By Way of the Cross
I was inspired one Easter season by the song, “By the way of the cross”. As I reflected on Jesus dying on the cross, my thoughts turned to the criminal dying next to Him. As a result, the following story flowed from my pen. The story of this criminal who saw first hand the forgiveness of Jesus also took part in that forgiveness when Jesus promised to see him in Paradise. I praise Him for the undeserved redemption God provided through His Son. Truly the only way we will reach heaven is by the way of the cross.
By Way of the Cross
My name you do not know. Throughout history, I have only been known as the thief on the cross. My name is not important. My story is. My life began about 2000 years ago. I was born into a respectable Jewish family. We attended the synagogue and celebrated all the festivals and celebrations as all the other families, as this was the custom of our day. My Mother and Father did the best they could with me. They did all the right things raising their son. But as I grew, I became involved with a group of young men who loved to have a “good” time. A good time meaning that we did things that we knew our parents wouldn’t approve. Harmless things at first, stealing the old man’s fruit from his courtyard. It didn’t seem to matter at the time, but looking back I realized that was the beginning of my troubles. My parents’ approval seemed much less important than the opinion of my friends.
Soon I became involved in a little more serious “adventures” with my friends. We robbed the tax collector. Most of our people considered these men criminals. How dare they work for the Romans and turn against our people. I was considered a hero by many people. We managed to “get-away” with every crime. This was easy and I became confident in what I was doing. The little voice within stopped telling me I was doing wrong. It had remained silent for a long time.
Robbery led to more robbery and soon the day came when in anger I committed murder in order to keep a man from yelling out my name. I was soon arrested, tried and sentenced to death. I was place in prison and awaited crucifixion. That is where I met this man called Jesus. I had heard others talk about Him. Some called Him a prophet, some the Messiah and others called Him a blasphemer. I didn’t know who He was.
It was the Passover in Jerusalem and I was to be executed on the day before the Passover Sabbath. As I waited to die, I sat in a prison cell. I heard the jailer talking about this man named Jesus. They were laughing and scoffing. The Roman soldiers had scourged Him until He was beaten almost to death.
The talk was that this man claimed to be the Jews promised Messiah. They even claimed He was going to be King. So the Roman soldiers made a crown of thorns to place on His head and a purple robe to wear around His shoulders. What fun they had mocking and spitting on Him and beating Him on the head with a reed! I listened closely to the other prisoners talking about this man. Some had seen Him perform miracles. One of them even saw Him raise Lazarus from the dead. How could that be, I wondered. Little did I realize that I would soon meet Him and determine for myself who He really was.
The time came for my execution. I was to carry the heavy cross bar over my shoulders to a place called Golgotha, just outside the city where I would be lifted up on a beam for all those entering Jerusalem to see. The Romans seemed to enjoy executing Jews on a cross. It was a way to show us that we should stay in our place. There were crowds of people lining the narrow streets of Jerusalem. There were three of us in the procession to Golgotha-myself, another criminal and Jesus. I had heard the only crime Jesus had committed was to anger the Sanhedrin but the crowd seemed very angry. They were yelling, screaming and spitting at Him. Some of the people in the crowd were crying. I had witnessed many executions but I could not remember a time when the crowd seemed this angry.
We reached Golgotha and the Roman soldiers nailed us to the cross bar we carried and then lifted us up onto the beam. I can remember screaming with pain. Severe pain, more than I had ever known. The pain of the cross was excruciating. I couldn’t breathe. Every time I moved the pain would extend to every part of my body. The sun caused unbearable thirst and the flies and insects burrowed deep into my open wounds. As I was dwelling on my own torment, I could still hear the angry crowd screaming to the man on the cross next to me. “You saved others, save yourself!” The crowd grew louder and louder as they yelled, “Blasphemer!” I then heard Him say, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” How could He say such things? I was angry and felt nothing but hatred for them and here He was praying they would be forgiven. Was this man the Son of God like He said He was?
I suddenly remembered the words of those who believed in Him. He had come to save sinners. He was the Son of God. This was the Messiah come to save the sins of the world. He had come to save me.
As I turned to look at Him, He looked into my eyes. What I saw in His eyes that day was a look of love for me that I cannot explain. All of a sudden, I saw the sin that had condemned me. He was the Lamb of God without spot or blemish. This was the Messiah come to save us. The prophet Isaiah had said that the Messiah would pour out Himself to death and be numbered with the transgressors and yet He himself would bare the sin of many and intercede for the transgressors. I was that transgressor.
At that moment, the other criminal on the cross said to Jesus, “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” Anger rose up within me. “Don’t you fear God 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.” I said. Then I turned to Him and said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And to my surprise, He replied, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in Paradise.” What comfort I had in my last hours. I heard the voice of Jesus ringing in my ears until the last breath. I knew my sins were forgiven and I knew I would see Him again in Paradise.
Now as I stand before the throne of God, I fully understand what the cross of Jesus really meant and what Jesus did for me. God’s only Son suffered and died that I might have eternal life. Had it not been for His death on the cross, sin and death would not have been conquered. I would have been condemned to hell. But instead, I now stand before God the Father and truthfully can say, “It is nothing I have done, it’s the suffering of Your Son. I have come by the way of the cross.” And now I ask you, my friend, when you stand before the throne of God, will you be able to say…I have come by the way of the cross?