"Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom." - Thief on the Cross
If I was hanging on a cross, I think the last thing I'd be thinking about would be who's hanging beside me. "Hey pal, how's it hanging?" may be the only sarcastic comment I'd be able to sputter, taking my humor to the grave with me.
But as I was reading this morning, I was struck by how much history surrounds all the events in scripture. As I read, I realized there was a history that had been impacting the criminal hanging beside Jesus.
I know it's not safe to do too much conjecturing, but it seems pretty evident that he'd been doing some observing and pondering. There's no way to know, but perhaps he had heard stories in his jail cell of this man, claiming to be the messiah, the king, who was healing and doing miracles all over the dusty cities of the time (Why dusty? I've been there. Add camels, and it'd be stinky too!)
Perhaps he had been mulling this over in his cell.
Perhaps he had even heard the crowds as they yelled for Barabbas' release. He probably knew Barabbas, the guy who always took the top bunk in his cell, and hogged all the blankets. Jerk.
Perhaps he heard rumors of a kingdom coming, wrapped up in this king riding in on a colt.
Perhaps he knew some of the prophecies.
Perhaps he'd even heard the scrolls read out of Isaiah and somewhere deep in his subconcious, he knew he was dying beside someone special.
Perhaps he had heard how this man not only healed the sick and raised the dead but spent time with sinners - sinners like himself. And this man, this holy man who captivated everyone in every synogogue in the dusty greater Judean counties, was a holy man who forgave sinners.
Perhaps it was this last rumor that had brought the thief hope.
Maybe he didn't just think that it was a long shot, asking Jesus to remember him when he came into his kingdom. Maybe he was like wily criminals the world over who see the world a bit differently and had been catching on to some of the wily ways of God: life being brought through death, one final sacrifice, a king laying down his kingdom and taking it up again.
"...when you come into your kingdom."
Much is made of the thief on the cross. How his plea was sort of a last ditch turn-around, reminding us all that it's never too late. But in my opinion, here was a man who knew who and where he was, and more importantly knew some of the truths about the man who hung beside him.
Surely there was a burning passionate hope beating through his chest when he heard the words "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise." If ever someone could experience relief on the Roman torture device of a cross, it was this man.
Most of this entry is "guestimation." But it highlights for me, that what happened in these guys crucifixion didn't happen in a sunday school room on a felt-board. It happened in real life, in the real hues, smells and all the societal curiosities of a real community experiencing it first-hand.
This theif had a front row seat, so to speak, and my guess is, when the sixth hour hit and darkness covered the land for 3hrs., while he was scared, it was more of a thrill of hope confirmed. Something big was going on beside him. And he was now a part of it.
One final note: Today, in the days that God often seems so silent, may we remember that there is something big going on. Something that we are a part of. Something that if we take time to ponder, to spread rumors about as we try and keep Barabbas from singing again (or my son David from whining), we will see that a kingdom is coming, and that the chief desire of our hearts should be for a rescue like this: that Jesus would remember us. For he will.