Mercy for Shame-Filled Days
- Monday, August 27, 2007
What the thief hears. Groans. Guttural moans. Death. Nothing but. His own. Death. Golgotha plays it like a minor chord. No lullaby of hope. No sonnet of life. Just the harsh chords of death.
Pain. Death. He sees them; he hears them. But then the thief sees and hears something else: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34 NKJV).
A flute lilts on a battlefield. A rain cloud blocks a desert sun. A rose blossoms on death ridge.
Jesus prays on a Roman cross.
Here is how the thief reacts. Mockery. “Even the robbers who were crucified with Him reviled Him” (Matthew 27:44 NKJV).
Having been hurt, the thief hurts. Having been wounded, he wounds. Even Skull Hill has a pecking order, and this thief refuses the bottom rung. He joins the jeerers who are saying: “He saved others—he can’t save himself! King of Israel, is he? Then let him get down from that cross. . . . He did claim to be God’s Son, didn’t he?” (Matthew 27:42–43).
But Jesus refuses to retaliate. The thief sees, for the first time that day (for the first time in how many days?), kindness. Not darting glances or snarling lips, but patient forbearance.
The thief softens. He stops mocking Christ and then attempts to stop the mocking of Christ. “We deserve this, but not him,” he confesses to the crook on the other cross. “He did nothing to deserve this” (Luke 23:41). The thief senses he’s close to a man heaven-bound and requests a recommendation: “Jesus, remember me when you enter your kingdom” (23:42).
And Jesus, who made and makes an eternal life out of inviting illegal immigrants into his Oval Office, issues this grace-drenched reply: “Don’t worry, I will. Today you will join me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).
And the bad day of the bad man is met with the gracious gift of a mercy-giving God.
What does the thief see now? He sees a son entrust his mother to a friend and honor a friend with his mother (John 19:26–27). He sees the God who wrote the book on grace. The God who coaxed Adam and Eve out of the bushes, murderous Moses out of the desert. The God who made a place for David, though David made a move on Bathsheba. The God who didn’t give up on Elijah, though Elijah gave up on God. This is what the thief sees.
What does he hear? He hears what fugitive Moses heard in the desert, depressed Elijah heard in the desert, adulterous David heard after Bathsheba. He hears what . . .
a fickle Peter heard after the rooster crowed,
the storm-tossed disciples heard after the wind stopped,
the cheating woman heard after the men left,
the oft-married Samaritan woman heard before the disciples
the hardheaded and hard-hearted Saul would hear after the
the paralytic heard when his friends lowered him through
the blind man heard when Jesus found him on the street,
the disciples would soon hear from Jesus on the beach early
He hears the official language of Christ: grace. Undeserved. Unexpected. Grace. “Today you will join me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).
Paradise. The intermediate heaven. The home of the righteous until the return of Christ. The Tree-of-Life is there. Saints are there. God is there. And now the thief, who began the day in a Roman jail, will be there.
With Jesus. No back-door entrance. No late-night arrival. Paradise knows neither night nor second-class citizens. The thief enters the gate on Jesus’ red carpet.
Today. Immediately. No Purgatory purging. No Hades rehab. Grace comes like a golden sunrise, illuminating the thief’s dark day. Execution hill becomes a mount of transfiguration.
Perhaps you could use some of the same. Yesterday’s mistakes play the role of the Roman death squad: they escort you up the calvary of shame. Faces of the past line the trail. Voices declare your crimes as you pass:
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