My name is Artimas. Most people just know me as a thief or a criminal, and for most of my life people didn’t really want to know me at all. I grew up on the outskirts of Jerusalem, my mother was a wonderful caring woman, my father a hard-working man who was a strong believer in “spare the rod, spoil the child”. As a kid I wasn’t great at following the rules, so I became fairly familiar with the rod. The older I got, the more I resented it, until one day he went to hit me for something I’d done and instead I hit back. That was the day I had to leave home and fend for myself. I wasn’t old enough to have the skills to get a job, so instead I started stealing to look after myself. It was only little stuff at first, but in time it grew. I started hanging out with some of the others who were into similar things and that’s where I met Stephen. Stephen was older than me, stronger, and knew his way around far better. Stephen took me under his wing and soon we were committing crime together. One day we heard about this Jesus guy who was walking about drawing huge crowds. Huge crowds suited us to the ground, lots of people to steal from and easy to lose yourself amongst to get away, so we decided to check him out.
The first time we found Jesus there was a massive crowd around him, people were pushing and jostling everywhere to get close to him. His followers were almost having to act as bodyguards to help him keep moving. Some important fella from the synagogue came up to Jesus and fell down in front of him, begging him to come and heal his daughter. Jesus started to follow him, and the crowd got even more physical, I guess not wanting to miss out on whatever was about to happen. Suddenly Jesus stopped and asked who had touched him. He couldn’t be serious, who hadn’t touched him in this crowd? But he persisted, and eventually a woman came forward and said that she had touched his cloak because she wanted to be healed. She said that she had been bleeding for 12 years and no-one had been able to heal her. Far out, she should never have been there! But she said that as soon as she had touched his cloak she could feel herself get better. She wasn’t bleeding any more and she felt strong again. Jesus said to her that she could go because she had been healed by her faith. I didn’t get it, but it was pretty impressive.
The next time we tracked him down he was a fair way out of town, across the Sea of Galilee. There was a huge crowd with him, literally thousands of people. Admittedly because people had travelled so far there wasn’t a heap to get from them, but we found what we could. As the afternoon drew on we worked our way towards where Jesus was, figuring that maybe the important people would be at the front so that’s where the best pickings would be. When we got close we heard Jesus ask his followers how he was going to feed all the people that had travelled to see him. He had to be nuts, there was no way his guys had enough food to feed everyone. A couple of his guys brought this kid forward and said that he had a few small loaves of bread and a couple of fish, but that was all they had. Jesus got his followers to make us all sit down. We decided to stay close, we wanted to see what would happen. Jesus started breaking up the loaves and fish and giving them to his followers to give out. Slowly but surely they worked their way through the crowd, making sure everyone got food. By the end of it we were all well and truly full, and his followers were picking up basketfuls of leftovers. I’ve got no idea how he did it, and I would never have believed it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes.
The third time we saw Jesus was closer to home, near the temple in Jerusalem. Again, there were huge crowds with him so we decided to see what we could score. Jesus was walking around and went past this blind guy who was always there begging. The guy had been there as long as I could remember, always there every day begging to survive. He’d been born blind, so he’d never had a chance. Jesus’s followers asked him something about who had done the wrong thing to make this guy get born blind, and Jesus said no-one. Then he walked up to the guy, spat on the ground and turned it into mud. He picked up the mud and spread it across the guy’s eyes, then told him to go and wash himself in one of the baths. The guy did it, and next thing we know he comes back and he can see! This guy had seriously be blind all his life, and now some mud and a quick swim and he can see. This Jesus guy was starting to get my attention.
