by John Saunders
"And he bearing his cross went forth into a place called [the place] of a skull, which is called in the Hebrew Golgotha: Where they crucified him, and two others with him, on either side one, and Jesus in the midst" (John 19:17, 18).
Even in his death our Savior was one of us. He took our human flesh, was born among the poor, and when He came to die, He did not die in a palace; He died in the midst of other dying men-common criminals!
The two men crucified on either side of Jesus were called malefactors (Luke 23:33). One of them scoffed and ridiculed Jesus saying "If thou be Christ, save thyself and us."
This thief rejected Christ. He died…lost forever. And the saddest part about it is that he could not have been closer to Jesus. He was right there with the remedy at hand. All he had to do was reach out with his hand of faith and take the salvation offered him. No one on earth could have prevented him from being saved. But he had to come on God's terms. He could not have been closer to Jesus, yet he died, lost on a cross of rejection.
The One Who Tried Again
Let's follow the life of the other thief. As a young boy he had a good start. He grew up in Judea, went to synagogue and observed the great feasts three times a year. In fact, with his father and mother he may have gone to see the sacrifices at the Temple, foretastes of Jesus' great sacrifice. He saw the high priest with his beautiful robes and the other priests. He heard the beautiful songs and he had learned the Scriptures, answering the questions at the Passover meal. Yet this young man had gone along life, drifting down the wrong path. The details are not given, but the Bible tells us he was a thief-such a bad man he was being executed. No doubt other crimes had been committed along with thievery. This thief said to the other, "We receive a just reward for our deeds."
He admitted that his execution was just. Poor man! He is being forced out of time and he is not prepared for eternity. Then he remembers. Something wells up in his heart-a feeling he has never had before. He is just about to leave this world. He has nothing more to fear from the worldly courts, nothing to worry about from the milling crowd, nothing to worry about from relatives or home influences, nothing to keep him away from Jesus. Now he can say whatever he wants to say. He can open his heart and say anything because he has only a short time to live.
He sees the crowd jeering at Jesus and sees His God-like actions. He realizes that here is something more than human fortitude as he hears Jesus pray, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do."
He hears it all; he sees it all. And then something warm, sweet and tender-something wonderful, gracious, holy, true and powerful wells up in his heart. FAITH! Faith in Christ, the Son of God. Suddenly he realizes, "He is a King. He is THE King, the Messiah, the promised King of Israel. His kingdom is coming. The prophecies are coming to pass."
You see him turning as far as he can toward Jesus. He can't move any closer to Him, but he can shift toward Him. While the scoffs and jeers and the hullabaloo of the mob below rise up to him, mixing with the curses and groans of the other thief, he said, "Lord…"(Luke 23:42).
Oh, how that word must have thrilled the heart of Jesus. Others were calling Him a villain, a criminal, and every mean and wicked curse they knew. Some of His own disciples had run away in the darkness. He was forsaken. Now someone recognizes His divinity, His kingdom. Somebody believes that all His claims are true. "…remember me when you come into your kingdom."
There it is! The simple appeal in simple faith from a sin-sick heart that is willing to try again. Never again could he go to synagogue, never again pay tithes, give offerings, be baptized, sit with family in the family pew, never again read the Scriptures, visit the sick. Never again could he do anything. Thank God, salvation doesn't depend on doing anything but reaching out and taking what God offers.
Salvation depends on the finished work of Jesus, and this dying man, at the eleventh hour of life, reached out his hand of faith to the only hope and tried again.
Will Jesus forget that poor thief on the cross? Never! The heart of God longs for the love of human hearts willing to try again to find the heavenly Savior with arms outstretched for them, turning homeward like the prodigal.
From the bruised, parched lips of Christ came these words that will ring down through the ages, "Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise."
"On this day when all men have forsaken me. When not only my own have forsaken me, but my own church has repudiated me, my own country has turned me down, and the world's civilization has nailed me to the cross-on this day. I promise you here, with a crown of thorns on my brow and nails in my hands, you will be with me in Paradise!"
God will not forget the patriarchs of old; He knows them. He will not forget the disciples eaten by lions or buried at sea, and He will not forget nor forsake the one who tries again.
The Pentecostal Messenger