We are nearing the end of our annual journey towards the culmination of Lent. Easter is a time of great celebration and I am finding myself looking forward to the outward signs of the celebration as spring unfolds and weather turns more pleasant, but also looking forward to the signs of joy as I remember why we celebrate Easter in the church.
These weeks leading up to Easter can lead me to feel a bit uneasy or convicted as I re-read the stories of the sentencing and crucifixion of Jesus. I find myself imagining what it was like to be present during that time. What would I have said? What would I have done? Would I have played a role?
I find myself asking: Would I have fought or cut off an ear of a soldier who took Jesus away from me? Would I have cried out for the release of Barabbas? Would I have been caught up in the crowd along the road, throwing things, screaming? Would I have wept as He passed by covered in sweat, filth, blood? Would I have been next to Him on a neighboring cross?
He wasn’t crucified alone. As we know, He was accompanied by two other men who were known and convicted thieves; one of whom it had been said that “he robbed or murdered anyone unlucky enough to cross his path” (John Chrysostom). This man has come to be known as Dismas.
During the crucifixion, while Jesus was nailed to the cross, it is likely that the other two condemned were tied to theirs…Jesus was, after all, the prized criminal during this particular event.
The thief to the left of Christ, in his desperation and in having heard the stories of Jesus around town, frustratingly and perhaps mockingly said to Jesus, “Aren’t you the Messiah? King of the Jews? Save yourself and save us!!!”
But Dismas rebuked him saying, “Have you no fear of God? For you and I are subject to the same condemnation! And indeed, WE have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this Man has done nothing criminal!” Then he turned to Jesus and said, “Jesus remember me when you come into Your kingdom.”
What gall Dismas had…what courage to speak up, to admit that he was a sinner, to call out the other criminal to take another look at the Man between them for who He was. Dismas was a sinner…he’s in good company though.
Did he deserve mercy? Did he deserve for Jesus to even turn His face towards him? He clearly believed who Jesus was—he was hanging in front of his own eyes right next to Him. But he also knew he was not worthy, he was a sinner, he was a lost cause as he hung there to die.
But in an amazing way, while He was suffering the likes of which we couldn’t possible fathom, Jesus DID turn to Dismas. He turned to him and, with great, bottomless mercy, he looked upon Dismas, like He does anytime one of His us who turn away from sin, believe in Him, and ask for Him to remember us……….
He turns to Dismas, takes His sin upon His own back and finishes the crucifixion as the ultimate atonement for, not just Dismas’s sin, but for all sin.
Take a full, deep breath in…feel the weight of breath, the conviction of a fellow sinner.
How does Jesus respond to Dismas? To us?
“Amen I say to you…today you will be with me in paradise.”
Wrap it up:
What unconditional love our God lavishes on us. We are wildly undeserving, yet in these weeks of Lent especially, we come to Him, humbly and ask Him to remember us when He comes into His kingdom.
AND He does. He promises and inheritance of paradise…He died for us to join Him there.