We saw Jesus a few times after that, but Stephen and I started getting into more and more serious things. We started beating people up to rob them, which then grew to using weapons like clubs and knives. One day it went further than we planned, our mark fought back and we ended up killing him. It wasn’t meant to go like that. Next thing we knew the soldiers were on us and we were locked up. Out of nowhere our crimes caught up with us and we were sentenced to death by crucifixion. I couldn’t believe it, the most horrible thing I could imagine, pain only ended by death. Stephen and I were both nailed to crosses and put up on a hill to die. While we were there they brought someone else and hung them up between us on another cross. I looked up and saw a sign above their head which read “The King of the Jews”. When I looked at the man I realised it was Jesus. The man who had done all those healings and miracles we had seen and heard about was now hanging between us. Stephen started yelling at him, abusing him and insulting him. He yelled at Jesus to save himself and us. I couldn’t believe it. We were criminals, we deserved what we got, and here’s Stephen demanding something from an innocent man. I yelled at Stephen to stop and told him that we deserved what we were getting, but Jesus didn’t. I looked at Jesus and simply said “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus looked up and met my eyes, his own eyes filled with tears and compassion. As our eyes met I felt this incredible peace. All the pain vanished for a moment and he said to me “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Despite everything I had done, despite living a life of crime, he accepted me. He loved me and forgave me and welcomed me. In that brief moment I knew that despite everything I would spend eternity with him.
The story of the thief on the cross has always been one I have loved. While a lot of what is written here is fiction, we are not told anything about him prior to his appearance on the cross, to me it seems likely that he would have crossed paths with Jesus at some point. The events that I have talked about the thief witnessing are all recorded in the gospels: the story of the woman can be found in Luke 8:40-48, the feeding of the five thousand in John 6:1-15 and the healing of the blind man in John 9:1-12. The story of Jesus’s interaction with the thief can be found in Luke 23:32-43.
The reason I love the story of the thief so much is some of the things that it tells us about the unconditional love Jesus has for us. Firstly, Jesus loves us no matter our past. In all honesty, to have been hung on a cross the thief probably had a far worse criminal history than what I have written. Crucifixion was the most painful and horrible death created by an empire who excelled at finding dreadful ways to kill people, so it’s my understanding that the people who were crucified had done some pretty terrible things. But to Jesus, that man’s past was irrelevant the moment he asked Jesus into his life. Jesus did not review what the thief had done, or criticise him for his past, he simply loved him and accepted him. Romans 5:8 tells us “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” God is not going to hold our pasts against us, all He wants is for us to accept His love and enter into relationship with him. He didn’t wait for us to ask for a way to be forgiven, he sent Jesus to open that way for us. There is no past to horrible for God to forgive you and accept you if you ask Him.
Another thing I love about the story of the thief is that Jesus accepted him despite the thief having absolutely nothing to offer. The thief was literally dying, he was not going to come down from the cross and minister, he was never going to be able to share his testimony or serve in a church or do anything in return. His situation was the definition of hopeless, yet again, Jesus simply accepted him. Jesus didn’t criticise the thief for leaving it until the last minute or accuse him of clutching at straws, he saw the honesty in the man and loved him for who he was. Jesus met the thief where he was and loved him how he needed to be loved. Jesus will do the same for us. While we may never be hanging on a cross when we accept Jesus, it can be easy to feel we have nothing to offer. But Jesus isn’t about that, he just wants to give us his freedom and to have a relationship with us. John 3:16 says “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” The ultimate reason for Jesus coming was to offer us salvation, and just like he offered it to that thief on the cross, he offers it to you and I. All we need to do is to believe in him and receive him as our Saviour.
Before we finish, take a few minutes and check out another version of the story of the thief, this time in song by a band called Third Day. As you listen, close your eyes and imagine yourself in the position of the thief, try to picture what it would have been like walking up that hill to certain death and meeting Jesus at the top who offers you eternal life. Then take a moment to reflect on what that means for you. The song can be found here
If you’d like to know more about Jesus, what he has done for us and what it means to be in relationship with him, we’d love to talk to you about it. Feel free to comment below or email us firstname.lastname@example.org and we will be more than happy to share our experiences with you and help you on your journey.