of my mind, again I saw Mary as she knelt before her Son. What an honor to have been the mother of the Son of the living God. Then it hit me, I too have been honored to hang on a cross and die beside Him even as he does. But no! no! not to my honor but to His glory, His mercy, and His love. My honor is that of a thief. I ask for sanctuary with Him, He promised Paradise. Somehow I knew with that promise came fullness and wholeness of life eternal! He took me as a thief and made me whole, not to my honor, but truly to His. This thought gave me comfort and warmed my inner being. Darkness still troubled me, however thoughts raced through my mind like lightning across a troubled sky. The envelope of darkness seemed to bring negative thoughts as my mind would say you are only dreaming. You are experiencing natural anxiety due to death overtaking you. To make matters even worse, through the darkness I heard Jesus as He cried out, "My God My God , why hast thou forsaken me"? Hearing this a shudder went through me reinforcing the doubt that cut through my mind like a knife through butter. I didnít know then the meaning of the dark hours of Calvary. By means of my recent experience with Jesus, those thoughts would be crowded out but only for another to creep in. The most prominent was, who are you to be promised Paradise? It seemed for the longest of time I struggled in my mind with these negative thoughts, evil thoughts set against positive experience. Suddenly I remembered somebody, perhaps it was my mother, telling me about the power of prayer. I began to pray. "Lord forgive my doubting mind and Lord remember me in Paradise. Please Lord, could you do something about this darkness"?
I had not much more prayed this prayer when suddenly a torch, then another, was lit. The darkness wasnít so bad now and oh yes, He had answered my prayer. Immediately after acknowledging His answer to my prayer, my mind told me that the lighting of the torches were just a coincident. I looked over at Jesus and I could only hear a silence from the cross and see his torn body, but somehow I knew He was still alive. I was again comforted by His presence. I came to realize that God really does hear and answer prayers and that indeed He did answer my prayer. Even though it wasnít quiet as I had expected or wanted, I had ask for relief and He gave it to me. My body weakened as life was slowly being taken from it. My mind drifted back to the dark smelly cell of just hours before. There within me had been resentment, hatred, pride, and an indigent self righteous attitude. This inner darkness had held me captive as a thief. I didnít understand but I knew I had been changed. Hatred had been changed to love, resentment to understanding, pride to humility, and selfishness into the reality of His glory. Now I was like a young bird standing on the edge of itís nest with wings outspread about to take his maiden flight. Prayer seemed a little awkward but with each word the next came easier until I was praising my Lord with each shallow breath I took. I prayed until suddenly a light pushed away the darkness even as the darkness had covered the light before. I heard Jesus as he spoke these two words, "I thirst". Somebody lifted a moist sponge to His swollen, parched, cracked, and beaten lips. He received it with seeming grace and thanksgiving.
A short time later I again heard Him speak as He raised His head and said, "Father into Thy hands I commend my spirit". Then after a short pause I heard Him speak for the last time when He said, "It is finished"!
My mind was relieved for I knew my Lordís earthly suffering was over. In some ways I felt that I was the only one who knew that He had truly died a KING. His power and presence seemed even closer now than before.
The earth began to shake as if it objected to giving up its creator. By now I was fully aware of who was completely in charge! The earth was calmed by its Master and a quiet calm came to the Hill of Skull. I saw a Roman Guard with a spear in hand thrust it into the side of the dead body of Jesus. Blood and serum flowed out from the wound in His side. As I looked at the puddle of blood at the foot of the cross where Jesus was crucified, I knew somehow that this was the last and ultimate blood sacrifice. I knew that puddle of blood was shed for the atonement of all our sin. I wanted to shout it to the mountains but I was dumb. I just couldnít speak. Was I the only one that saw it for what it was? One thing for certain, I had been a witness and through all future time I could tell the truth of the events of that day on the Hill of Skull because I was there. I had seen it all!
I felt the pressure, heard the thud, and felt the crushing of bone as they broke first one leg and then the other. I couldnít breathe, I struggled to get air into my lungs. No it isnít going to happen, this is it, Iím going to die. With only seconds left I wanted just one last look at my Lord. Yes, I can do this. I tried to raise my head, it wouldnít move. Try harder I thought. I struggled and finally turned my head just enough to see Him. Oh yes! There He was. I see Him - so perfect. Yes! and there is a aura of light about Him! So bright, yet it is so pleasant to the eye. His face so kind as He stretched forth His hand for me to join Him. The beauty was beyond all description. All pain had left me now for you see, I was seeing through the eyes of the Father and of the Son, and now we had become one.
The Authors Notes:
I would in no way have you believe that the thief of our story wrote this, for as you know, he couldnít have nor even could his spirit relate it to me. However perhaps the Holy Spirit did give me this insight into his plight.
God who is creator of all, created all things and said it was good. Genesis 1:31 He came to us in the flesh through His Son Jesus who was holy, perfect, and without sin. Yet evil had infected the world with its lust, power, and pride, all with its selfish intent. This evil brought God through Jesus Christ to center stage at the Hill of Skull. So therefore this story wasnít written to honor a thief. All glory and honor is to Him who lived with us, having lived without sin.
The thief on the right hand of God represents the redeemable of all mankind. he was no more or less then you or I. He was a sinner saved by grace. His travail [struggle] toward redemption is representative of all who have been and will be redeemed. Though his travail [struggle] came in the last hours of his life. His travail brought him to the promise of Paradise [born in Christ] like all who are redeemed or saved. Some take years, some months, and some days and some hours to come to salvation. Perhaps the gift of eternal life isnít accepted until the last second of a person's physical life. The best efforts of the Christian experience is at times enveloped in an eerie darkness with the evil wiles of this world taunting and tempting the mind of man, in much the same way that the thief was taunted during the dark hours of Calvary.
Biblically sin is represented in scripture many times as darkness. However as we look at the Hill of Skull on that dreadful day of the crucifixion of our Lord there is a profound picture that is often missed. My Friend, we were all there!
Man was well represented in the physical bodies of all three hanging from their crosses.
Satan stood proudly on the left side of our Lord holding temporarily in his hand the indigent self-righteous souls of the lost. The lost were represented by the thief on the left. One who was being put to death and chose to die again.
God, who came in the flesh, is Jesus Christ, the Son of Man. Jesus of course took center stage between the two thieves.
Saints the thief on the right represents the redeemed, being but one member of the Bride of Christ.
Where will you be found standing?
Will it be on the left?
Or on the right?
[The choice is yours]
May God Bless you!