Summary: We celebrate the salvation of the thief on the cross, but it seems a little unfair. And that is the Scandal of Grace
They held his hands firmly against the un-planed timber and placed the rough iron spikes over the junction of his wrists. The roman centurion lifted the mall and drove the first spike home with one swing. The man bucked and twisted in agony as the metal pierced his wrist like white hot fire, pinning his left side to the cross.
The second spike followed in his right wrist but the shock from the first wound tempered the pain. As the two guards crossed his feet over each other most of the fight was gone out of him and even the involuntary protest from his body was minimized as the spike was driven home, impaling both feet to the upright member.
As he lay there in the hot Palestinian sun his mind raced back over the short span of his life, everyone thought he had so much potential and yet here he was nailed to a cross. At what point did he go wrong he thought, when was it that he crossed over the line that made this day inevitable.
He drifted in and out of consciousness as the pain did its work and he had almost slipped into the silent cocoon of oblivion when the cross was lifted and dropped into the hole prepared for it.
If he thought the pain couldn’t get any worse he was wrong, as his weight crashed down on the three spikes holding him to the cross it was as if every nerve ending in his body had suddenly been stripped at once and then his body convulsed against the splintered wood behind him.
And the day was just beginning. As he hung on the cross the sun rose slowly across the horizon, the heat increasing and speeding the process of dehydration and death.
Through the haze of his pain he could hear the taunts coming from the crowd gathered around the three crosses. “He saved others, let him save himself if he is really God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.”
“If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!”
The abuse continued until finally he heard one of the other two hanging with him yell out insults ending with, “So you’re the Messiah, are you? Prove it by saving yourself—and us, too, while you’re at it!”
And he could stand it no more, struggling to catch his breath, he pushed himself against the spikes to take the pressure off his diaphragm and then in a ragged voice he spoke saying, “Jesus, Remember me when you come into power!”
The man of course was one of the two criminals crucified with Christ. And these words are recorded in Luke 23:42
We don’t know much about the thief that hung with Christ on that day. His plea to Jesus is only recorded in Luke chapter 23 and his name, Dismas comes to us only through legend.
What we do know is this: it was that criminal who was the first person in the history of the world to taste the Grace and redemption that Jesus Had to offer.
Listen to the words of the thief, Luke 23:40-42 But the other criminal protested, “Don’t you fear God even when you have been sentenced to die? We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”
And with those words two thousand years ago, on a Friday afternoon, when mankind had fallen to the lowest point in it’s history, a miracle happened. A man was born again!
The thief on the cross became a new creation. He may have been crucified as a criminal, he may have lived as a thief, but he died spotless.
And we celebrate that. The story of the thief on the cross is so cool. Until you suddenly stop and think about it and realize that the reward that the thief got was exactly the same reward as your dear sainted Grandmother who became a Christian when she was a babe in arms, never ever cussed or had a bad thought in her entire life.
And maybe you are thinking, That’s not fair. It was John F Kennedy who said “Life is unfair”, and might I add that there are times that grace seems unfair as well, it’s why some people refer to the Scandal of Grace.
We’ve been talking about Grace for the past six weeks, and we’ve looked at Grace displayed in an unlikely person, in an unlikely place, at an unlikely time and two weeks ago we saw how Jesus displayed grace at the table when he invited his 12 closest friends to celebrate with him at the last supper even knowing that those who were there would betray him, deny him and doubt him.